To Infinity…and Beyond!

5-4-3-2-1  Bsshoooooo.  We have lift off!

Space shuttle

Today, my family and I joined thousands of other beach goers to watch the final space shuttle blast into space.  The launch marked an end of an era.  As I watched my young kids jump up and down at the glimpse of the blazing orange streak in the distant sky, to me, it marked the beginning of a new era and a new generation of explorers.

Atlantis space shuttle launch, July 8, 2011

My father noted that his grandfather had seen travel transform from horse and buggy to space travel to the moon in his generation.  I am confident my children will see a similar transformation in travel, witnessing trips to space stations and other planets that are as exotic as a trip to Europe.

We were lucky with the timing of our summer travels, and sufficient weather, after being disappointed by a delayed launch during a previous Florida vacation. We had considered buying tickets to Kennedy Space Center’s up-close launch party, but decided the middle of the night drive and subsequent hour plus bus ride (no private cars were allowed on NASA’s premises on launch day), 2+ hour security line and 4+ hour traffic jam afterwards was just too much to handle with two young children and a baby.

But, what we experienced was enough to make a lasting impression.  The kids talked about this summer’s launch since they studied space in school this winter.  From the moment they woke up today, Little B and the Boy prepared for the big moment.  Donned with space-themed party hats, they watched NASA’s live feed of preparations on my iPad, pretended they were mission control communicating with the astronauts, and listened intently as we talked about each person’s critical job for the mission.

Launch control room model

As we approached T minus 9 minutes, we moved to the beach.  The cool sand and warm water grazed our toes as we waited with hundreds of other space enthusiasts.  Backs lined the beach and homes in front of us; eager faces and camera lenses stared toward us from behind.  Seconds after hearing someone shout “We have lift off!”, Atlantis, blasting faster than a speeding bullet, shot up above the horizon.  The shuttle disappeared into the clouds quicker than we all hoped.  On a clearer day, we would have seen the long arch of orange and white stretch the sky and the eventual separation of the booster rockets.  Instead, we saw a few impressive minutes of streaking flares and then turned back to our live feed to monitor the progress.

Atlantis space shuttle launch on iPad

Several minutes later, we heard an earth-shaking roar.  The sound had finally reached us.  For several minutes, the roar surrounded us, penetrating through our bodies like a raging fire deep within the earth.

For our new generation, the multi-sensory experience was enhanced by today’s multi-media technology.  After moving from our big screen TV inside our condo, we used AT&T’s 3G network to watch the countdown and engines firing up on my iPad. We listened to radio coverage on our headphones and focused our telephoto lenses and pocket video cameras toward the horizon.  Afterwards, we reviewed the launch from our DVR.

I am so happy my children were able to witness a shuttle launch, an icon of my generation, even if from a distance or from an iPad.  And, I am excited what the next era of space travel will bring.  As I watched my baby crawl the beach unaware of the awe and excitement of seeing a shuttle above, I could only hope that one day she’ll feel that awe as she looks out her space craft window at the marvelous world below.