a life well lived

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Launch Day 07/23/00

"That is the rocket."

When Mim said those four words, I felt a sensation that I still cannot
describe, dwarfed by the reality of what  that bright gathering of light was, getting stronger and brighter in the distance. 

I cannot remember much other than tracking that incredible light as we pulled off I-95 and headed across the Beeline Highway toward Cape Canaveral (the town is still named that, as it has been for over 200 years;  only the government installation is called Cape Kennedy). 

A thrill ran through me when I could actually see the rocket, standing at the gantry, in a crossfire of spotlights.   

Miraculously, Mim managed to get a parking space - the last one - along the shoulder of the main road that parallels Cape Kennedy.  Wonder of wonders, we were parked directly across from the Titusville Holiday Inn - bathrooms!

We woke Brooke up so that she could see the awesome sight of the rocket against the pitch black night sky.  I remember her rising up behind the back seat - Mim described it as like a sea monster rising out of the ocean - taking a look, then diving right back to the mattress.

It was around 4:30 a.m. at this point.  The joint was jumping!  People drove up and down the road, looking enviously at our prime location.   

I realized how hungry I was and was looking forward to the Holiday Inn restaurant opening up for breakfast.  It was Mim who noticed that the motel's sign said, "Buffet served from 4:00 a.m.”   Mim did not want to make Brooke get up, so she stayed with her while Elsa and I hot footed it across the road to FOOD. 

What an experience - eating a hearty breakfast from a table with a perfect view of the Apollo rocket, drenched in powerful spot lights.  Elsa described it as surreal and it was.  We got some goodies to take back to Mim and Brooke and headed back to the car. 

It seemed like forever before the sun came up.  The four of us headed
over to the Holiday Inn parking lot to watch the launch of the totally
unobstructed rocket.   

Some grey clouds were gathering to the north (we were southeast of the launch site), but they seemed pretty far off.  I could not understand why Mim and Elsa started pacing at the very sight of them.

"Mom," Mim explained. "In Florida, storms can roll in at a moment's notice, scrubbing the launch."   

Sure enough, by the time the launch was ready for the final countdown, a bank of grey clouds formed a backdrop to the rocket - far off but definitely there.

Everyone turned up their portable radios when it got to T minus one minute and counting.  Everyone joined in when it got to 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.  

A chorus of radio announcers said, "We have ignition and lift off."  Even now, 25 years later, I get chills.   

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of that great rush of flame coming out from the rocket engines.  It reminded me of Bill Buckley's reply to a reporter who asked him how he would describe the launch of Apollo 11 - "With silence." 

Words cannot convey the scene or the feelings I felt as that slender rocket lifted up out of the flame and, propelled by the thrust of its mighty engines, rose into the sky, the deep grey emphasizing the glory of the flame and the whiteness of the rocket that was moving in what I can only describe as an elegant path upward. 

All I could think of were the men who were sitting at the top of that rocket and of their vulnerability.  It was embarrassing to realize that I was crying.  I did not want to embarrass the girls, so I started to blubber an apology. 

Mim gently put her hand on my arm.  "Mom, look around you."   

All around, I saw awestruck, tear-stained faces.  In our hearts, we spoke one wish to those brave men - "Godspeed and a safe return."

Love to all of you from this earthbound Gramster

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