Thursday, February 24, 2011

Memorable midnight run to see shuttle launch

Discovery lifts off on final journey.

There probably wasn't one person in the newsroom who didn't stop what they were doing to watch the TVs just before 5 p.m. Thursday.

Deadlines could wait.

We wanted to see the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

After it was safely away, several colleagues reminisced about launches they saw live over all these years.

Others rued the fact they'd never seen any in the shuttle program's 30 years of existence.

I went to see three.

One ended up being scrubbed at the last minute, putting just a little bit of a damper on a giant tailgate party we enjoyed in a vast field south of Cape Canaveral.

Another was John Glenn's return to space in 1998, which I covered for the Herald.

Then there was that mad midnight dash to Cocoa. Or was it Cocoa Beach?

It's been awhile.

This was back in the mid-1980s when I was still in Boca Raton.

Out late one night I ran into a buddy of mine, a Boca policeman and camera bug whose passion was shooting space launches.

His shift ended at midnight, he said, so would I like to join him up for a drive to catch the shuttle launch scheduled for just after dawn?

I'm in, I told him.

A few hours later we were snoozing in his car in a Holiday Inn parking lot across the Banana
River from the launch site.

When the sun came up, it was showtime.

As the shuttle slowly lifted off amidst a roiling mountain of fiery smoke, the roar gradually rolled over us as we cheered like madmen and the ground beneath us began to vibrate from the shock wave.

Talk about making your hair stand up.

It was awesome.

Then, after putting down his camera, my friend produced some champagne, OJ and glasses to toast the grand occasion.

Then we drove back to Boca Raton.

Guess who was a little late to work?

I didn't care.

'Twas a morning to remember.

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