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Discovery's Last Launch

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S: Discovery's Final Launch by Jennifer Walker

BC: Gene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon

FC: Discovery's Final Launch

1: February 24, 2011 Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to fly on Discovery. She's been my favorite orbiter as long as I can remember. Being able to see her last launch was exciting, yet sad. Her mission in space is ending and she will begin a new mission, sitting proud in a museum inspiring another generation of explorers. | Me and Discovery February 1989 STS-29 | Me and Discovery October 2010 STS-133

2: September 30, 2010 I get the e-mail I've been waiting for. I am about to find out if we got VIP tickets to see Discovery's launch from the viewing site at the Saturn V center - only 3 miles from the launch site. I open the e-mail and find that we did not get the tickets, but were put on standby in case anyone canceled. My heart sank - this is one of the last launches. Not only that, but it was Discovery, my favorite orbiter, my last chance to see her fly into space. The space center wasn't allowing admission with just an annual pass like they did for STS-128, you had to have a ticket - they had already sold out. I tried not to cry, I had to go to work. I texted my sweetie and left. By the end of the day I was trying to convince myself that it was okay - we'd see the launch from Titusville somewhere. It would be alright.

3: When I got home Chuck asked if it was okay if we still go see the launch. OF COURSE - wasn't that the plan all along? then he added ... is it okay if we see the launch from the causeway?

4: Did he just say "the causeway"...really? YES YES YES!! WOW WOW WOW!!!! ...sniff...sniff... How on earth did you get causeway tickets just one month away from the launch??

5: Knowing that it really wasn't okay like I had said, Chuck called Florida Dolphin Tours to see if he could at least get tickets to see the launch from the visitor's center - where we saw STS-128. When he called, the lady told him that they had just had two cancellations for the causeway. He bought them. I cried. We would get on a bus in Orlando and go to the Space Center. We decided to stay at a hotel in Orlando the night before. We needed to be at the pick-up site an hour before scheduled pick-up time of 7:00 am.

6: October 31, 2010 Sunday We drive to Orlando in the pouring rain to our hotel. Just because it's raining here and now, doesn't mean that it'll be raining tomorrow at the space center - we've got a chance. We check in and go to dinner. Then it happened; we got a message that the launch had been delayed until Tuesday due to a helium leak...sigh... We decide to stay overnight and then go home. The launch is further delayed until Wednesday, so that technicians can finish testing to ensure the leak had been sealed. Then the launch gets delayed until Thursday, so that technicians can work out an electrical problem with the main engine controller. Everything looks good for Thursday (except the weather). Early Thursday morning we head to Orlando once again...in the pouring rain. Standing in the rain, we learn the launch has been delayed due to weather.

7: So we try again Friday. We get up early and head to Orlando (we're getting good at this). This time we get on the bus and go to the Kennedy Space Center. I didn't have a good feeling about that day. Standing in line at the Space Shop, I find out that a hydrogen leak was discovered during tanking...(deep sigh)...I knew that was it for this attempt - no launch today. Then they discovered the cracks in the external tank. And the delays began... | View of Discovery from the Saturn V site, Friday November 5, 2010 Once the launch was scrubbed, NASA allowed people to go there on buses.

8: Headlines from Spaceflightnow.com

9: Given the history of the launch so far, I decide to take February 24th and 25th off just in case...

10: Early on February 24th, we get everything together to head to Orlando and get on the bus to the Kennedy Space Center. | I am excited and a little sad - it is after all Discovery's final launch.

11: We make it to the World's Largest McDonald's in Orlando. We go through the drive thru for some breakfast...and then the car breaks down. We are 1.9 miles from the pick up site at the mall. OH NO!!! Please God PLEASE!!! We have to get to the mall!!! | Where we pushed the car...

12: We tried and tried, but couldn't get the car started. So we called for a cab. According to the GPS it would take about 5 minutes to get to the mall - we had 20 minutes until pick up time. We waited and waited and waited...it started to occur to me that we might miss the launch. I couldn't hold back, I started to cry. | I asked God for a miracle. Then I heard His still small voice ask "Do you trust me?" Maybe not as much as I should because then I called Mom and asked her to ask God for a miracle. The cab driver gets there 5 minutes after pick up time. He's been waiting on the wrong side of the McDonalds thinking the Mobil station is a Shell station and doesn't know how to get to the mall. We have to give him directions off a map we got from Florida Dolphin Tours. As we rounded the corner we saw buses!! There was a line of people still waiting to get on a bus! I asked the lady if we were still good to go - she said yes, I gave her a big hug and calmly walked to the back of the line. God answered our prayers with a YES! Relief and Excitement abound!!!!

13: We are two of the last 11 people to board a bus. The 11 of us have the bus all to ourselves! This would turn out to be a huge blessing as the day went on. We were given wrist bands with our bus number - we would stay with the same bus the entire time.

14: YEA!! WE'RE HERE!!! I can't believe we're actually here!!! I've got a good feeling about today! wow... breathe...

15: Dad, why do you keep letting all these people take pictures of me? | We had the green tickets. Last time we saw a launch I thought how cool it would be if we were getting on a bus to the causeway... THIS TIME WE DID!!! | Just to see if they'd take it I asked the security officer if they allowed the Commander's Pass for admissions on launch day - she said no, but let me in anyway.

16: There were A LOT more people here for this launch than there were for STS-128! | I couldn't find the sunscreen at home, so I made sure to buy some at the Space Shop. I got one of the last two.

17: Crowds of people everywhere! | In line for the shuttle launch experience. | Where we sat last time (but not this time!!!!)

18: Sonny's BBQ for lunch and some people watching before getting on the bus. | Yumminess has befallen us!

19: It's time to get on the bus!! | We passed by the first-aid station and no we didn't have to go there. :-)

20: We wait on the bus for about an hour. I didn't mind though because it was cool and out of the sun. I really didn't want to sunburn! The bus was practically empty. We could spread out and relax - well sort of, I was very excited. Nara Osi decided to look out the window, in anxious anticipation of getting ready to leave for the causeway. I was SOOO Excited! I can't believe it, this is it!!! WOW WOW!!! We're going to the causeway!! I brought with me my NASA book bag and piece of space shuttle tire that I got with Mom at NASA Langley's open house almost 10 years ago.

22: Picture taken by people on the helicopter | At the same time, we're on the yellow bus taking pictures of the helicopter!! | The NASA helicopter flies by, taking pictures of the space center below

23: Now that we're on the causeway, it's time to find a good place to sit! WOW WOW WOW!! Here we are!!! We're actually going to see the launch from here!!!!!

24: View of Discovery on Pad 39-A from where we were sitting, just 6 miles away. | We had the perfect view!!! Had we been at the Saturn V viewing site, we would've been 3 miles closer, but wouldn't have seen the front of the shuttle, only the side. I got to sit there and just look at her! (and take a few photos). ...wow wow wow!! breathe...wow!! There was no one blocking my view, and no trees either. Wow...wow...wow...

25: There were a lot of people on the causeway but it wasn't too crowded where we sat. We were near the port-a-potties and were constantly amused at the inability of people to see the line.

26: We're all there waiting to see Discovery launch. There are a couple hours to go. Then a bunch of people rise to their feet - pointing at and watching the dolphins in the river.

27: Curious George wonders if Discovery will launch today. An astronaut flying a NASA T-38 flies by.

28: We sat just on the other side of those port-a-potties. | The end of the line for the last minute bathroom rush about 45 minutes prior to launch.

29: A lady asked me to watch her stuff while she used the bathroom. It was a good place to sit - it didn't smell at all and I met several Hokies and Packers Fans. | We see the NASA helicopter again! I remember the time we saw it on the ground during one of the Up Close tours we took.

30: We're in the T-9:00 hold. So far everything is looking good. Then a problem arises with the Range Safety Computer. NO! we've made it so far! No!! Not now!! NASA decides to continue with the countdown and hold at 5:00 to see if they can fix the computer. They only have an extra 3:00 in the launch window. The problem is fixed and the countdown to launch resumes...I can't stand still! THIS IS IT!!! I start to cry. I am filled with excitement and anticipation. We see the Main Engines Start!! WOW WOW WOW WOW!!!!! Then the SRB's ...oh wow!!! Here we go!!!! She clears the tower...GO DISCOVERY GO!!! WOW WOW WOW Tears stream down my face.

32: OH the sound! You could hear and feel the rumble of the shuttle as she made her way into space! After solid rocket booster separation, you could see the boosters falling back to Earth. People were clapping and cheering.

33: We get back on the bus as the sun starts to set in the sky. Discovery will make one complete orbit around the Earth before we get off the parkway and causeway. | It takes 4 1/2 hours to get from Kennedy Space Center back to Orlando. This is where being on the bus with only 9 other people was such a blessing! Traci - our bus driver has a wonderful attitude and sense of humor the whole time and even kindly drops us off at the McDonalds where we left the car.

34: We hang out at the McDoanlds for about 45 minutes waiting for the tow truck and watching other buses return from the space center. Ricky - the tow truck driver was awesome! After dropping the car off at the VW dealership in Tampa, he dropped us off at our apartment complex. That night, we never had to call a cab.

35: We finally make it home 2:14 Friday morning. | As I look back on the day and thank God for looking after us, I think of Discovery already into her 7th orbit around the Earth. | I decide that instead of being sad about the Shuttle program ending, I am going to be excited. Space Shuttle can't go to the Moon or Mars, but perhaps the next spacecraft will. I may not fly the shuttle, but I do want to walk on the Moon... One of these days Gene Cernan and I will have a lot to talk about.

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Jennifer Walker
  • By: Jennifer W.
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  • Title: Discovery's Last Launch
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