CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - If you've never watched a space shuttle launch up close and in person, words alone will never do the experience justice. I've been a news reporter for over 20 years. I've traveled to the remote mountains of Haiti, flown in an F-16, and watched a Pope shake hands with a communist atheist dictator. Today's launch of space shuttle Atlantis ranks right up there.
I had a gut feeling Atlantis would fly. And when I woke up at 2:30am this morning to see raindrops rippling in roadside puddles, I still didn't give up hope. I knew I had one chance to see history in the making. If the launch was scrubbed Friday, I would be coming home and Brendan would call the launch solo. I wished for a break in the rain.
Maybe it was the spring in the step of returning astronauts or the twinkle in Senator Bill Nelson's eyes, but somehow I knew Mother Nature would give both me and Atlantis a break.
In between early morning live shots, I rushed to the road to watch the astrovan with the astronauts inside drive by. A helicopter hovered overhead and the crowd of media pressed forward like a tsunami, all hustling for that last look or that award winning picture. It's been awhile since I've been out in the field for this type of national story (I was anchoring on the set for the reading of Casey Anthony's verdict) and I'd forgotten how exhilarating being in a crowd of raving reporters can be.
At launch time, Brendan and I knew it was a go, but then live during our launch cut in, the countdown stopped at T minus 31 seconds. Just what we hoped would not happen. We let NASA select tell our viewers what the problem was as we contemplated what we'd do and say next should the bird not fly.
As you know, it did. From where I was standing, I saw the billow of smoke first and saw the beauty rise. The sound rumbled across the water in an eerie delay and when the roar of the rockets finally hit me, I swear I felt the ground tremble. I wanted to jump up and down but I had a mic on me and couldn't risk them coming back to me live.
I am still amazed by all the brilliant men and women who created these magnificent machines. They made me stand today, mouth wide open, happy like a kid again and proud of what our country has accomplished. Here's to our space future whatever it may be.
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