By Kim Davis
July 8, 2011, was a beautiful sunny day in Titusville, Florida. We stood alongside people from all over the world to witness the final launch of the space shuttle. Through the tears that were streaming down my face, I could see Space Shuttle Atlantis begin her eight minute climb to orbit carrying Doug Hurley, Chris Ferguson, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. On this flight they left a flag that had flown on the first shuttle mission on the International Space Station. It was hard to believe the shuttle program was over. Shuttles had flown almost my entire life. Hopefully it wouldn’t be long before we (the USA) were launching again.
Eight years, 10 months and 22 days later we did it again. We FINALLY did it again. We launched U.S. astronauts, in a U.S. made rocket, from U.S. soil. SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 launched Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS.
There were approximately 150,000 people in town to witness this return to space, including President Trump, Vice President Pence and several members of Congress. Again, there were people from all over the world. This launch began May 27. People began manning their locations by 6 a.m. By lunch time most parks were closed due to being near or at capacity. The weather had been iffy most of the day and with less than an hour to go until launch…..scrub – the weather just wasn’t right. It was determined that it was not safe to launch. This wasn’t too big of a disappointment. It’s to be expected when you are dealing with things such as launching people into space. Three days later they would try again. There was a 50/50 chance the rocket would fly, but the skies looked very rainy. In fact, we got wet more than once. As launch time approached, the skies cleared and it was a go for launch! People at the park started moving closer to the water’s edge. This included standing directly in front of cameras. (Always look to be sure you aren’t blocking someone’s view.) Right on time, the Falcon 9 lifted off pad 39A. This launch pad has been launching people since the days of the Apollo rockets. In about 19 hours they reached the space station and were able to dock. They spent those hours checking out their vehicle. Hurley and Behnken will remain on the ISS for 30 to 119 days. NASA & SpaceX haven’t decided the exact duration of the mission. This will be determined based on a few factors, including the state of their vehicle and the launch date of the next crewed mission.
While I had hoped the Falcon 9 would provide the rumble and shake of a shuttle, which it didn’t, I’m thrilled that the country is finally launching our own people again. I can’t wait until they light the next candle (rocket).
Davis is a 23-year educator. She has followed the country’s space program since the first shuttle flight in 1981. Turn to A7 for photos of the launch. Photos by Mark Usciak/Submitted to the Opelika Observer