In 1981, I watched the first shuttle launch in a state of wonder. In 1986, I watched the Challenger explode in a state of fear. In 1988, I watched us get back into the space race in a state of prayer. And today, in 2011, I watched the final launch of NASA's space shuttle program. In a state of wonder, in a state of awe and in a state of pride that I live not only in a country where we can dream as big as we want to, but to live and be raised in a town that watched dreams launch.
I was raised on the Space Coast. New Jersey transplants since 1978, my family left the northern snow to follow a dream, a dream of living on the warm sandy beaches of Florida. One of my dad's favorite stories to tell, used to be of the transfer from New York Bell to Southern Bell, from Bergin to Brevard County. As a child, I used to ask over and over again to hear the story of my parents crossing the Hubert Humphrey bridge in April of 1978 for the first time. My dad, an amazing story teller, would describe in wonder that the moment our little barrier island came onto the horizon.......he and my mother gasped in awe of the beauty. Amazed that this paradise wasn't really even on a map, and they knew that their dream was coming true.
I was raised in the literal shadow of the shuttle. I watched a majority of the 135 missions. From my front yard, from my school yard, from the side of the road, from our secret sand bar. Since 1981, the background noise of my childhood consisted of shuttle blast off rumbles, sliding glass doors shaking from the sonic booms and count down clocks. As kids, we talked easily of shuttle scrubs, launch windows, rocket boosters, O-rings and how families were affected by contract wins and losses. I was taught as I grew in that shadow of NASA that all things are possible, that all dreams can come true, and to never stop dreaming the impossible dream.
Today, with only a 30% chance for lift off, I wasn't prepared to see the last launch. But as I passed all the tourists, all my neighbors car's filled with faded NASA stickers, the nostalgia was palpable and I knew we were about to witness something historic. But to be honest, I think I felt that way every time. I never was NOT in awe of that launch pad in the distance, of that fireball rumbling through my Florida sky.
And today, the Banana River was calm and warm, and that cloudy sky with a high percentage chance of rain, didn't matter as my friends and neighbors all migrated to this same spot, greeting each other with hugs and anticipation.
But as I watched my son and his friends impatiently waiting for the countdown, and creating their own version of the countdown clock over and over again, I wanted him to witness the history, to feel that fear, wonder, awe, pride and exhilaration of the unknown. To know that to have a dream in one thing, but to watch it launch off into orbit...is quiet another.
To know that when that first trail of smoke and the first sight of the fired up rocket boosters comes into view on the horizon, time and space literally stand still. One man's dream is only as big as his imagination, and to watch it come to full circle is to experience all those emotion from fear to exhilaration crammed into that last 10 seconds of a countdown clock.
What a wonderful world. Where we can dream a dream so big and daring as to leave our planet....and not only to do so...but do so for decades.
The Space Coast will always be the Space Coast.
Crowds will always gather to cheer on, watch in awe and be a part of dreams come true.
My child will always have the memory of being there at the last historic launch.
I will always be in awe, I will always be proud, I will will always cheer on the next generations of dreamers.