Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Up, Up, Among the Stars

by Maggie Sefton

As promised----I've included five of the photos my Astronaut daughter Serena sent me. A NASA photographer took them. Aren't they gorgeous! I'll be posting them on Facebook also. Along with the link to my oldest daughter's Facebook page where she's posted a video she took of the launch, which is excellent. Her Facebook page: Christine Zanellato.

Last week, I spoke about how much fun it was to have the entire family together for that special occasion of the Atlantis shuttle launch. Today, I wanted to share some other moments we experienced during that hectic launch day Friday, July 8th and the special NASA family/friends tour of Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, July 9th. The weather gurus were predicting a 70% chance of launch cancellation for two days preceding Friday's launch, but Serena told us that NASA's policy was to go through with everything right up to the last available cancellation window and see if "a miracle would happen" and the weather would suddenly improve.

All the families/guests were at a large hotel complex in Orlando, the Caribe Royale, so our meeting place was the hotel's convention center. Perfect for gathering 300+ people. Meeting time: 5:15am for scheduled 6:00am departure for Cape Canaveral & Kennedy Space Center. I was staying in the suite with daughters Serena, Maria, & Melissa and we were all up at what former Naval officer Maria called "O-dark, thirty." Which in our case was 4:15am. We walked from our condo around to the convention center and saw all these buses lined up, one after the other, motors running. Inside, the troops gathered, and we got to watch the families straggle in, young children sleeping in parents' arms. My youngest granddaughter AnaSofia was sound asleep on her dad's shoulder. We'd all brought small coolers with snacks/breakfast/fruit to keep us going through the three plus hours it would take to get through all the traffic of spectators going to see the launch. People can find a spot along several causeways that afford a beautiful view of the shuttle launches. Ask your Florida friends. I'll bet they've done it, too.

Once at Banana Island, the spot reserved for NASA guests, we had plenty of time to explore the NASA exhitibition building located near the bleachers. There was a complete life-sized model of an Atlas rocket on display with loads of other exhibits, including booster rockets and the lunar landing module. Cool! What was even better, though, was. . .the clouds parted and the sun came out. :) Sometimes weather miracles do happen. The 11:30am launch countdown clock was ticking away when I returned from staring at rockets and lunar modules and took my spot on the bleachers with family. There was a heart-stopping hold at 31 seconds but was quickly resolved, and that big, beautiful bird flew up, up, and away. Out of Earth's gravity and our sight. Beautiful, gorgeous, and deeply moving. I'll never forget the experience.

The next day, Saturday, was the special NASA scheduled tour of Kennedy Space Center which turned out to be nearly as fascinating as launch day. We got to see the Vehicle Assembly Building where the Atlas rockets are assembled and the shuttle orbiter is lowered into place, so that rocket plus booster rockets plus shuttle orbiter can be slowly rolled out to the launch pad. That was fascinating, but the best was last, when we got to visit the Orbiter Processing Facility where the shuttle orbiters return after launches and journeys in outer space. They are then examined, tested, and repaired,. And lo and behold. . .we were treated to a sight most tourists never see: two shuttle orbiters---Discovery and Endeavor, recently returned from the International Space Station.

WOW!! Discovery and Endeavor were right over our heads, hanging in their shuttle bays while every inch was examined. They were only 5 feet over our heads!! We got to walk all around, under both shuttle orbiters, and ask questions of the engineers who were escorting us around. Our groups were small, only 8-10 people in each group, so our group naturally peppered our NASA guy with questions. You could see the heat streaks on those ceramic tiles covering the bellies of each orbiter. (No photos were allowed, of course). We could see where some tiles were damaged, actually gouged out, needing repair. Our engineer guide has been working with the orbiters for over 20 years. Believe me, they take great pride in what these shuttles have accomplished. As all American's should be.

The shuttle program of 30 years has concluded, but the future of Americans in space will continue. For a few years, our Astronauts will be hitching rides on the Russian Soyuz capsule, a sturdy little workhorse of a vehicle. Tough and reliable. But, inventive minds are already at work on the next generation of American rockets and transporters. The Dragon rocket has already been successfully tested and launched. Within five years, (I hope), American-designed and made rockets will be carrying cargo up to the ISS. Now. . .all they have to do is find a way to stick a couple of seats into those rockets, and we'll be back to launching our own Astronauts again. :)

Space exploration is in our blood. We cannot stop ourselves from exploring any more than we can stop ourselves from dreaming. It IS the stuff of dreams. Dreams come first. Then, dreams turn into reality. Keep dreaming, everyone.


ev said...

If there was one place I would have loved to have been that day, it was there at the launch. I have been glued to the TV watching launches as far as I can remember, even taping them when I couldn't be. My neighbor across the street growing up was an engineer who worked on the radar (GE) that was used to pick up and track the original Apollo Moon Missions. I remember when he finally came home with a huge book full of info and there was a moon rock in it!! Just a tiny, tiny piece, but it was something each of them got for all their work on the project. He was even on the recovery carrier that picked them up out of the ocean after splashdown.

His daughter had one hell of a show and tell item!

Kristin A. said...

What an incredible experience! Thank you so much for sharing it with us! At this time is there anything in the future (or potentially in the future)that Serena will be a part of?

Vickie said...

What a supremely exciting time for you!!
When I was stationed at Vandenberg AFB California, I used to go up on the roof of the building I worked on to watch the launches. Nothing quite like it.

Linda McDonald said...

I have been looking forward to this post Maggie. Wow....what an awesome experience. I was very happy the shuttle launched after all the weather predictions made it seem like it was going to be a no-go. And the hold at 31 seconds was a moment of "oh no" but it didn't last too long. I'm so happy that you and your family were able to enjoy such a cool experience together.

Michelle Fidler said...

I'm not really into space launches, but it's cool that your daughter's an astronaut. Does she live in Orlando? What does someone study if they want to be an astronaut? I guess it might be rocket science. (But then again I don't believe that rocket science would be the actual name of a major at a college.)

One time I was in Cleveland at the downtown mall, Tower City Center, and there was an astronaut speaking. I listened to him for a few minutes. A little known fact is that they actually have a NASA location in Cleveland near the airport.

Maggie Sefton said...

ev---What a wonderful story! I love it! Thank you so much for sharing. . .and for supporting our space program.

Maggie Sefton said...

Kristin---Serena will definitely be involved in a space mission in the future, as will all of her 9-member team in the Astronaut Class of 2009 They just don't know when those dates will be.

Maggie Sefton said...

Vickie----That's a great story! I can picture it now. :)

Maggie Sefton said...

Thanks, Linda---It was a very special experience for all of us, and we all appreciated that opportunity, believe me.

Maggie Sefton said...

Hey, Michelle---Serena lives in Texas, about 25 miles south of Houston, near the Johnson Space Center which is the the headquarters of NASA in the USA. The shuttle and rockets launch from Cape Canaveral, FL, because of its location near the ocean. And the astronauts come from varied scientific, engineering, and military aviation backgrounds. Serena actually went to medical school and become an MD, then interned for 3 years in Internal Medicine as her resident specialty, then was a Chief Resident in Internal Med for a year, then she took a 2nd residency in Aerospace Medicine, and then became a Flight Surgeon for NASA, where she was involved with all the astronauts and their healthcare, plus doing research, and working on all projects concerning the ISS. Three years later, she was chosen as a member of the 9-personal new Astronaut Class of 2009. They have now finished their two year training period and are full-fledge astronauts.

Aurian said...

What a great story, and adventure Maggie. Thanks for sharing it.