Oct 15, 2012

It calls!


Crenshaw and 51st. Having seen a shuttle launch and a landing, this was an especially surreal sight.

Tree trimmers had pruned the outer branches minutes before Endeavour rolled through. Clearance was about six inches…

Brakes for ANY vehicle! 
Whenever my college girlfriend Elizabeth Flint uttered the two magic words "It calls!" (and usually after more than a few beers) I knew we'd soon be on our way to Cape Canaveral. I went to Duke University in North Carolina during the early days of the shuttle program. While alcohol and teenage hormones typically result in different outcomes than hopping in a car to see a shuttle launch, we were decidedly not typical teenagers. Duke is about a nine hour drive from Cape Canaveral, well within the reach of two thrill seekers anxious to share in America's pride.

Our first trip was an exciting dud; the Challenger launch was aborted at T-12 seconds. The second trip was much less embarrassing as launch was aborted at T-35 minutes. (progress?) For the third we decided to go in style and got press credentials, courtesy of the Duke newspaper. That got us much closer and apparently better luck as we saw Challenger rocket into orbit. It was quite a sight, even from the press area which was about two miles away.

We also happened to be in California to see the landing of Discovery. Early landings all took place at Edwards Air Force base in the Mojave Desert. That scene was much less tied-down than Cape Canaveral and spectators and press were on equal footing in terms of viewing conditions. We heard the trademark double sonic booms then spotted a small spec falling out of the sky. Saying that the shuttle is a glider is one of those statements that's true only by a technicality. It really did fall like a ton of bricks with almost no forward movement. It was a picture-perfect landing. Wish I could have said the same for my relationship with Elizabeth.

The space shuttle program has been an obsession of mine for more than thirty years. I was giddy to see this inspiring, familiar spaceship close enough to touch. It was also gratifying to see the enthusiasm of other Los Angelinos who came out to soak up the awe. Apparently it called to them too.

No comments: