|Crew of STS-121 and Discovery (Mike Fossum 2nd from right)|
I didn’t realize until I stood in the VIP line at Kennedy Space Center to get my official paperwork what an honor Mike Fossum, my astronaut friend, had given me by including me with his family. Mike and I had been good friends since we were thirteen years old and had managed to stay in touch through his time as a USAF test pilot and then his acceptance to the Astronaut Corps (after being rejected several times). Now he was about to embark on his first shuttle mission aboard Discovery after years of training to assemble and repair the ISS via EVA (extra-vehicular activity or space walking)!
|Mike Fossum & his wife (left) with FBI security officer|
|Discovery just after lift-off with one of the ever-present vultures|
|The white dot just off center is one of the parachutes with the shuttle’s booster rocket|
|The growing acid rain cloud post-launch with surveillance chopper|
|STS-121 crew after arriving at ISS (Mike at bottom left with floating necklace)|
When the first two launch attempts were “scrubbed” because of weather, I changed my return ticket home in order to stay for the 4th of July, which is America’s Independence Day. It was a PERFECT day to launch the world’s largest bottle rocket! The families had the best view, along with the other astronauts, NASA employees and their families, and other VIPs (Steve Tyler of Aerosmith was present at this launch—I even stood right beside him and didn’t recognize him, I was so focused on everything else going on).
The launch was definitely worth waiting for. There were no storm clouds anywhere close on Tuesday, but electricity of another kind was in the air. We could hear Mission Control and the astronauts talking back and forth over a loudspeaker. I sat in front of Commander Steve Lindsey’s parents in the bleachers (they are so nice), and we all cheered when we got past the T minus 9 minute mark (which is where they aborted the count on the first try–it’s a built in “hold” in case there are problems). At T minus five minutes we all stood up and sang the National Anthem. Then at T minus 10 seconds, all of us counted down the clock together (shouted it, actually).
Steam rose from the water flooding underneath the engines (a sound wave suppression system, as the reverberation from the engines would be strong enough to break apart the shuttle). Those engines were as bright as the sun–much brighter than they look in photos or on TV. The assembly climbed so fast–our NASA engineer said it’s going 100 mph (160 km/h) before it even clears the tower. It started to arc away from us–out over the Atlantic–and then the solid rocket boosters came off. I could see them coming down with their parachutes! Meanwhile the cloud from the launch continued to grow and glow, and the stiff sea breeze was pushing it toward us. As soon as Discovery reached orbit (a little over 8 minutes) and the fuel tank was jettisoned, a voice on the loudspeaker said “everyone back to the buses immediately.” The fuel is acidic, and those growing clouds were starting to drop acid rain on us.
I had lots of facts to use in my physics class that year–including the fact that there isn’t zero G in space–it’s actually called microgravity (there is a teeny bit of gravity, after all). And the shuttle and space station aren’t technically flying around the Earth–they are falling around the Earth at 17,500 mph (28,163 km/h)!
I felt so privileged to have been a part of the launch! It was quite difficult to come back to Earth…how much more difficult for the astronauts themselves?
|Mike Fossum, me, and Cady Coleman backstage at a Jethro Tull concert in October 2012 (it sure is fun to have friends in high places!!!!)|