When I received the email informing me that I had been chosen for the #NASAsocial Antares Rocket Launch, I was thrilled. I had no idea I would be chosen, no reason to believe I would be. But, I wasn't going to argue. I was going to a rocket launch.
The week before, with delay after delay, the excitement built. I kept finding myself shaking my head in wonder that I was in this situation. Every time I had to tell someone I couldn't make an appointment or might not be in town for an event due to a rocket launch I had to repeat that last part. A rocket launch? Me?
But from the minute I arrived at Wallops Flight Facility I realized there was an element to this event I had not counted on. People. I was surrounded by people who were just as excited as I was. I was surrounded by people with a positive energy that is seldom seen.
As the weekend continued, I realized just how lucky I had gotten. Yes, I was able to tour facilities I never imagined touring. And I spoke astronauts, administrators and engineers who were beyond fascinating. But I made friends from across the country because we had a common bond, excitement about the experience.
Although much of our weekend was scheduled for us, we gravitated towards each other even on our downtime. We shared meals, walks, and even a bike ride. We stood in the darkest place we could find, behind a restaurant, to watch the International Space Station pass over and we all experienced it through our new friends Michelle's eyes as she saw it for the first time with tears running down her cheeks. We became friends in a way you can only do with people who share the most elusive of experiences.
And in the end, after we all stood in silence watching the launch on Monday night, we celebrated our elation together as our bus crawled slowly back to the car park. There was an excitement that brought us together, a positive force that helped us bond and form friendships. And as I stood there at the end of the night, watching everybody celebrate the launch, I realized I have seen this positive force before.
It is the excitement that helps me bond with fellow runners and triathletes. It is the bond that develops throughout race weekends and it is what makes those friendships I have built through running so special.
Shared experience is hard to beat. As excited as my family was for me this week, they can't quite understand why I can't shut up about the launch, the people and the overall experience. They can't get it because they were not there. But my new friends know. My new NASA Social friends experienced it and can relate in the same way my running and triathletes friends can relate to all those weekends spent at the races. There is quite simply a bond that comes in shared experience, a friendship that is built through positive energy.