Antares Launch - Only One First Time

Photo Credit Wallops Flight Facility

Photo Credit Wallops Flight Facility

When my oldest son was 2 years old his favorite movie was Apollo 13.  He never watched the whole movie but instead, he would watch and re-watch the rocket launch.  So when I heard about the NASA Social, a program implemented by NASA to help spread the word about the space program in laymen’s terms I applied for my son’s sake.  As a social media consultant I knew that I had a voice that would help me spread the word.  But in terms of actually seeing the rocket, it was more about my son than my own desire to see it.

Boy did that change quickly. 

The moment I received the confirmation I had been accepted my heart beat a faster, my stomach jumped into my throat and quite honestly I found it hard to sit still.  I was going to a rocket launch.

As the time approached to leave, the excitement continued to build.  I began to think about all the angles from which I could cover the story.  I thought about the people I would meet and how that might affect the outcome of the story I would write, but on another level I found it difficult to wrap my head around the rocket launch itself.  I kept picturing the Apollo 13 launch, on my small television and I could not wrap my head around the idea that I would actually be watching something similar in real life.

The excitement builds

Arriving at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, everything changed.  It was not seeing the rocket that made it real.  It was the people.  From Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group to Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, the excitement was contagious.  There was not a single person involved in the launch not wearing their night before Christmas excitement like a cloak. 

They were proud of the hard work, proud of the members of their team who helped get them there and proud of the rocket that was sitting on the launch pad.  But it was more than pride that I saw.  It was pure excitement I saw on their faces.  They reminded me of the look my son would get when he would shout, “Again, again,” prompting me to replay the launch scene over and over again.

Put down your cameras, you don't want to miss this. You will see it, then you will hear it, then, finally your will feel it. - Charles Bolden, Administrator NASA

The day before the launch we were told by Charles Bolden that we would first see, then hear and finally feel the launch.  And he was right.  That was exactly how it happened.

As we stood in a field 2 miles from the launch pad and the countdown began, my stomach flip flopped.  My heart pounded and tears leaked from the corners of my eyes.  It was real. 

My impressions

In some ways, it was exactly what I had thought it would be.  The countdown was just like in the movies.  The noise and the brightness was exactly how I had pictured it.  The excitement was just what I expected. 

But in other ways, it was so very different.  First, because in the movies and news reels I have seen of past launches there was no doubt that the rocket would launch.  But this time, after listening to a checklist from the control center that was 426 items long, I knew just how tenuous the countdown was.  Having listened to others who had witnessed launches being scrubbed smack in the middle of a countdown, I knew it might still not happen.  That uncertainty was not something I had expected and quite honestly, as a worrier, not something I enjoyed at all.

And it was different because in the newsreels and films I have seen there is only the sense of hearing and seeing.  There is no sense of the feeling that works its way to your core as that rocket takes off.  There is no sense of the physical feeling of the vibration that runs through you or of that mental anguish, that fear that it might not go to plan, that something might go terribly wrong.

Will I do it again?

I will apply for a NASA Social again, but there is something about seeing it for the first time.  There is something about experiencing the unexpected moments that I know I will never experience again. As with so many experiences in my life, I know that there is only one first time.