I can now say that I have seen the literal definition of that word. I'm sitting here, over a week later, and I'm *still* struggling to put this experience into words. I guess we'll go "Stream of Consciousness" typing and see what happens.
While I was standing there, I wished everyone I knew could be standing there with me. Feeling the absolute rush. Seeing the whole night light up from millions of pounds of fuel igniting. Hearing a sound so loud that I felt it in my chest. And experiencing the sense of awe that we puny humans could accomplish something like this.
I had been nervous to go. Challenger exploded when I was a kid, and it's stuck with me ever since. Every time I watched a launch on tv after that, I'd hold my breath. Waiting for something to go wrong. That same fear was present as we prepared for the trip. All I could think was "What if something goes wrong while we're there in person? How is that going to affect the kids? Me?"
The launch went beautifully though, and I have to say, being there in person was so amazing that I forgot to be scared. I wish it was something that everyone could experience. I think these days, with our country getting so cynical, we *need* more stuff like this. Not less. We need something to be excited about. Something that we can all stand together and gaze at with a childlike wonder. To inspire us.
I could ramble on forever about it, but I'll cut myself off here. I'll switch gears and kind of recap our experience a little bit.
We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (from here on out abbreviated to KSC) the day before, to check in and attend a briefing. A nice surprise I got was that our VIP passes gave us all tickets to visit KSC itself. After we checked in, we killed some time by looking at some exhibits before the briefing.
The briefing was interesting, but the auditorium was hot, and it was a bit too long for the kids. They hung in there though, and finally it was done. We spent the rest of the afternoon touring the KSC.
We then headed back to the hotel to kill some time in the pool. When it got late, I took the kids out for a late dinner, and then drove back to KSC. The plan had been to get there early and then sleep in the car until it was time to get on the bus. Looking back, that may have been somewhat better to stick with, but we survived and got to experience things most don't.
After I had parked, it was about midnight, and I noticed people were already streaming in the entrance, children included. I figured we'd go ahead and check in early, and see what the deal is. Coming back to the car to sleep after that.
(we didn't get back to our van until 9 a.m.)
After we checked in, the lady told us to "have fun at the party!" We walked into KSC, and there were people everywhere! The exhibits were all open and everyone was milling around and having a good time. The kids really perked up and begged to play on the playground with all the other kids. So, against all rationality, I let them. I had the weird experience of sitting at NASA at 1 a.m. while my kids played on a playground with a million other kids from all over the world.
Eventually my logical side won out over my fun side and I gathered the kids up. I then tried to figure out what on earth to do. I knew the kids needed to sleep some or they'd totally sleep through the launch. I didn't want to go back to the van though, as then we'd have to go through security all over again. So I figured we'd find a bench or something and figure things out. All the benches were taken, and I noticed that the lines for the bus were already forming. We got in line, even though the buses weren't coming for two hours. Using a creative assortments of jackets, the kids were actually able to pass out on the concrete. I desperately wanted to doze but couldn't.
The buses showing up caught me off guard, and complete strangers were helping me get the kids up because the line was moving fast. Logan totally slept while he walked to the bus, which got a lot of giggles from everyone who saw him. We boarded the bus and got to the viewing site and found some seats. Everyone but Logan was awake for a while as we listened to the commentary and took turns looking through the binoculars at the launch pad.
We were all pretty much zombies by this point. It was about 3:45/4:00 a.m. (Launch was scheduled for 6:21 a.m.)
The kids all eventually fell asleep on the pavement again, I may or may not have seen Neil Armstrong, and I spent some time trying to snap pictures. Which didn't go too well considering I had kids sleeping on me and didn't have a tripod. Here's a few of my valiant efforts though. (first one is clearer, but doesn't show how the lighting really looked. Second one is super blurry, but more accurately shows what the lighting looked like.)
About 17 minutes before the launch, the space station passed overhead pretty visibly. It was a fun warmup for the big event. When the countdown clock passed all the holds, and started counting down the final 9 minutes, we got the kids woken up.
And then, it happened. I'm embedding a video I made at the end of this post. It will do the best job of talking about the launch than anything I can type here.
After the launch, we toured the Saturn V building waiting for our buses to pick us up. Then we headed back to KSC, got some souvenirs, and ate some breakfast. Then we headed to the van. The kids swore they weren't tired, but this was the sight before I even started the van to drive off:
I only got about 30 minutes down the road before I pulled over into a rest area and crashed asleep. I think we all slept in the car for about two hours before I was up to driving the rest of the way back to our hotel. After we got back to the hotel, the kids were rested, and we spent the rest of the day doing. . . something. I was so tired at that point I honestly can't remember.
Totally worth it though.
(make sure your sound is on!)