We made it - and despite the traffic, despite the lack of sleep, despite the cost and the heat and the length of travel and the ferocious mosquitoes, we made it. It was all worth it in the end, even the 70% chance of weather delaying the launch... Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at Canaveral at 11:29am on July 8th, 2011, and we were on the 528 westbound causeway to watch it. The mood was incredible. People cheered and whistled and applauded, and in the end (I knew I would), I cried.
I can't describe it, I really can't. To be a part of something like that - the local news said up to a million people were expected in the Space Coast area - was phenomenal. To turn around and go home right now would be fine, because I found what I was looking for. I saw it with my own eyes. And it will never happen again.
The traffic, even three hours later, was still utterly insane. Cops directed traffic at intersections. Cars eastbound on the causeway were at a standstill. The cell phone networks were overloaded to the point of allowing only emergency calls. But I can't express how glad I am to be here. How palpably nervous I was before the launch, scared it wouldn't happen, that the weather would be no-go.
We toasted the crew and the Shuttle program at the Cocoa Beach pier afterward. Now, I desperately need a nap, and the sky clouds over again in preparation for afternoon storms. But this morning, the wind was in our favor, the sky cleared just enough, the people gathered by the hundred thousands, and all our hopes and dreams as a nation collectively launched into the air at 11:29am.
In the end, the entire thing was quintessentially American - the Mustang convertible, the Eisenhower Interstate System road trip, the final launch of the 30-year-old NASA Space Shuttle program. Of the Shuttles, it seemed peculiarly appropriate that the last to fly should be Atlantis; the symbolic end of our search for a hidden "city" in the depths of space, now to be washed under the tides of history.