From the time we moved to Florida in mid-1994, we talked about watching a shuttle launch. But logistical problems seemed daunting. What if we got a motel room and the launch was postponed? Could we get another day off in the middle of the week? Would we even be able to see anything?
Then, in the fall of 1996, we got an unexpected opportunity to borrow a van on the day of a midday launch. It even had a tiny television screen that we could watch if the launch was delayed. We packed lunch, rented a couple of movies and headed to Titusville. If the launch was postponed, we'd head home and consider it a day's adventure.
We drove to Space View Park in Titusville (www.titusville.com), which has a direct view of the launch area -- albeit from 15 miles away -- and loudspeakers that broadcast feeds from the NASA control room.
Arriving early, we ate lunch and watched a movie in the van. Around us, other people interested in space travel milled about. We checked out the Mercury Monument, which honors the first seven astronauts. There were a few delays, about a hour total. Then the loudspeakers fired up and everyone headed to the banks of the Indian River and walked out on the docks for an unobstructed view.
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We heard the countdown, then saw the shuttle soar, creating huge plumes of smoke. Everyone was momentarily silenced, transfixed by the sight. Then they broke into cheers and applause. I felt a bond with the strangers around me -- and a surge of pride. I think it was then that I first claimed Florida as my home.