The Space Shuttle Discovery was scheduled to launch at 4:55pm. I had approval to get a press pass thanks to the artists at McRae Art Studios. The launch had been scrubbed so many times that the McRae Artists were unable to go. I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. I drove out to Kennedy Space Center alone. This was going to be one of the final launches in the dying shuttle program. I thought I was giving myself plenty of time to drive out to the space coast when I left at noon. I was wrong. 50 became a gridlocked parking lot about halfway out to the coast. The hour drive became two and then three. Others were driving out to see the launch, who knew. The most agonizing wait was on the causeway over the Indian River. Finally I got to a security officer who asked for my paperwork. He waved me through. Suddenly there were wide open roads. I was now in the Kennedy Space Center. I knew where the press accreditation building was since I had been there before.
This time the building was open. Inside two elderly women were busy getting ready to leave. One woman looked at my paperwork and said, "Cutting it kind of close, aren't we?" She printed up my pass and gave me a map to the press parking lot. I arrived on site with an hour to spare before launch. Just enough time for a sketch if I got to work immediately. I was tempted by all the news crews but with only one sketch I had to catch the launch pad. I was drawn to the huge rusty countdown clock. This thing was like 5 feet tall and 15 feet wide. I considered sketching it but I was standing in the blazing sun. It was hot. Instead I walked behind the clock and I sat down in its shadow. Ahhh... Nice and cool. I began to sketch all the photographers with their cameras aimed out across the water. The launch pad was visible on the horizon. I was surprised when someone said my name. He knew of my blog. He asked me if I thought it was ok for him to stand on a rusty box that jutted out from the back of the clock. I'm no expert, so I said, "Fine with me." From his elevated perch he pointed out that Bill Nye the Science Guy was watching the launch. Seems he is always in character since he was wearing his signature bow tie. There was also a Japanese fellow in a blue astronauts jumpsuit talking to a Japanese news crew.
I finished the sketch with minutes to go before the launch. I sent out a couple of tweets and Facebook pics since I couldn't sit idle. Then I started a second sketch where I planned to place the huge vertical plume. Then I heard people shouting and clapping. A large white billowing cloud silently issued from the launch pad. Then the blazing yellow light hit me. It was as bright as the sun. Then the sound rumbled across the water and struck me full force. It was a deep powerful, guttural sound that made my chest vibrate. I have stood next to huge concert speakers and they don't come close to the force of this sound wave. The plume rose quickly into the sky and I quickly sketched its gesture. A soldier in a camouflage uniform stood in front of me. People continued to clap and scream as the brilliant light diminished. The setting sun illuminated the shifting rockets trail with it's golden light. It was a perfect day for Space Shuttle Discovery's final launch, and a fitting tribute to this space crafts long career.
The drive home was a nightmare. I used the GPS to keep looking for alternate routes then I just settled in and relaxed with the window down as I crawled home on the Beachway going 10 miles an hour. I had just witnessed one of man's greatest achievements, the traffic didn't matter. I listened to the sounds of crickets and other night life. I flipped the radio on for the long, long drive home. It was midnight when I pulled into my driveway. Exhausted I dropped into bed and drifted to sleep.