A woman had a blue umbrella open and people in the crowd complained. I chuckled that such a small thing could annoy people at such a historic moment. Loud speakers in Space View Park announced the countdown. I considered jumping in the water to escape the pressing crowd but I had long pants on. I stood on my rickety camping chair to see over the crowd. Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off from launch pad 39A at 11:29am. A blazing light appeared across the river and billowing exhaust cloud crept outward. Everyone cheered and a digital salute began with everyone raising their cellphones and cameras to take a shot. When the roar of the crowd died down it was eerily quiet. Within seconds the blazing light punched through the clouds and was gone. As people turned to leave, a deafening rumble ripped across the water. It shook my chest. The noise took people by surprise. A father explained to his son that light travels faster than sound.
This launch of Atlantis marked the end of the 30 year Space Shuttle Program. This program launched great observatories, built an International Space Station and taught us how humans can live, work and continually learn in space. Terry and I lingered as the crowd cleared. We decided to let the initial rush of traffic go on without us. Terry suggested I do another sketch. I decided to draw the lemonade vendor as Terry relaxed with a magazine.
Some videographer stuck his camera in my face and started waxing poetic about how the artist was capturing the emotional context of the launch. After the initial ink work was in place, I decided I had to have a lemonade. They were out of sugar but had Sweet & Low. I hesitated but still ordered. After mixing in four packets I took a sip and cringed. Yuck! I traded Terry for a water and we were both content.
We decided to drive south on A1A once I finished the sketch to go to a Mexican restaurant someone suggested I visit. The place offered $1 Margaritas when the two minute countdown began. Driving down side streets I was almost sideswiped by a guy that ignored a stop sign. I gunned my engine and he missed me by inches. I was glad when we found a table in the restaurant and settled in for Margaritas and a delicious Mexican meal.
The TV above the bar showed mission control. A man wrapped up what he was doing at his station and he left. I felt sad knowing the shuttle program was almost over. The whole economy on the coast is about to change as all the NASA staff is laid off. We wondered if beach front property might suddenly become affordable. After dinner we took a blanket and relaxed out by the riverfront across the street. I closed my eyes and napped. I was jolted awake by a gust of wind which pelted me with sand. It began to rain and we ran back to my truck. On the drive back we listened to a book on tape called "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand about World War II POW's imprisoned by the Japanese. It was a ceaselessly brutal book but it distracted me when we hit traffic which crawled on the Beach line Expressway as we inched back to Orlando. The book is about never giving up and the power of the human spirit. We spent 14 hours or so driving to watch the 40 second launch but it was worth it.