Sunday, 10 July 2011

Big boys don't cry

A delay of a few seconds between a live event and it being broadcast on the TV is normally neither here nor there. But in this case timing was crucial.

For Spaceflight writer Dwayne Day it proved rather more significant, as he explained to me later in the day. He had flown in from Washington and was at Cocoa Beach watching the launch on TV in a friend’s apartment.

The idea was to dash to the outside balcony at the moment the countdown hit zero. As the engines fired on the TV screen he rushed outside, only to see the distant Shuttle already climbing well above the pad!

Watching a Space Shuttle launch is always an emotional experience - but especially so when it is the last one ever in the 30 year history of the programme.

NASA managers at the post-launch media briefing were visibly moved and there was spontaneous and heartfelt applause for the two ‘Mikes’ - Mike Lienbach, Shuttle launch director, and Mike Moses, Shuttle integration manager - as they entered the press room some 90 minutes after liftoff.

When asked about his feelings Mike Moses (left) admitted that he was normally ‘choked’ up after a launch. This time, he said, it was before blastoff.

"It looked like it was lifting off in slow motion," he said. "It was very moving, very beautiful."

After the launch was over we stood around to reflect on the moment. For everyone it was a shared experience. We patted backs and shook hands with friends we had come to know and work with over the years.

For the tightly knit launch team the fun was over too. They lingered in the firing room after the successful launch, exchanging hugs and pats on the back and taking photos together.

"We will never see that again," Mike Leinbach and a colleague remarked to each other. "It was a special moment."

"It seemed like we didn't want to leave," he added. "It was like the end of a party and you just don't want to go."

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