It took a lot of planning to see the first Shuttle Launch in 1981. I did everything by the book. I was living in Norfolk, VA and I had to write for a launch pass I believe it was through our congressman but not quite sure. I received my pass and it was on the Atlantic Causeway. Well what do you know we had delay after delay they discovered the tiles on the underside of the Space Shuttle Columbia were coming off. The tiles were used to dissipate the heat as the shuttle came in for re-entry. Luckily my employer was supportive of my need for them to be flexible in my vacation schedule.
At some point I had two friends from the Richmond area indicated an interest to go for the launch also. I know them from our common interest in the astronomy hobby. This was an excellent match and we were able to share the drive and expenses and celebrate the event after it happened. So not sure where to go from here. I missed seeing all the Apollo launches in person but for some reason I didn’t want to miss the first space shuttle launch. I have a scrap book full of articles about various space events. The way the US has done its transition since Apollo has been short sighted. We should have continued building our manned space program and not cut it off after the moon landings were cancelled. The last Apollo mission was the ASTP in 1974. This was the reason I really wanted to attend the first Space Shuttle launch. It had been six years since the last manned launch.
Now I don’t remember much of the trip down to Florida but I do remember the day of the scheduled launch day. It was a beautiful day. All the launch preparations were going smoothly. As we got into the space center started getting crowded. Well that is when the things started to go wrong. The crowd control was non-existent and parking at our designated area was unorganized. We did find a spot and once we got settled it seemed to be ok. We must have been hearing mission control audio and other than that we had to wait. My father had taught me to get to events early. We were following the launch activities and the count got down to t-9 minutes and holding. Well the launch didn’t proceed as needed.
Apparently the computers were not talking to each other.
So we had to leave our parking area and ended up going to Disney World along with everyone else. That day was the most attended day at that time. Florida refused to waive the toll road fee to help elevate the congestion.
Our activity for the balance of the time is not remembered by me but on the re-scheduled launch day we were there once again early and it was anther beautiful day. I don’t know the inside story but something happened between the original scheduled launch and the re-scheduled launch the organization of the parking and traffic control at the cape was fantastic. We were once again parked but this time everything was in a neat line and organized. This time everything for the launch went smoothly. It was my first launch. I believe it was my friends first launch too. Anyway I remember seeing the launch feeling the power and I watched the spacecraft as it changed into a star like object as it got into the upper atmosphere.
I had always intended to attend other launches and did attempt to see one with my nephew but they had an extended delay due to an oxygen leak in the cabin. Fast forward when the shuttle program was cancelled I decided to attend the last shuttle launch. At that time they weren’t sure if they would launch the launch on need vehicle after the last scheduled launch of STS-134. Atlantis was prepped on the pad for STS-134 for a launch on need vehicle. So at the time of STS-134 was launched I was there. For the launch of Atlantis my nephew Nick decided he wanted to go so we were there for that. Please see my future story about the last shuttle launch.