The second week of May Blair had a furlough day. It just happened to fall on the day of the recent space shuttle Atlantis launch. Since Atlantis will be retiring this year, and are only a few launches left. Neither Blair nor I have ever witnessed the spectacle, so we decided to have an adventure and go watch the launch then spend the night in Orlando so we could go to the temple the next day. The drive there was about 4 hours (give or take, but could have been faster if not for an impatient toddler) and we were in fine spirits when we arrived in Titusville, FL. The launch was scheduled for 2:20 and we had an hour and a half to wait.
(Not our car, but I liked the artwork)
We planned to view the launch from Spaceview Park. The park is situated on the edge of the waterway that separates Titusville from the NASA facilities. Every last inch of parking close to the park was claimed, so we had to park about 12 blocks away. The closer we got to the park, the more the air sizzled with anticipation. There were many people who had been there since early morning and plenty more crawled along like ants marching to a spilled lunch. Shade umbrellas, lawn chairs, camping chairs, blankets, towels, coolers, and even a few sleeping bags choked out all the grassy areas. There were T-shirt vendors, food vendors, beverage vendors, and memorabilia vendors on street corners and dotted throughout the park. We managed to find a little piece of pavement on a pathway in the park where we promptly laid out our blanket and began slathering on sunscreen. I watched in fascination as strangers talked and joked, people checked and re-checked camera batteries, and children asked over and over, "is it time yet?" Boy scout troops were there and news crews vied for good positions for reporting on the scene. I heard one report that attendance for viewing the launch was over 35,000 people.
The clock ticked on and we made conversation with our fellow spectators. There was a sense of camaraderie and easiness bred from our shared purpose. Ella ran and danced begged to sit in every stroller she could see. Blair kept telling her about the shuttle and made a rumbling noise while showing her with his hand how the shuttle would fly up into the sky. Soon the chatter became louder and we heard snippets of conversation: "Just 5 minutes!"; "Not long now!"; "It's 2:18!"; "Get ready!"; "Here we go!!"; "10...9...8...7..."
And I heard myself join in with "6...5...4...3...2...1!"
We heard a great rumble and the suddenly silent crowd stood with eyes fixed, frantically searching and hoping to spot the space shuttle as it rose into the sky. Arms were raised heavenward with cameras ready. Then the shuttle came into view and the crowd exploded with squeals and exclamations. Ella was sitting on Blair's shoulders and she was mesmerized by the bright fire exploding from the end of the shuttle. We watched until it was too small to watch anymore.
Then it was over. The crowd immediately burst into action, folding chairs and blankets, buckling children into strollers, and packing up coolers and bags. I stood watching the commotion and reflected on the experience. The experience that lasted less than a full minute. Hours of planning, preparing, and waiting all lead up to just one minute of awe. Then everyone was strangers again, elbowing and running to beat their neighbor out of the park. Blair and I stood and watched and let Ella play for a while. Then when the crowd had thinned out a little we buckled her into her stroller and headed out to our car.
Not long after that we discovered why people were running and throwing elbows to get to their vehicles. On a normal day, the drive from Titusville to Orlando takes about 45 minutes. But that day we sat on the road for over 3 hours. That's what you get when 35,000 people are trying to get out of a small town.
We discovered during that drive that the Orlando temple was closed for maintenance so we wouldn't be able to attend the next day. But since we had already paid for our hotel room we stayed anyway and took Ella to Sea World the next day. She really had a good time seeing the fish and sting rays and splashing in water wherever she could (sorry no pictures--I left my camera in the car). Blair and I really enjoyed the shows and had a good time, too. As Florida residents, we were able to pay less than one day of admission for a "fun pass" that will let us come back all year long. We plan to go up at least a couple more times in conjunction with temple trips, so we think we'll make good use of the tickets. It was a fun family vacation and I'm glad we went!