National Geographic

Launch Morning

I’m on my way to Orlando, Florida for the launch of STS-126. If you’ve been wondering what “STS” stands for in shuttle flight names, it’s pretty simple—Space Transportation System. No fluff for those NASA folks!

I’ve been asked many times why I try and attend every shuttle launch. Once you’ve seen one, haven’t you seen them all? It’s true that shuttle launches can come to feel a bit routine. I could probably do the drive from Orlando to the press center with my eyes closed. But not only does something unique happen almost every time I go (more on that later today), I’m overwhelmed by the experience each time. I’m watching part of history unfold as there will only be a handful of shuttle launches left. Just think of the people who said, “I’ll catch the launch of Apollo 18,” (the Apollo program was scrapped before missions 18, 19, and 20 could launch).

You’re also watching seven people experience something truly incredible that only a few humans have ever accomplished. When the rush of the launch shockwave hits you and shakes your whole body and the roar of the engines washes through you, you realize that there is a crew atop that blaze racing into orbit. Maybe it’s envy, maybe it’s pride and admiration, but it’s a thrilling emotional experience that leaves me feeling charged.

My thoughts this morning are with the three astronauts for whom this will be their first trip into space. What must be going through their minds right now as they attempt to sleep, knowing that in 14 hours, they will be in space.

Here’s a sunrise photo that I took on the morning of STS-114, my first shuttle launch in July, 2005, the first shuttle to return to flight since the Columbia disaster. It was a beautiful morning, and after several weeks of delays, everything went like, well, clockwork. Here’s hoping for the same today!


Image Credit: Susan Poulton