When I was in Grade Five, my mom said to me, “You and your sister can stay home this morning from school if you want.”
I was confused. It was a Friday morning, and I felt fine. So did my sister. So I asked why.
Mom explained that there was going to be a news special on TV — that they were going to launch a rocket into space. It was going to be the first one of its kind — it would go up like a rocket and come down like an airplane — and Mom felt it was important that I watch a part of history.
It was April 10, 1981, and Columbia was sitting on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. The mission was called STS-1. Krista and I stayed home and watched…and waited…and watched.
Well, I learned a new word that day: “scrubbed.” The launch was postponed for the rest of the day due to some sort of computer problem, so Krista and I headed off to school, getting there about halfway through the morning.
When I told Miss White why I was late, she snapped, “Well, I could have told you this morning it wasn’t going to go.”
Everything about that day is burned into my memory. I settled into my seat feeling chastised and disappointed, but at that moment, the launch of that rocket ship became personal. It had to fly.
I spent the rest of Friday and all of Saturday asking my mother if she knew when the rocket was going to go. And on Sunday morning, April 12, 1981, at 8:00 AM AST, I was firmly parked in front of the television when Columbia’s engines lit and that beautiful white bird rose from the launch pad. I couldn’t breathe — I have tears in my eyes right now, just thinking about it. I watched until we couldn’t see her anymore, and then I immediately wanted to watch it again.
(By the way — don’t be too hard on Miss White: On the following Tuesday, she rolled a television into the classroom so we could watch Columbia land successfully in California — I wouldn’t have experienced the happy ending of the mission without her.)
It’s been twenty-nine years since Columbia took to the sky. Since then I’ve watched numerous shuttle launches. Listening to the communication between the cockpit and Mission Control is something I always enjoy doing, and the sequence has become almost as familiar to me as the words to “O Canada.” But I hadn’t seen the launch of STS-1 again since I was eleven years old, so one day last week I looked for it on YouTube:
I was mesmerized. Hearing now-familiar phrases like “Max Q”, “Go for SRB-Sep,” and “Go for Main Engine Cut-Off” and realizing that was the very first time they were said for a shuttle launch gave me chills.
And, as in 1981, I had to watch it again, and again, and again.
Happy birthday to the Space Shuttle Program, and happy birthday to my space geek self who roared to life along with the space shuttle’s engines. I will never forget you, Columbia.
(originally posted on My Created Life: April 12, 2010)