Saturday, September 09, 2006

Groundhog Day in Cocoa Beach

I arrived in Cocoa Beach, FL too late Tuesday night to get to take the bus out near Launchpad 39B and see STS-115 stacked on the pad awaiting lift-off on Wednesday afternoon. But I consoled myself with a confidence that the next morning I would witness my first shuttle launch. After eating a hamburger at a little grill, I stopped by Starbucks for a cup of coffee, purchased a pack for the next morning, and took a stroll on the beach. I checked into room 412 at the Wakulla Suites, sharing quarters with Randy Targhetta, Jeff Waldo (who were out at the pad), and (eventually) David Mitchell. Around seven I joined Joe Tanner's family and friends gathered at the Sunset Grill (see "The Capitalist Pig"). We visited a while over dinner and then headed for our rooms, anticipating the events of the next day.

I awoke at 6, and searched the kitchen in our suite for coffee filters. I had a pack of Starbucks and a Mr. Coffee was provided. But I could find no filters. I asked at the front desk, and the fellow there told me the launch had been scrubbed for the day. Something about a fuel cell. He promised to have housekeeping bring some filters by my room. I guess the look on my face at his news of a delayed launch and a delayed morning coffee moved him to compassion. He said, "Just a minute" and disappeared into the Wakulla's not-yet-open coffee shop, emerging with a half dozen industrial sized filters and a look of pity. I managed to get the oversized filter working with Mr. Coffee, kind of like putting a Depends on a newborn.

When the rest of our group emerged from their beds, we had high level decisions to make. Waffle House or MacDonalds? Stay for another launch attempt or reschedule flights and head home? Stuff like that.

David Mitchell had to return to Houston. Randy, Jeff, and I decided to wait, along with David and Mary June Biford, who moved from the next door Hampton Inn to the Wakulla as well. We'd wait for a word from the Mission Management Team who would be convening to decide what to do about the launch. We had a mole in the meeting and were able to get news before the general public. But they would not be meeting until 1:00 and we had to check out of our room by 12:00. So we checked out and found a place for lunch, then hung out in Starbucks, waiting for the mole to call.

We learned that we might have a chance at a Thursday launch. So we rescheduled flights and checked back into the Wakulla, and were sent back to room 412. That evening we shared some awesome seafood gumbo with the Tanner clan that one of the group concocted in their room. And then we went to bed, hopeful for a launch on Thursday.

The alarm went off at 6 on Thursday. I got up and made another pot of Starbucks. We learned that a Thursday launch was off. Possibly Friday. The Mission Management Team would be meeting at 1:00. We had to check out at 12:00. So we ate breakfast at the Sun Rise Diner, went back to the Wakulla, packed our bags, and sat in the lobby for a while. I walked down to Starbucks and worked on the sermon for the next weekend. The MMT started late and ran late. Finally we reached our threshold where we had to decide to stay or go, and opted to stay. I extended my car rental, rescheduled my flight, and checked back in to room 412 in the Hotel California, AKA Wakulla Suites. We headed to a restaurant for dinner, then returned to share a piece of peach pie with the Tanner clan, and put ourselves to bed.

The alarm went off at 6 on Friday. I got up and made another pot of Starbucks. The launch was proceeding. I got us some sausage biscuits from McD's and we ate them while watching the mission preparation on NASA tv. Then we checked out of the Wakulla for the third time, and headed for the Cape. As we were leaving, our mole called to inform us of problems that had developed with the ECO sensors and let us know that the launch was in jeopardy again.

Nevertheless, we drove to the Cape, passed through security, boarded a bus for the Saturn V Building, and enjoyed a couple of hours in the space museum while the countdown continued. The scheduled hold at T-20:00 came and went. Then at the scheduled T-9:00 hold, the announcement came over the loud speaker--the launch was scrubbed until 11:15 on Saturday.

I got within three miles and 23 hours of a shuttle launch. But that was as close as I could get. Jeff and I had to return for the weekend. Randy decided to stay one more day. David Mitchell called and said he was coming back out for the Saturday attempt. David and Mary June determined to head back for Houston. So I called Southwest Airlines and rescheduled my flight for the fifth time.

The trip home was uneventful, but when I heard my phone alarm go off this morning, I was afraid I would open my eyes and find myself in room 412 at the Wakulla Suites. Then at 10:15 AM, Houston time, I sat at my television and joined a few million others, doing what I have done often since May 5, 1961, when as an eight year old I watched Alan Shepherd ride Freedom 7 116 miles into space and plunge into the Atlantic a mere 302 miles away. I watched dedicated men and women in the U.S. space program pull off a picture perfect launch, sending Atlantis on her way to the International Space Station and back -- a journey that will take eleven days and cover about four and a half million miles. And, like so many of the launches I've watched on television over the past twenty years, this one carried a friend of mine aloft.

I look forward in a couple of weeks to seeing Joe Tanner back in his designated pew on Sunday mornings. And I look forward to another opportunity to watch a launch. I'm shooting for STS-117.


i'm_inspired said...

"Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today."
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Just thought I would throw this tidbit of wisdom your way. The events of your trip are much like many we've taken. I am famous for ruining today from anticipation of tomorrow!!

We enjoy visiting University Baptist Church when we visit our daughter and son(in-law)...Melissa and Jeff Dutton.

God Bless!

Robert said...

I'm with you on that one, Jeff. I recall a saying that "expectations are pre-meditated resentments." rrc