Early on the morning of April 12, 1981, after a couple of delays, the space shuttle Columbia was finally getting ready for lift-off to the first ever shuttle mission into space. One of the spectators, Flickr member arockalypse, was standing in the crowd, being terribly excited and anxious. He told us he grew up loving astronomy and following the space program, but until that day he had only seen Apollo launches on TV, so this was a huge thrill:
"When countdown gets to under 3 minutes, you can definitely feel the excitement building as liftoff approaches.” Asked about what one feels when the shuttle has its liftoff, he adds: “When the shuttle takes off, you can’t really feel the heat, nor do you get any dust or smoke. The closest general public viewing areas are miles away for safety and security reasons. But it is essentially a giant firework, and the ignition of the propellant is visible all up and down Florida’s Space Coast. A little less than a minute into the launch you can start hearing and feeling the rumble of the sound."
From then on, arockalypse and his family watched many of the following launches on TV: "Watching a launch on television is exciting as well. You get a different perspective, a lot of information and commentary, and closer imagery. However, nothing really compares with the excitement of being with all those people and sharing the event with everybody." But STS-1 remained the only launch arockalypse and his family experienced on site for a long time.
While arockalypse says he wouldn’t call 1981 utopian, he always felt strongly about the important role of the space program to drive technology, innovation, science, understanding, and our imaginations. Of course, being only 13 years old back then, he, like many, imagined a very different world for 2011—one filled with flying cars, jet packs, food in pill form, and all the other "futuristic" things that power a young persons fantasies about the future.
30 years later, when STS-135, the last space shuttle mission before retiring of the program, was planned, arockalypse and his family entered a lottery for tickets and managed to score passes to the Astronaut Hall of Fame viewing area. His father, his girlfriend and himself left on Thursday evening from Newark, and despite some significant travel delays made it to the viewing area around 4:00 am. He tells us, "As the date approached we thought about taking the second photo. The first photo is one of our favorites, and we thought it would be fun to document our ‘bookend experience’ by taking a similar one. My mother, Ginny, took the first photo, and my girlfriend, Chelsea, took the second. We weren’t terribly preoccupied with making an exact replica of the picture. We just wanted something similar to document both experiences, provide a bit of nostalgia and novelty, honor the shuttle and the passage of time, and illustrate the father/son bond that we share."
When the launch finally took place, "it was bittersweet. We are big supporters and followers of the space program, and it is somewhat sad to see this great era come to an end. However, the Shuttle was a fantastic program and despite 2 horrible tragedies, it was an amazingly successful one. I’m looking forward to what comes next!"
Arockalypse, thank you very much for sharing your photos and your story with us!