Close Encounters With Another World

Space Shuttle Endeavour takes off on mission STS-130

My husband and I were lucky enough that our birthdays coordinated with the launch of the last ever night shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.  Being space and science geeks we could think of no better way to celebrate and, after a tense ticket purchase process, we eagerly packed our bags and jumped on a flight out to the USofA.

On the evening of launch Endeavour STS -130 was delayed by 24 hours, meaning we’d end up spending three nights and 4 days without any sleep. We spent two full nights at Kennedy Space Centre on cold February evenings, anticipation building as we wondered will it / won’t it take off this time? We followed the astronauts on the big screen as they got suited and booted and took the ride to the launch pad and scaled the mighty launch towers. Commentary was provided by ex-astronauts who joined us in the cold evening air, fielding questions from the eager crowds as anticipation mounted. During the day we toured the space center and met the astronauts trying to understand what an incredible feat they were about to undertake.

28 hours after we first arrived at Kennedy Space Centre, she took to the sky. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. Night instantly turned to day as the flames lit up the sky, creating an artificial dawn at 3:45am.  My knees literally gave way and I was grateful for my tripod as I slid to the ground I wonderment and cried tears of concern and joy.

Whilst I expected the launch to move me in ways like never before, what I did not expect was the profound impact this experience would have on us – for days we would discuss and de-construct the experience, marvelling at science’s achievements and debating whether a future generation should continue this passion for exploration. We discussed how we felt about our own lives and jobs – what it was to feel meaningful and how we could capture their spirit of exploration.  The whole experience of being at Kennedy Space Center during the prep and launch was an honour  – we met some incredible people, learned lots and were lucky enough to witness the shuttle on the launch pad literally hours before launch.  This is about as close as we will get to space (for now….)

The picture below is me with Alfred Worden, perhaps best known as America’s First Astronaut to perform a Deep Space EVA on the return from the moon aboard Apollo 15. It was an honour and a pleasure to meet him.

Marie Knock and Al Worden

Further images from Kennedy Space Center are available in our Taraji Blue USA Photo Gallery.

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