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Why I Sat on My Roof to Watch the Endeavour

Space exploration has inspired children for decades, and that magical fascination with the unknown doesn't go away when we grow up.

I sat on my roof with my SLR camera pointed at the sky and a live Twitter feed rolling across the screen of my smart phone this morning. About 90 minutes in, the Space Shuttle Endeavor buzzed downtown Santa Cruz, then hooked left to cruise over the beach and my house, in Seacliff.

It was a magical moment.

Space and all of the unknown that surrounds Earth inspires the imaginations scientists, movie makers and, of course, children. Friday's grand display brought back wonderful memories of my last encounter with a space shuttle.

The summer of 1991 I was a gap-toothed 10-year-old on family vacation in Florida. Disneyworld should have been sole focus, but it was the hour drive east to Kennedy Space Center that put stars in my eyes.

I was fascinated with space. Not in a Star Wars, sci-fi way (I finally watched the Trilogy for the first time this year) but the science of it. I spent several summers tediously building then magnificently launching model rockets, though not always with great success. Thanks to a supportive teacher, I obtained the mailing address for NASA spokespeople across the US and sent them innocent inquiries seeking photos, pamphlets and literature about space shuttles, missions, planets and—of course—how to go to Space Camp.

The arrival of thick manila envelopes from NASA space centers in California, Texas, Mississippi and Florida brought almost as much joy as Christmas. Kind PR people would send reams of 8 1/2-by-11 glossy photos of all things NASA that I could sift through for hours. (Remember, I'm a child of the '80s. The Internet and Google image searches were years away.)

And on a summer day in 1991—Aug. 2, to be exact—my parents humored me and drove the whole family out to Kennedy Space Center. On the way, Dad pointed in the sky and pulled to the side of highway. Us three kids piled out with Mom and watched the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The shuttle's departure had been delayed repeatedly, but on that morning I got to watch it take off for a nine-day mission to deploy satellites and conduct experiments about protein growth and auroral photography.

For me, it was the highlight of our vacation.

Space Camp never happened and those model rockets are dust-covered relics in my parents' attic now, but the anticipation and thrill of watching the Space Shuttle Endeavor fly over my house today brought back the hope, adventure and magic that NASA and space travel has given my generation.

The final frontier ...

Cathy P. September 21, 2012 at 10:44 PM
You are correct Liseth, Challenger was replaced by Endeavour and Endeavour was constructed from spare parts originally meant for Challenger and the other shuttles in the fleet. I grew up watching the "Space Program" on TV in the 1960s, drinking Tang - just like the astronauts, and eating Space Food Bars, anyone remember those?) As a very small girl my Dad and I built a telescopein our backyard spent many a clear night gazing at the heavens. Dad taught me a mnemonic for remembering the names of the 9 planets: “My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles” - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto - even though Pluto was reclassified to "dwarf planet" in 2006, I keep it on the list anyway.
Joe Kline September 21, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Great Story Jennifer! I have been following the space program since the late 1950's. I got to see the last Shuttle launch, STS-135 last July, and the flyover today. Also got to see the first landing of Challenger at Edwards AFB in 1983.
Kathy O'Mara September 22, 2012 at 03:13 AM
By the time the shuttle landed today in LA, relatives and friends and friends of friends from Sacramento all the way down to Southern California had gleefully weighed in, posting comments and photos and videos and verbal high-5's on Facebook. As the plane pulled to a stop, I was very moved thinking how this one event had given us all such a positive and connected moment. I had watched the shuttle here in Watsonville, saw it out over the ocean as it approached Monterey, then watched the KTLA coverage as it buzzed the Griffith Observatory and downtown LA. To be part of such a spontaneous and unplanned experience really made me pause and appreciate life and earth and human beings.
Dan Manassau September 22, 2012 at 02:26 PM
While dworking at Lockheed, we were busy at Moffett Park in the shadow of the old navy blimp hanger manufacturing the tiles that the shuttle from the heat of re-entry. That manufacturing line is no more, but it remains in the memories of many proud employees who worked on the program. Near by, the Blue Cube (Onizuka Air Force Station) stands empty now. Take your kids for a drive by and show them where a successful part of the cold war (the deterent) tracked the space shuttles and satellites. It deserves to be a museum, but will no doubt be destroyed by the wreaking ball of tecknological progress one day.
Norm September 23, 2012 at 02:16 PM
I'm not sure we'll see another government-sponsored manned spaceflight program in our lifetime. Too muchy money with the state the economy is in.

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