Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In The Shadow of Giants

My alarm is set for 4 am, and it is now after 10 pm and I've been awake since 4 am this morning, but I'm not able to sleep.

For one thing, I'm in a hotel room (extra-special nice suite, I might add) and not in my own bed.
For another, I'm mildly insomniac, so this 'not-sleeping thing' isn't all that unfamiliar. Add to that the sound of thunder rolling outside and that I had a very exciting and stimulating day and you'll end up with a wide awake Mollianne, sitting here with a laptop beside my gently snoring husband.

We are at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the Ares IX, which was scheduled to launch at 8 am this morning. My rocket engineer husband (whom I affectionately call Rocket Man) works for a NASA sub-contractor building Space Flight Hardware. We live in Huntsville, Alabama (Rocket City, USA) so this isn't a big deal to anyone in Huntsville. I don't know how many rocket engineer/scientists there are in Huntsville, but I know enough of them to know that there is surely a mathematical formula that would tell me exactly how many there are!

Anyway, Rocket Man and his trusty team of amazing engineers, machinists, Quality Control folks, software and hardware people helped design and build the Roll Control System for the Ares IX, which is probably more than you want to know. I cannot do the math (any of it) but I do know some things that I have learned mostly by osmosis about flight hardware and the Roll Control System. If you really want to know, leave a comment and I'll get you an answer. Sufficient here to say that when I heard him asking someone on the phone yesterday, "is it 1.3 x 10 to the eleventh or the fourteenth? We need to know!"...that is just all in a days' work for those guys.

So, today was the big day. Launch day. I cannot tell you how excited I have been about this. I remember watching launches on old black and white TVs in the classroom as a child in elementary school. I recall so vividly the first moon walk. I was SO doggone impressed when I moved to Huntsville and actually met people who worked for NASA. NASA, I tell ya! For several years, I kept season passes to the Space and Rocket Center and took my children there regularly to play among the exhibits and look at the rockets.

Rocket Man and I woke up at 4 am this morning and were in the car headed to Kennedy Space Center before 5. We had had packed a bag of things we thought we might need; binoculars, camera, cell phones, hats, sunscreen. badges and boarding passes for the bus. We went through security and found out seats on the bus. My heart was racing as we got closer and closer to the viewing stand. Ares IX was lit up and so splendid on the launch pad. We drove past the Vertical Assembly Building and finally pulled into the parking lot. We secured our seats in the stands with some of Rocket Man's co-workers and commenced to wait for the launch. I took pictures of the countdown clock. I took pictures of the rocket on the pad. I took pictures of the sunrise. People were mulling around and as the clock counted down from 1:45:24 when we arrived to 59:00:00, the excitement was electric. Less than an hour.

They had warned me that there would be a scheduled hold at 4 minutes, that would last for 20 minutes. As we neared the time that the clock would be reset, we listened so carefull to the loudspeaker as Mission Control asked each system for Go/No-Go. Green or Red? Each 'go' was met with a cheer. When they asked for the RoCS (Rocket Man's handiwork) and I heard the strong "Go" I had tears of joy. Then, we got the 'No Go'. Weather, wind, the probe cover and a cargo ship in the danger zone became the subjects of the morning.

In the end, he launch was scrubbed. We are going back tomorrow in hopes of seeing a launch. The thunder outside is not very encouraging right now. Maybe it will blow on out to sea before morning.

I have to say, I feel today like I was standing in the shadow of giants. In my lifetime, the very first rocket was launched. John Glen orbited the earth. We have taken one small step for man and giant leaps for mankind. I felt the shadow of those giants as I sat in the stands and sang our National Anthem. All those guys from the film clips with black horn rimmed glasses, white shirts, crew cuts and skinny ties who used slide rules to figure out things that computers calculate today in an instant seemed to be there with us. I know some fine men who are now retired, but whose careers included helping to put an American man on the moon! The moon! Can you imagine? The men and women who worked so diligently on the Shuttle program since I was in Junior High School were surely there, cheering alongside us with each "Go" that rang out.

We honor those who were pioneers in Space Flight, but I also honor those who worked on the vehicle that is standing strong and true on the pad right now. Men and women who took the challenge and did something we haven't done as a nation in 30 years...built a new launch vehicle and rolled it out for test flight. I was not in their shadow, I was sitting among them. '1.3 x10 to the eleventh' is recognizable to me only as a mathematical formula, but to the man sitting next to me, it was a difference between "Go and No Go" on a paint sample.

I am in awe of what my husband is capable of doing and what he seems to do with such ease and capability. And he is but one of many. The giants of the early space pioneers, both engineers and astronauts cast a long shadow, but my Rocket Man and countless others have taken up the torch and kept the space program alive and are holding that torch toward the future.

I stand in the shadow of the giants who have gone before and I am gazing with love at the one beside me, sleeping the deep sleep of a man who knows he has done the best he can do and who is confident that what he has done is up to the test.

He always says to me that he is just an average guy who tries hard. I say that he is one of the giants. His children and grandchildren will be able to look back on this launch and proudly say that he was part of the team. The shadow he casts will be long indeed. The excellence he holds himself to sets a high standard for the rest of us.

I am so thankful that he has brought me along and is allowing me to share this amazing, awesome, exciting and at times emotional experience with him.

Godspeed, Ares IX. Fly true. Punch a hole in the sky and gather the data we need to continue our journey in space! For you are in the shadow of the giants that have gone before you and you pass the torch to future generations.


Teri Lynne said...

Okay, I'm sobbing ... this was beautiful!! I am so proud of that Rocket Man!

Margaret said...

I have chills! I feel the same way about your Rocket Man and all the others like him here in Huntsville. Worded so well - Thanks!