We flew out of Sacramento straight into a hurricane two weeks ago and landed safely anyway in Miami. Then it was on to the Kennedy Space Center. My husband, Dave, and I went to watch NASA launch seven human beings into space for the first time since the space shuttle Columbia broke apart in the sky more than two years ago.
Why did we go? It was for Steve.
Sacramento-born astronaut Steve Robinson and Dave were old college friends—they’d worked together at UC Davis’ KDVS in the late ’70s and shared a deep love of music. They’d lost track of each other for a long stretch but had re-created a friendship decades later. When Steve comes to town now, we gather friends, share meals, and sit around our living room laughing and making music.
Now he was going into space again. A scientist and a dreamer, Steve longed to be back out there. Between space walks, he told Dave over the phone that he might even get to play a bit of guitar (“if we can find it”) on the International Space Station since somebody had once brought one to this most unusual of venues.
Out at Kennedy on the day of the scheduled launch, we met up with Steve’s family and those of the other astronauts, loaded onto buses and were given a police escort to the launch pad. But it was not to be. Midway there, by cell phone, we learned the news: The Discovery’s sensors were reading wrong, and the long-awaited journey had to be scrubbed.
We flew home at the end of the week and wondered if we’d feel let down when the Discovery finally shot into space. We’d be happy for Steve, of course. But we’d miss the drama of seeing the rocket light, feeling the ground shake, witnessing firsthand this return chapter in the still radically early-stage drama that is human exploration of space.
In the end, we watched the Discovery takeoff Tuesday morning from our home television. But it wasn’t a letdown at all. It was thrilling. And inspiring. And they went up.