I have added “saw a shuttle launch in person” to my Life List. A Life List is a list of those things that you’ve always wanted to try or do, or places you’ve always wanted to visit. I have also heard it referred to as a Bucket List after the movie of the same name where Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play two old guys trying to do all the things they’ve always wanted to before they kick the proverbial bucket. There are two parts to the List: things I want to do, and things I’ve done.
I used to refer to crossing things off my Life’s List but then a friend pointed out that this made the list sound static, as if there were only so many things to do, they were set as is, and once they were done the list was over. If there is something that your Life List shouldn’t be, it’s static. Though the List must end at some point (buckets and all that), I much prefer thinking of my Life List as something that will grow and change as long as I continue to do so.
Things do change on the List. “Climb a mountain” has fallen away, I must admit. On the other hand, “eat squid cooked in its own ink” has been added. Then there are the things on the List that you didn’t know were to do’s until they were done. I knew I wanted “go on a whale watching tour” for quite a while before I did it, but I didn’t realize “seeing a roseate spoonbill in the wild” was worth being on the List till it happened. Truth be told, I didn’t even know what a roseate spoonbill was before I saw one. I recommend it as a worthy addition to anyone’s List. It came about for me as part of a larger Life’s List item: “see as many national parks/wildlife refuges/preserves as I possibly can.”
Last year at Thanksgiving my Mom said the classic List-triggering phrase, “I’ve always wanted to...” In this case, the second half of the sentence was “see a space shuttle launch.” I knew instantly that I too wanted to do this. In further conversation we discovered that my Dad also “had always wanted to.” We decided, then and there over turkey, that we would see a shuttle launch in the upcoming year because it was our last chance to see one.
Rule of thumb: a Life’s List item is more easily accomplished with a deadline. (“Go to Australia” has, for instance, has no deadline and has sat there for quite a while.) NASA is retiring the shuttle program and there are only so many flights left to see. So, if your Life’s List includes “see a shuttle launch,” you’ve got till the end of 2010. If your Life’s List does not include “see a shuttle launch” may I humbly suggest you reconsider.
To see the shuttle launch from the Astronaut Hall of Fame, my family and I left our hotel at 11:00 pm. The launch was scheduled for 6:00 am. We were told by the nice lady on the NASA hotline we needed to leave so early so as to beat traffic. The nice lady on the NASA hotline wasn’t kidding around. We were glad we got there when we did as we watched the traffic for seven hours, sitting outside in Florida swampland, waiting for a shuttle to launch. Though a balmy night, we got colder and colder as the dew descended and the breeze blew. The breeze was a disguised blessing, though, as it kept the mosquitoes at bay. Someone said something about the crowd scaring off alligators. I thought this was a joke until I took the official Kennedy Space Center tour and counted five alligators just from the bus. We tried to doze but, sitting in lawn chairs in an ever-growing crowd of excited people, it proved impossible. So we waited, shivered a little, and waited and waited for seven hours. Afterwards we waited in three hours of traffic, without having slept, to get back to the hotel. Why am I telling you all this? So you will believe the truth behind what I’m about to say.
GO SEE A SHUTTLE LAUNCH! It was all totally worth it! Seven hours of waiting for five minutes of adrenaline and it was worth it! It was so awesome! In every sense of the word, it was awesome! If you have the means, please, for me, go see a shuttle launch!
It happened right before dawn so we were staring into the dark. Then came the 30 second (if that) sunrise; except the sun was leaving a trail of smoke behind it and clearly twisting as it went up into the night sky. It’s at this point that the sound caught up with us. Remember, light travels faster than sound so we saw it before we heard it. Imagine the loudest, most window-rattling thunder you have ever heard in your life. Now imagine it at ground level and, instead of rattling windows, it’s rattling your insides. Then silence. Well, then silence except for all the birds going nuts from the crazy loud sound wave that just went by. We could still see the shuttle as it moved into orbit position and gradually became smaller and smaller so that it seemed as though it was becoming another star. As those of us Earth-bound chattered with the sudden influx of adrenaline, the real Sun began to rise in a more graceful manner without the fanfare. As it did, the light caught the twisting rocket trail and illuminated it with all the colors of a sunrise.
It was amazing. I would go again to the next one if it were more fiscally possible. I would go again to the one after that. I would go see every possible one I could until there were no more because it is like nothing else there is and I got to see it. My Life's List includes seeing a shuttle launch.