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Tuesday
Apr172012

Space Shuttle Discovery

A few weeks ago, when I first heard the space shuttle Discovery would be flying over DC, this was one of the images I had in mind. I imagined it soaring over iconic monuments  - an icon itself - and immediately knew I wanted to be a part of the event. 

The only question in my mind was whether to keep the children from school and bring them too. As I told Kent one night last week, the flyover likely would be more important to us since we grew up with the Space Shuttle Program. I remember precisely where I was standing in the hall at high school when I learned the Challenger exploded, and I was glued to the TV the morning Columbia broke up on re-entry. 

But the kids? They never really knew the thrill of the program. The launches and landings became so commonplace that, sadly, even we adults never paid enough attention. 

I remember feeling such sadness last year when I watched NASA's live feed of the last launch of space shuttle Atlantis. Desmond had recently become enamored with all things space-related -- the result of Buzz Lightyear and a weekend trip near Chincoteague that took us past the Wallops Flight Facility.

What do you say to your kids when they tell you they want to grow up to be astronauts? When we no longer have a program to take them?

Leaving the kids at home certainly would have made the morning easier. I could hop on my bike and ride to the hill at the Netherlands Carillon, I thought. Or stake out a quiet spot along the river near Memorial Bridge. But friends convinced me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the kids. 

"Take them," one wrote to me on Facebook. "Before any of them went into space, I remember seeing the first shuttle riding piggy back on a jumbo jet fly over... I will never forget it... neither will they."

And so over the weekend, we watched videos of different space shuttle launches, a five-part series on the Columbia disaster and fantastic footage from a camera positioned on the booster rockets that shows them plummet into the ocean. 

Last night, I got out Desmond's Halloween costume - his astronaut spacesuit, cap and helmet - and packed a giant bag with food and toys including a stomp rocket and Buzz Lightyear Kite. 

When I saw the news first thing this morning that the shuttle left Florida at 7 a.m., I hurried up the tribe and headed into the city. We set up our blanket between the Lincoln and Washington monuments shortly before 9 a.m. when only a handful of photographers and others were there. Desmond had suited up before breakfast and, god bless him, marched through the city with his spacesuit and helmet on. 

I think he felt self-conscious once there and started to take off his suit, but when he realized how interested people were in his helmet and gear, he posed for photos and even chatted with a NASA videographer. He's our most introverted, the most uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations. So, to see him as the center of attention -- see him throw his shoulders back and own it - well, they could have told me the Discovery had been diverted for bad weather and still the morning would have been worth it. 

Of course, that's not what happened at all. Discovery not only flew over, it flew over multiple times during a 45-minute period. It was like going to an all you can eat ice cream bar. It felt so indulgent to see it once, but four times!? Past the Lincoln, down the river, over the Holocaust Museum, past the Washington Monument and the Capitol? My God! 

It was so thrilling and yet terribly sad too. Like watching a prize fighter pushed in a wheelchair to a podium - where he struggles to stand - to accept a lifetime achievement award.

Because they're all still so young, it's likely the children could forget the day. But maybe not, hopefully not. 

I know I won't.  

Reader Comments (5)

I'm glad they gave her a victory lap. So cool!

- Lea

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLea R.

Such a beautiful family! Thanks for letting me borrow you kids for so many photographs! What a memorable day...don't think any of them will forget it!

April 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarti

Oh my goodness, that last picture especially, goosebumps all over.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

My first memory is watching Apollo 15 launch during the summer my family spent in Florida while my dad was working at Disney. Of course, there's a two or three-year gap until the next one, but that's not the pointSomeday, they'll take your grandkids to the Udvar-Hazy Center and point to Discovery and say, "I remember seeing this fly over DC when I was your age. Your grandma let us play hookie from school so we could see it happen."

Great pics, especially the last one. Although it looks like you're short a kid. Desmond totally rocks the uniform.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFoggy Dew

That is so amazing that you and your kids got to do that - living in DC sure seems to have loads of awesome perks! I was so upset when the shuttle program ended. Seeing a shuttle launch in Florida was something that I had always dreamed of doing since I was a kid and went through my stage of wanting to be an astronaut. It's really sad that our kids won't really get the wonder of space travel like we did in the beginning.. I can only hope that NASA takes space travel and exploration even farther in the future and our kids get to dream even bigger than we did.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheney

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