Claire’s CRS-30 Launch Experience (Team Space Shell 6)

Seeing a launch in person is cool but seeing a launch in person with your project on it on the NASA viewing deck is amazing. Finally watching two years of work go up in seconds is one of the most satisfying feelings ever. The process was long and tiring with the setbacks of the launch, the changing of the rocket, and the process of getting to the launch itself.

The day before the launch we all had dinner at the Courtyard Marriott hotel on the roof. We met all the teams, people working in the background, an astronaut, an astronaut trainer, and an inventor who developed technology for the ISS. The astronaut was Wendy Lawrence, a four time space goer, the astronaut trainer was Mike Mongo, and the inventor was Liam Kennedy who also founded ISS Above. Walking into the hotel lobby, I found some teammates while we were all chatting getting ready for the night. Liam Kennedy and Mike Mongo came over to talk to us about the night, the launch, and ask questions about our project. Overall they were very interesting and wonderful people. Then Wendy Lawrence walked in and she had this amazing aura around her of confidence, we all talked for a bit and got pictures as the final people showed up.

Once everybody arrived we were directed towards an elevator nestled in a corner and on a wall adjacent to it was a picture with the signatures of the astronauts who at one point were at that hotel. Stepping into the elevator a voice started playing simulating a launch sequence, the rest of the night was preparation for the next day, eating, getting to know each other, and pictures. We were told to meet at the Kennedy visitor center the next day in front of the “meatball.”

The night before we were given a bag with a shirt representing Higher Orbits that we were asked to wear to the launch as well as a nice pair of pants or skirt. By 2:30 PM everybody had arrived and we made our way through security and into the launch viewing guest center, where we were given viewing badges to wear the rest of the day. After going through the building we were directed to the rocket garden where we would spend roughly 45 minutes waiting for our turn to board the buses bringing us to the launch viewing building.

Riding the bus we saw multiple space companies buildings, alligators, turtles, and then the huge NASA rocket building structure. It had massive bay doors to allow rockets out as they got transported to the pad. The building was so big you could see it easily from five miles away and know exactly what it was. When we entered the viewing building we were directed to an elevator that led us to the top floor to the viewing deck. We checked out the area and then went to a mission briefing where we learned about what was all on the rocket, the significance of it all, and what the mission was for. Once the meeting was over we had fifteen minutes left until launch, those were the longest but also the shortest fifteen minutes of my life. We took pictures, met some amazing people and prayed for the rocket to go up. Two minutes until launch, things got real.

Everybody collectively stopped talking and waiting silently, exhaust started pouring out of the rocket from the sides. With fifteen seconds left the reality of what we had accomplished had set in. I couldn’t contain my smile, whether the rocket launched or not we would come away with so much from what we had already experienced. With ten seconds left we all started counting down. One second remaining the boosters turned on and fire and smoke rushed out of the rocket lifting it off the ground. There was a hesitation throughout the crowd waiting to see if the rocket would continue its journey or go out blazing in an explosion show. Luckily it was the former of the two. As the rocket continued to rise we all let out a sigh of relief and started clapping and cheering. As the rocket rose it shook the air so much you could feel it vibrate through your bones, I would do almost anything to feel that again.

The sky was so clear we were able to see the rocket for what felt like an eternity. Once the rocket broke the atmosphere the boosters fell off. We weren't able to see this part but were warned to look for a fire signaling the return of the booster. There were three fires total the last one being the coolest the booster was coming down at an angle and as it approached the pad it hovered for a split second and righted itself before touching down. There were also three sonic booms created from the booster entering Earth’s atmosphere. It took a hot minute until we were able to hear them and it only sounded like two because the first two were so close together. But they were incredible.

Once everybody got their congratulations in, we all headed out back to the buses to go back to the Kennedy Space Center. Michelle instructed the teams and families to go back to the space bar to meet up for celebratory cupcakes, food, and drinks. Everything was amazing and I can’t wait to tell this story to whoever will listen.  I will forever remember this and am so grateful I was given the opportunity to attempt achieve this. I couldn’t have done it without Higher Orbits or Michelle, thank you to everybody who set this crazy dream into an astonishing reality!

Written by Claire Parks

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