Given the launch of Orb-2 today, which was named SS Janice Voss, it seemed like a great time to blog about the astronaut I will eternally be grateful to for providing me the opportunity to see my first ever space shuttle launch live and in person…. This is a story that deserves a little back story so here goes…

When I was growing up we certainly didn’t have the money to vacation but one year (I was in 8th grade I believe) my Mom managed to scrounge together the money to take us to Florida along with one of my Aunts and a cousin. Part of it was that she really wanted me to be able to see Kennedy Space Center because I was so enthused with space. We held out a bit of hope that the dates we would be there would coincide with a space shuttle launch and as luck (initially) would have it, they did! So there we were in Florida and touring the space center hoping to get to see a launch but it just wasn’t to be. That launch was delayed and we didn’t get to see it.

Fast forward some years to my high school graduation, Mom and I were trying again to see a launch but that didn’t work out. Then my first year at Purdue I went with the SEDS group (Students for the Exploration & Development of Space) but alas it was delayed and I didn’t get to see that one either. (Noticing a trend?)

Spring of 1997, I went to Houston with Purdue to fly on the KC-135 (aka Vomit Comet) as part of the Student Reduced Gravity Research Program. While we were there, and there being Ellington Field at Johnson Space Center, STS-83 returned very early due to an issue with a fuel cell (I won’t get into all those details as my story is already a long one!), and upon return they flew back into Ellington Field. When they landed there, people went out to greet them and of course all of us students were completely in awe to be standing so close to astronauts who had just landed and had been in space so recently!

We were having a Purdue alumni dinner the next night at Pappasitos. Janice Voss is a Purdue alum. I got it in my head that I was going to go and invite her along to dinner. Yes, I was probably a little nuts to do so but I decided what the heck?! Just do it!

Janice was so incredibly gracious and talked with our team for a bit. I invited her to dinner and while she said she would see what she could do, I had absolutely no expectation that she had time in her busy schedule to actually attend dinner… Boy did I love being wrong about that!

The next evening Janice did show up to dinner and I was lucky enough to get to sit next to her. She was so easy to talk to and was genuinely as interested in what we were doing for our research as we were about her space flight! When she asked if I had seen a launch, I admitted I had not due to delays etc. Without missing a beat she says to me that when the STS-83 mission relaunched (they were going to refry the flight to finish the mission objectives) that she would send me a launch pass. I WAS SO ECSTATIC! There I was at dinner with an astronaut (pretty much unbelievable to me that that was happening at that point in my life) and she had just personally invited me to her launch. WOW!

To make this long story just a little shorter… Bottom line is, I kept in touch with Janice via actual hand written notes (email wasn’t that prevalent at the time in the grand scheme of things) and Janice most certainly came through on her offer. But she did more than that…

I not only got to attend her launch (STS-94) but I attended in the VIP viewing area! Now there’s the way to watch your first launch I tell ya! I’ll never forget it and I will never forget her kindness to a young girl who she’d only just met. Her kindness didn’t end there… we stayed in touch. She sent me photos (beautiful 8x10s that I still have) from her mission and when I came to Houston again we even went to lunch. I feel so fortunate that such a special person was kind enough to make a dream of mine come true.

I’ll save the story of actually watching the launch for another time but here’s a picture for you…

I’ve seen more than a few shuttle launches since then, and obviously I’ve met more than a few astronauts 😉 But Janice and the launch of STS-94 will always hold a very special place in my heart.

So, as I watched the launch of the SS Janice Voss aboard Antares today, I was really excited about the successful launch for more than a few reasons… and it’s been a nice reminder of this wonderful bunch of memories that she is responsible for. Thank you Janice! And thank you Orbital for honoring such a wonderful person!

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