And then it ignited…

One of the great perks of Florida journalism was covering the space program during the heydays. Back in the day, people used to line up along the beach in Cocoa to see a launch.
And when it was time for the first shuttle to go up, a million people crammed in, shoulder to shoulder. Got there early.
That was as close as the public could get, but it was miles away.
If you had the right creds, you could get to the press site, 3.5 miles across Mosquito Lagoon from the launch pad. Now, if 3.5 miles sounds like a long way to be from a rocket launch, you’ve never been that close.
Let’s just say whatever you see on television is a ridiculous imitation of the blinding light, the roar, the thunderclap-pounding, chest-bruising barrage that is about to wash over you like a tidal wave. The folks who wanna stand lean into it.
The first launch had been a ticking clock for years. Delays… safety concerns… debate… fixes.
More delays. Like a lot of folks, we went and came home, went and came home, camped out in the parking lot with buckets of fried chicken and large quantities of unauthorized sustenance. Always waiting for Go.
Generally, the countdown’s gonna run down to mebbe nine minutes and some change, even on a bad day. It’s when you start getting into those final-minute checks that you’re most likely to see red lights start to blink.
Well on April 12, 1981, the lights stayed green. The clock kept ticking. And in the concrete bleachers, under that galvanized roof, a sea of reporters and tv guys from all over Florida and the U.S. and the world started to get out of their seats, started walking, quickly, down toward the water.
Stopped talking.
And then it ignited. Main engines hammering so hard you could see the frickin engine nozzles shaking like they were about to fall off and even the damn tail was shaking. (Something else to fix later.) And then it started to lift off the ground.
Slowly at first, as if it were too big, too heavy to compete with gravity. And then unimaginable acceleration… glorious, stunning, violent. The flames underneath, so brilliant it was painful to watch. And yet it danced into the heavens as if it weighed nothing at all. Disappearing all too quickly.
Look around at all the hard-case journos. Screaming, tears flooding down their faces, sobbing, arms raised, hands clasped. Somebody’s hanging on to a railing. And then the shouts.
“Oh my God!”
“God bless America.”
“Brezhnev… kiss my ass!”

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