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CJ: Space launch memories

People recall their favorite memories surrounding the space program.

MSNBC is asking people to send in their favorite memories surrounding rocket and shuttle launches in America's space program, including Tuesday's Shuttle Discovery launch. Email your pictures and videos and stories to Your stories:

Sharing the experience
I live in Mississippi but I have a daughter and two grandsons that live in Orlando. We were on the phone as the shuttle took off this morning. They watched it as I did on TV & then they went outside and I was able to hear them as they watched in from outside their home. It was the neatest thing to be able to share it with the boys, all these miles away.
--Molly, Mississippi

From the very beginning
I have a very vivid memory of my father taking us out in the back yard back on a cool October night in 1957 to catch a glimpse of Sputnik, that very first satellite as it passed overhead. The early manned spaceflights always stopped the whole country.  Everyone would gather around an available television and watch.  The first three suborbitals, John Glenn on his three orbit ride, going around the world in under four hours, Yuri Gargarin before him, what wonderful recollections from a time long past.  Watching the launch of STS-114 this morning, I felt the same thrill; my heart beat a little faster, the silent prayer, the welling of tears that came with its successful launch.  And the pictures of the retreating earth!  Simply glorious.
--R Smith, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

A view from boot camp
In 1990, I was in boot camp at Naval Training Center, Orlando.  I remember being in the waiting area for a dental appointment along with another 30 recruits from other companies that I didn't know.  A company commander from a different company ran into the seating area and quickly mustered us up and saying we are going outside to look at something.  He marched 30 recruits outside into formation so we can see the shuttle launch.  I'll never forget how excited he was and how awesome it was to see that the first time.
--Marco, Goose Creek, South Carolina

Mercury memories
I was but a teenager when Allen Shepard was launched into space in his Mercury Capsule.  We were on our senior picnic and listened on a transistor radio for the count down and launch.  By the time I was in junior college I would drive over to Merritt Island to visit a high school friend.  His father worked at the Space Center and we would go camp down on the Banana River and be as close to the launches as possible.  Early Gemini shots were a blue flame and not that thrilling.  Then came Saturn and the ground rumbled under our feet.  An unbelievable ball of fire behind a large rocket.  By 1969 I was in the jungles of Vietnam. On one particular day in that year, we were in leech infested water up to our waists when I got a call over the field artillery fire net that me had landed on the moon.  I will never forget.
--Sam Ault

A life awed by space
As a kid of about 8 or 9 I remember my mother allowing me to be late for school so we could watch a shuttle launch together on TV in upstate New York. I'll never forget the pride and awe she had for the machine and the people who make it fly. That, along with the launch itself, had a major impact on me. Years later, attending college in Florida, I was able to see more than a dozen Shuttle launches from the Press Site, VIP site, and my home in Brevard County. They never ceased to amaze and inspire me. Like others, I was most impressed by the sound which reverberates through your whole body. It was amazing to me that there actually people inside. My story came full circle when I came to Houston to work in mission control. I am still here today, and even more impressed with the skill and dedication of everyone who helps America fly in space - both with the Shuttle and the Space Station.
--Paul, Houston, Texas

Thank you, NASA
I grew up in Cocoa Beach where the space program has always been a part of my life. My father retired from the Kennedy Space Center and I have watched a lot of launches. The most impressive is a night launch, but no matter what any launch from Kennedy or The Canaveral Air Force Station I still get goose bumps knowing that our future is to explore space and to grow as a species (humanity). My thought and prayers are with the brave souls and their families that have given the ultimate sacrifice for what they love. As they reach for the stars and the heavens may these brave people continue to inspire our country to continue and realize the privileges we have in the United States and that we stand behind the programs for research and space exploration. To all of those that work in and behind the scenes at NASA, Thank you for the future that my children and grandchildren will have as we are a small planet in a vast universe. The astronauts get alot of the credit that is well deserved and we need to give it to the support personnel also.
--John I., Pompano Beach Fla.

'Indescribable' feeling
I work at Kennedy Space Center and I remember the first times I watched a launch and landing. The feeling was almost indescribable as I stood outside along with other employees and watched the shuttle appear over the trees heading into space. The landing is a different event altogether as I looked up and watched the shuttle grow in size as it came closer, then all of a sudden I hear the twin sonic booms. The few launches and landings that I have had the privilege of witnessing were some of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I hope to add some more with Discovery's scheduled launch on July 13, 2005
--Jake Balao, Ormond Beach, Fla.

Life-long NASA fan
I live between Orlando and Daytona Beach, and have lived in entral Florida my entire life. I have ALWAYS been a NASA fan and supporter. I was 10 years old and ironically in Canada with family when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, but you can bet everyone was watching on TV and we were so proud. I was devastated when I was rousted out of the shower to see the twin contrails of Challenger's explosion in the cold Florida sky in 1986. I was never complacent about shuttle launches again. I would cheer like an idiot when it took off safely, and when the double-bang of re-entry startled me, I would say "Welcome home!" On a clear day, I can see launches from my front yard, and night launches are spectacular! I was again devastated when Columbia broke up -- I pray they have learned enough that that never happens again. I will be on the beachside this afternoon to try to see Discovery launch, cheering like an idiot. Spaceflight is inherently risky, but I believe it is worth it!
--Susan Martin, DeBary, Fla.

Challenger memories
I was privileged to be in Orlando in 1983 and got to see the maiden voyage of the space shuttle called Challenger. We got up real early and drove to Titusville to watch the launch. It was a very bright, clear day. I still remember the noise as those rocket engines fired up. I recall the earth literally shaking as the Challenger lifted off the pad. It was such a clear day, we could see the booster rockets separate. I can still smell the burning of the rocket fuel, as Challenger lifted off into space. I remember the enormous pride I felt that day, knowing that our great nation could put this fantastic rocket into space. I remember all the people in the parking lot cheering as the liftoff occurred. To me, this was America's finest hour. I still feel that same pride, every time I watch a launch on television. I also remember the sadness I felt the day that same shuttle blew up just seconds into another flight. I was in the back of an ambulance, on the way to Sioux Falls, S.D.. No, I wasn't the patient, I was the ambulance attendant. It made for an awfully long trip. My hope is to be able to see the shuttle land some day before I die. I'm sure the feeling would be just as great, seeing it return, as it was watching it go into space. Oh ya, I got terribly sunburned that day waiting for the launch, but it was well worth it. Thank you for giving me the thrill of a lifetime.
--Mel Reinke, Ortonville, Minn.

Looking south, a spectacular view
I lived in Savannah, Ga., for six years and was able to view the shuttle launches on clear nights from Tybee Island even though KSC was some 350 miles away. Tybee is a barrier island about 20 minutes from Savannah. I think the most spectacular launch I've seen was the launch of STS 113 on the night of Nov.23, 2002. It took about two minutes from the time the shuttle left the pad until it came up over the horizon where it was visible to us. We always knew when we would have a visual because the whole south sky would light up bright orange. That particular night was so clear that we were able to get a distinguishable view of the solid rocket boosters separating as the shuttle made it's way up the coast en route to the ISS. It was the last in person launch we saw, not because of the Columbia accident, but because we moved to Oklahoma in June of 2003. When we first started going out to Tybee for night launches in 1997, only a handful of people would gather to watch, but by November of 2002, the whole pier was full of onlookers and astronomers with their telescopes and hand held radios.
--Brian Sandeen, Yukon, Okla.

Rocket testing in California
During the sixties, Rocketdyne would test the Saturn V rocket engines on a mountain in the Santa Susana Range near Simi Valley. The engines were so powerful that the entire area would shake as if an earthquake was hitting. Each test would last serveral minutes and the noise was like that of a huge beast! It definitely was something to behold! Sometimes when the tests were at night and they would afterwards burn off the remaining fuels=--the huge flame would light up all of Simi Valley almost like daylight.
--Robert, Houston, Texas

Columbia visits Texas
I have not seen a launch but I have the space shuttle Columbia. In the summer of 1982 I was living in Abilene, Texas. After the fourth flight of shuttle Columbia, (the first four were all flown by Columbia) the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force base in California and was loaded on the 747 for transport back to Cape Canaveral. On that trip the flight stopped at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. Before landing, the 747 circled overhead for all to see. Everyone stopped what they were doing, came out of their homes and businesses and stared up at the ominous bird circling overhead. It was truly a special moment. The whole town stopped for a few minutes to take in the sight of this symbol of our national pride. After landing, the base was opened for the public to come out and get a closer view. I think everyone went to see it. I don't recall anyone I knew at the time telling me they had not seen it. I got the rare opportunity to get a much closer view than most of the public. After the base was closed to the public my step father who is a retired Air Force Veteran took me on the base and to where the 747 was sitting on the tarmac. I will never forget my ten minutes of staring at every inch of the shuttle Columbia.
--Ken Merzanis, Canyon Country Calif.

Finest hour
When I was 9, in 1969, we moved to Orlando, Florida for a year. We went to watch Apollo 12 and 13 blast off. Apollo 12 took off in a rain storm. We saw the rocket lift off and then disappear into the clouds a few seconds later. We found out later that the rocket was hit by lightning twice on the way into orbit. We had a beautiful Florida day for the launch of Apollo 13. It seemed like we could see it all the way into orbit. I still have the black and white pictures I took with a cheap kiddie camera. Because we saw them take off, we felt like family members were in trouble when the mission went wrong and no one knew if the astronauts would make it back. Maybe the most vivid memory I have of my early childhood was seeing my mother crying after a news report. She tried to hide it from us kids, but it was no use. On the day they made it back, there was at least 20 people in our living room watching the news coverage (we were the only house on the block with a color TV). The room exploded with joy and tears when we saw the capsule and open parachutes. It was magic and it was NASA's "finest hour". Now that I have moved back to Florida, we have tickets to see the shuttle launch up close. I want my 12 year old daughter to have some NASA memories of her own.
--Jeff Johnsen, Cape Coral, Fla.

Apollo 15
In 1971, when I was nine years old, my family traveled to the Cape to watch Apollo 15 launch. A friend of my father's got us passes to watch the launch from Static Test Site Road, which put us slightly closer to the pad than the official viewing site. When that Saturn V ignited, the bass rumble was so loud I couldn't even hear my own voice yelling. The crackle and snap of the flame was clearly audible even at nearly three miles from the pad. I could feel the vibrations moving through my chest. The rocket seemed to move very slowly, taking an endless time to climb from the pad and disappear into the low-hanging overcast. I don't remember what happened after that, the power of the launch left me stunned. I've been an avid fan of the space program ever since.
--James Hoadley, Georgia

Remembering John Glenn's launch
I watched John Glenn shuttle when it launched off. The light and the intense sound of the rockets is such a thrill. I live in Orlando and can always see shuttles and rockets launch but when I actually drove out to the Cape to see it up close it was a really neat experience. It was very crowded when I went to see John Glenn's shuttle launch.
--Bradford Biggers, Orlando Fla.

'It's daylight, Mom'
I watched Columbia launch the Chandra x-ray telescope in July 1999 from the VIP viewing section at Kennedy Space Center. My son's uncle was actually an employee of Boeing who worked at NASA and helped with the launch. I had witnessed two previous launches, but being in the VIP viewing area, and feeling the heat and the power behind the shuttle when it launched, was truly an amazing experience I will never forget. There is nothing like watching the night sky light up from the blaze of the shuttle. My son, who was 11 at the time, actually stated, "It's daylight Mom!!" This was a wonderful experience for him as it was his first time watching a shuttle launch in person.
--Kelli, Belpre, Ohio

Landing flyovers
I have not seen a launch but I have seen three shuttle landing flyovers. I live in Dallas, Texas and my balcony faces south, so anytime the shuttle did a non-space station mission I had a great view of it coming in over the southern U.S. The three I saw included Columbia. It is an awesome sight when it passes over us still doing about 5,000 miles per hour. When Columbia was landing, I was also following the mission on the internet. I stepped outside and saw where Columbia was in the sky, and I had brief thoughts that my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was seeing burning pieces come off the shuttle and keep up with it briefly before disappearing. I had never seen that before but it had been a long time since the last one I saw fly over. I went back inside and noticed the NASA controllers seemed concerned and were trying to contact the shuttle. About then a large boom shook my entire condo building. I wondered what that might have been, and slowly began to realize NASA was unable to make contact. When I heard them say to lock down the control room the whole picture came together in my mind I had just seen Columbia disintegrate and heard and felt it explode. I was having trouble for a few moments accepting it, I suppose I didn't want to believe it. I was kind of stunned for the rest of the day.
--Nathan, Plano, Texas

Never cease to provide a thrill
Have seen two shuttle launches and countless NASA rocket launches. Never saw an Apollo. But while living in Brevard County in the 1960s, saw virtually all the Mercury and Gemini missions lift off. Even after 40-plus years of watching these things, they never cease to provide a thrill. I applaud our space program and the brave men and women who choose to put themselves at risk to advance our knowledge of space. The losses of Challenger and Columbia were two of the more traumatic experiences of my life.
--Steve Snell, Oviedo, Fla.

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