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In July of 1969, 41 years ago (!), I was a 12-year-old boy away from home for the first time at Camp Morehead by the Sea in coastal North Carolina. I had a great time that summer. I learned to sail and eventually won the Morehead City Yacht Club’s 4th of July Regatta, Sunfish Division. (I still have the medal floating around somewhere.) I swam, canoed, shot rifles and went to my first dances with girls brought in from town for the occasion. (Side note: I learned that summer that there were certain advantages to hanging out with the opposite sex.) My most vivid memory of that summer was none of the above, except maybe the bit about girls. It was of a hot, late night spent in front of the camp owner’s color TV watching grainy images of Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.

As an even younger boy, I have memories of watching the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and being “wowed” by them. Now flash forward through those 41 years. I’ve done a lot of diverse things during that time. Worked construction for many years, got into a bit of trouble here and there, spent a short but memorable time separating people from their money at a carnival, traveled a bit. But for more than 27 of those years, I have been a NASA employee at the Kennedy Space Center.

For the vast amount of that time I have been fortunate enough to look forward to going to work each morning. I have seen some truly incredible things. I’ve watched, and felt, most of the Shuttle launches since STS-6. I’ve seen them from my yard, from the beach, from the Launch Control Center. More than a couple have been surreal. Standing in the ocean up to my knees at night, adult beverage in my hand, while the launch lit the night sky to the point where you could read a paper. Watching unmanned vehicles explode in the night sky sending their boosters skimming just above the ocean. And of course, the most surreal and awful, watching the Challenger explode. That’s another story.

I’ve been aboard the Orbiter (tiny!). I’ve sat in the Firing Room during launch. I’ve played a small role in this huge process, never forgetting the significance of what is taking place. But the most fun is being around people seeing it for the first time. It’s a physical experience…from here at the Cape the ground shakes and the sound is a physical thing that you feel in your gut. People cry, people cheer, but mostly the people just gape with their jaws to their knees. Since Challenger, you can also tell who the locals are versus the tourists. At lift off, with the huge white cloud of water vapor rising and the shuttle riding the flame, the tourists start cheering and clapping. The locals don’t. We cheer a bit over 2 minutes later when the solids drop off. We remember.

It’s been a strange journey and a great ride. Things here at KSC are, shall we say, a bit turbulent right now with the Shuttle Program ending and the future uncertain. But we’ll keep going. It’s what we do. Who would have thought it, 41 years ago?

STS-126, 11/14/08

Above & below: Liftoff of STS-126 from the Banana River Viewing Site, 3.9 miles from the pad

STS-126 timelapse, 11/14/08

Ares I-X , 10/28/09

Above: Ares I-X Liftoff from the viewing mezzanine of the Operations Support Building 2, 3.6 miles from the pad

Below: In Firing Room 2 on Launch Day (Sorry for the quality…taken by my iPhone)

Launch Day, STS-129, 11/16/09