To me this was hallowed ground and it is difficult to put into words what it meant to me to be standing where so much history was made. I remember vividly being a kid of 14 in 1967 when the first launch from pad 39A was broadcast. Even though it was an unmanned mission, it was the first launch of the giant Saturn V rocket that would take us to the moon two years later and I had already filled a scrapbook with drawings and photographs of the big rocket.
NASA received a total of 510 requests for press accreditation (in comparison to the 3,493 journalists who were present at the Cape two years later for the launch of Apollo 11). It was a Thursday and I got up at 5 am to watch the coverage (liftoff was 6 am CST). Walter Cronkite was seated at the large window of the building on the right, and as the enormous booster began its rumbling ascent, he exclaimed:
"Our building's shaking here...the floor is shaking...this big glass window is shaking, we're holding it with our hands!"
I can't begin to tell you how emotional it was for me to be on, what was for me, hallowed ground. It still stuns me to think that so much technology was developed from scratch more than 40 years ago that has never been superseded.
Who were these super-beings that rolled up their sleeves and designed engineering marvels like the Saturn V rocket, the great Crawler-Transporter, the Vehicle Assembly Building or the Lunar Excursion Module? Just how extraordinary those feats were was underscored back in 2011 by the simple fact that much of that technology was still an indispensable part of the launch of Endeavor.
Sadly, there would be only five more Shuttle missions after STS-130. Now the big Crawlers remain moribund and the entire Launchpad 39 facility sits quietly while seagulls wheel overhead. When NASA's Project Constellation was shelved in 2010 the future of all that brilliant oversized technology became very much in doubt.
We visited Endeavor at the California Science Center in Los Angeles a year ago and it was more than a little sad for me to reflect on the fact that our Space Program is being surpassed by China's and our astronauts are forced to hitch rides to the International Space Station via Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome. At the same time I am, if anything, even more awed and humbled by the reality of what was accomplished during my teens.
I especially prize the fact that I have become very good friends with Roberta (Robyn) Villavecchia, who was an Apollo Engineer and actually involved in the quest that led to mankind's greatest triumph to date. While I sat in my living room in front of the black & white GE television, Robyn was operating in the rarified air and environment as a participant where I arrived late to the party in 2011 as a tourist.
My brother and most of my friends were in awe of sports stars back in the 60s while I spent my time writing the NASA astronaut office, clipping pages about the Space Program from TIME and LIFE and making pencil drawings on the empty white space on the back of geological well logs that my father brought me home from his work as a geologist. I would unroll the paper and fill page after page with drawings of astronauts, planets and, of course, spacecraft.
Thus, to be able to hear Robyn describe behind-the-scenes events from her real life experiences is priceless to me. She has given me a true appreciation for the value of doing something you love and also something that carries a measure of importance beyond your own life.
Life moves on -- and not always in the ways you would prefer or even want. Things change and nothing is permanent. Nevertheless, we do have our memories and we alone are in a position to decide what memories we will build in the days, months and years remaining to us.