Thousands watch 'awesome' Discovery launch
Space shuttle Discovery lifts off from Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. (RED HUBER, ORLANDO SENTINEL / February 24, 2011)
"After all these years, this is the first time we've been able see it in person and it's pretty emotional," said DeJoseph, who traveled her from Syracuse, N.Y., to watch Discovery launch for a final time.
She was among the thousands who crammed Space View Park in Titusville – about 15 miles from the launch pad – to watch Discovery on a perfect Florida winter's day. People stopped on bridges, stood along Brevard County beaches and jammed parks to witness the orbiter rise on a pillar of flame and smoke shortly before 5 p.m.
"It's just the thrill of it. This was my first one, and I thought it was awesome," said 76-year-old Joann Porter, a retiree from Amelia Island.
Nearby, Rene Lehman, 48, a social worker from Texas, stood amazed at the sight of what humans can accomplish.
"It's a wonderment that so few people have done that," she said about the six astronauts on board Discovery.
For some, Thursday's event was a check off their bucket list of things to do before they die. For others, it was a chance to share the launch excitement with loved ones before the program ends in June, after two more scheduled launches.
Larry Ogden, a 57-year-old retiree from Chicago, had never seen a launch in person and didn't want to miss out.
"I grew up watching this stuff," he said as he sat among a crowd facing Kennedy Space Center hours before the launch. "It dawned on us that time was running out."
A few feet away, Duffy Matus, 51, and her sister, Dana Fernengel, 60, sat on a blanket, remembering when they traveled to Florida from Ohio as kids in 1969 to watch Apollo 12.
This week, the women drove down from Cleveland with their own adult daughters and other family members to see Discovery.
"We've been talking about this for years," Matus said. "It's just something everyone should see."
It's been on Jim Wright's list since he was a kid. The 50-year-old South Carolina landscape business owner recalled watching on TV in 1969 as Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. He and his wife, Kristy, left Clover, S.C., Wednesday night after work.
Wright marvels at the "science and vision" NASA had to bring the shuttle program to fruition. "The shuttle has such power," he said. "It's like the ultimate hot-rod."
Like many at the park, Wright had figured he had plenty of time to watch a shuttle launch – the program has been around for 30 years, basically his entire adult life.
"But now it's coming to an end," he said a few hours before launch. "I wanted to see it."
Afterwards, he was all smiles.
"I have goose bumps," he said.
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