Thirty years ago, on April 12, 1981, I woke up early, turned on the TV in our living room while it was still dark outside and before anyone else in my family was awake, and watched the first space shuttle launch. This was the second morning in three days I had done this -- the launch was postponed two days earlier. But not this morning. I warmed up some homemade waffles my mother had made the night before for dinner, cozied up on our living room couch, and watched the launch. I kept watching afterward, eventually falling back asleep as Columbia continued its first orbits of Earth.
I wasn't alive or old enough to watch the first flights into space or the Apollo missions, so watching the space shuttle launch for the the first time was really my Neil Armstrong moment.
Thirty years later, I watched the second-to-final space shuttle launch with my sons this morning. (I had thought this was the final launch, but it turned out it was just the last Endeavour launch; Atlantis has one more.) Wife alerted me and the boys that this was happening, and luckily, I was awake to see it (and we both admitted afterward, thank God nothing bad happened on this launch, a la Challenger -- I would have hated if the boys' first time watching a shuttle launch resulted in a tragedy).
Over years of watching so many launches, the excitement I felt as a 10-year-old is long gone ... until today when the clock was counting down, the last few seconds as the boosters fire up, and Endeavour lifted from the pad. And maybe it was thinking this was the last shuttle mission reignited that thrill again. Or maybe it was just watching the launch with my sons, knowing this was their first time seeing a space shuttle take off.
Hopefully, whatever method to send Americans into space follows the shuttle program won't take long so that the boys can still enjoy watching a launch while they are still boys. And if not, at least they can remember this morning.