08/14/2011 05:48 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2011

Graduating All Over Again

Events of July 8, 2011

Online, I see a lot of "You know you're a 1990s kid if..." jokes, and, since I am a 1990s kid, a lot of them make me smile, because they do apply to me. (I read Goosebumps and The Baby-Sitters' Club, I'd never heard of Star Wars before The Phantom Menace, I collected Beanie Babies and Pokémon cards, I liked the Spice Girls and danced the Macarena, etc.) So I'd like to add a few here:

  • If thinking about the space shuttle means thinking about your life before 18.
  • If your teachers brought out the big TV so you could watch John Glenn go back into space and you never knew he'd done it before.
  • If you watched that little boy run into Mission Control and shout "The Power Rangers need the Space Shuttle!"
  • If you saw Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen go to the Kennedy Space Center in The Space Camp Mystery.
  • If you remember hearing about the fire on the Mir space station.
  • If you were freaked out by this Hubble Space Telescope image of the Hourglass Nebula.
  • If you saw pictures of the International Space Station in school and thought about how OLD you'd be when it was done. (2006? That's FOREVER!)
  • If the Challenger disaster was before you were born, but you remember where you were when you heard the Columbia had burned up.

I definitely have some strong emotional connections to the space shuttle. She and I had some great times together. But, like I said in my first blog post, it's for the better, because it's time to build new spacecraft that can travel beyond low-Earth orbit. There's going to be a lot of exciting things going on during my college years, and hopefully, I'll be able to participate in some of them.

So, when I woke up the morning of the final Atlantis launch, it didn't feel like I was going to a goodbye party, just another... graduation! That was, if it ended up launching that day- there was only a 30% chance of favorable weather. No space enthusiast is a fan of "scrubs," or delayed launches, but every good one understands that it's important everything be safe. Still, I called my mother and told her to buy today's copies of all of our local papers. Because, hey, you never know.

For the previous launch, STS-134 Endeavour, I'd worn my lucky denim jacket, covered in all of my mission pins, to school, along with my lucky fingerless gloves, and I'd handed out little cards to my teachers and classmates telling when the launch was and where to watch. (As I told my English teacher, no, my clothing was not because it was Punk Rock Retro Day.) The dress code at work meant I couldn't do any of those things (Killjoys...), but I still wore my "Space Shuttle Program" commemorative pin on one lapel of my suit jacket and my "STS-135 Atlantis" mission pin on the other.

While riding the Metro to work, I picked up an abandoned copy of that day's Express, the free DC transit system newspaper, as a souvenir. I didn't think the launch would be that day, but hey, you never know.

I never felt prouder to walk into NASA HQ than I did that day. There are a lot of TVs in various offices, some showing NASA TV and some showing the network news channels, but today, there didn't seem to be any difference, because both were showing the shuttle! It felt a little surreal to see something that had been the object of my private passion for so long being headline news.

After getting settled in, I got right to work, making a list of all of the people who had started following the NASA TweetUp Twitter account since the day before, as was my assignment. I saw so many nice things people were writing about the launch and their memories of the space shuttle, and, all the while, I was listening to the NASA TV feed as launch got closer and closer. The weather hadn't improved, but nothing else had gone wrong, so the launch was still on. So when it got to 20 minutes before the scheduled lift-off, I headed for the elevator, since I'd been given permission to go watch in the James Webb Memorial Auditorium in the lobby.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty excited. I'd seen shuttle launches and touchdowns at home, at school, in various miscellaneous places where I'd happened to be at the time that had a computer or TV, and even in person at the Kennedy Space Center, but never at NASA Headquarters!

And, because I was so excited... I kinda sorta got on the wrong elevator and ended up in the east lobby instead of the west, where the auditorium was. So, figuring I was in one of those fabled situations that justify running in high heels, I sprinted out the door, down the sidewalk, and into the west lobby in time to get a seat in the second row. (Of course, for all I knew, they might have scrubbed the launch in the time I was in the elevator, but hey, you never know. So I ran.)