Thoughts. . .

Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg
Long Island, New York, USA
April 12
freelance writer and full-time mom


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FEBRUARY 25, 2011 12:21PM

Watching the Space Shuttle Launch From a Plane

Rate: 18 Flag

We were half way through our uneventful flight home from Jamaica yesterday when the pilot came on through the intercom system.  "We're just about over Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the space shuttle is set to launch in eight minutes," he announced.   "If you watch out the right side of the plane, you may be able to see it."  

"Wow!  Did you hear that?" I nudged my husband with my elbow.  He took his earpiece out for a second, grunted, and went back to watching the seat-back screen in front of him.  

My eight-year-old daughter was more interested.  She stared out the window, looking desperately for a glimpse of Discovery.   "I see it!"  she said after a few minutes had passed.  Moving closer to her, my heart racing, I looked outside and saw a plane flying parallel to us in the distance.  "No, that's just another airplane," I told her.  

  I wondered if I had heard the pilot wrong.   As I glanced around me, I didn't see anyone showing signs of anticipation.  My sons and nephew across the aisle busied themselves with their electronics, calmer than I'd seen them all week.   People in front of and behind us slept, read, and watched TV.  There was a dull silence, as if everyone on board had been lulled into a trance by the steady drone of the engines. 

Then, in another minute, my daughter yelled (much louder this time) "There it is!"  I craned my neck toward the sky behind the plane and saw the shuttle rise above the layer of clouds and continue its vertical climb, golden fire burning below it.  "Oh my God!" I screamed.  "That's it!"  At this point, the cabin became alive.  People from the left side of the plane jumped out of their seats, leaning over strangers, pointing and animatedly discussing the amazing sight we were witnessing 35,000 feet in the air.  

The shuttle continued upwards, leaving an intensely clear, bright-white trail of smoke that looked like a puffy, oversized chain of popcorn.  We watched as the shuttle instantly disappeared into the atmosphere, leaving only its smoke train behind.   Within minutes, the cabin's atmosphere returned to one of quiet malaise.  

None of us thought of the tens of thousands of people who stood on the ground at Kennedy Space Center, watching the historic launch.  Few on the plane realized that Air Force computer problems almost caused the flight to be aborted.  Surely not everyone looking out the little oval windows was aware that after 143 million miles and nearly a year spent in space, this would be the Discovery's last journey.  

To the passengers of Jet Blue Flight 780, it was a miraculous moment of wonder that we witnessed as we hurtled through the vast sky on our way home.  

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How exciting for you! Thank you for sharing.
I'm always amazed how well we can see it from the west coast of Florida. Seeing one live a year ago was the thrill of a lifetime. Thanks for posting this.
Thanks for reading Mike!

Kathy--It must have been amazing to see it from the ground. I guess wherever you are, the thrill is big!
I would certainly have been paying attention.
Your timing was fortunate.
Wow! you were all so lucky!!!!
It's a good thing it didn't hit your plane.
Oh I am so jealous! On a Florida vacation some years ago, I stood with my son and my father-in-law, waiting in anticipation of a launch, only for it to be scrubbed, on three consecutive days!
However I have heard the shuttles' sonic boom as they come in to land at Edwards quite a number of times since moving to Southern California in 1989. If this flight or either of the remaining two have to land at Edwards, I plan a trip out there!
What a marvelous treat that must have been! My husband and I tried to see a Shuttle launch, but alas, the mission was scrubbed at the last minute. Thanks for sharing this!
The word jealous is just not enough to describe the level of envy and also of joy that someone saw it as you did...........and it wasn't me.
That is AWESOME! Wow. I think I would have just exploded a seatful of glee right there in my seat. Yes, just like it sounds.

Must have looked a lot like this:
What a fantastic experience for you and your daughter to witness! Congrats on your EP and thanks for sharing.
Best Wishes,
I saw the space shuttle Atlantis at launch on September 8, 2000 out the window of an early morning Miami to Chicago flight. I had been trekking in South America for two weeks and was sick as a dog, having only arrived Miami from Lima at 6AM that morning. There were many wonders - and some not so wonderful - moments on that trip. But I remember so clearly the thrill, the amazement, of seeing the shuttle lift off to space, sun glinting, across a beautiful blue sky on a perfect September morning.

On another beautiful September morning, just one year and three days later, my mind went back to beauty and the "oneness" of that moment, and it provide some small measure of comfort.

I'm glad you and your daughter got to see Discovery. It's a rare privilege, isn't it?
A fantastic and fortuante experience. {R}
awesome experience, and so serendipitously fortunate. I saw a YouTube video last night of the same experience, but from a different plane, this one a flight from Orlando. Found here:
this is way cool. thanks for sharing.
it would be great if you put the date/time of the launch in the post.
yeah when I was about 10 I remember watching the shuttle land for the 1st time with my family & the feelings of triumph & patriotism. alas its been a long time since Ive felt that way in this country.
History, and well worth recording, so well - thanks.