6 miles away.
Five years ago today, on a Saturday morning, I finished up some paperwork at the P.D. at 0800 CST.
It was quiet. The radio was dead. I toiled on.
I hadn't paid any attention to the fact that the oldest space shuttle in our fleet was landing that morning. If I had, I would certainly have been outside watching for it, as it came across my sky. Stupidly, I still wish that I had, if only to see it for the last time it was to be seen. If I had been outside, I probably would have heard and seen the disintegration of the Columbia.
Why the hell didn't I? As I sat in a tiny little patrol office doing some inconsequential paperwork, seven men and women died, about 200,000 feet above my head.
I've never seen a spacecraft, beyond the satellites that scram across the sky (more and more you see the Iridium satellite flares), but those aren't craft, so much as cargo that got parked. I would have been happy to have watched a 22 year old stopgap spacecraft pass by.
I'm one of those who will someday pay to go stand on some ground 6 miles away from the launch pad of some other spacecraft in eastern Florida. I don't reckon that I'll ever get to go up in one, but at least I can hope to watch one go.
And if it's half as exciting as it looks through my little monitor, as I watch the the event through the lens of someone's handheld video camera, then I'm all in. Take a second and watch the launching of Columbia's last successful mission. Watch the exhaust as it passes above the terminator on its pre-dawn flight, into the the coming day.
Listen to how happy the crowd is when the SRB separation is successful. Hell, I was cheering, too, over 5 years and 1300 miles later. By that time, they were about 30 miles away from the shuttle, but they're just so happy to see that it made it.
Raise your cup to the memory of those who have gone, but don't mourn. Rather, give thanks for the hope that others may --will-- go also.
"When the ship lifts, all bills are paid. No regrets."
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Edit: Fixed the link in the middle to show the launch of the last successful round trip of the Space Shuttle Columbia.