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@MarkSands and I in front of Countdown Clock

@MarkSands and I in front of Countdown Clock

We’re here. We’re actually here.

It is launch day for STS-129, the next to last launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. We settled into our seats at T-3 hours and holding, waiting for the crew to head out the vehicle and load up and get locked in (a new meaning for load & lock?)

It is a fair day here in Cape Canaveral, with partial clouds, 4-5 ft seas, and low wind. Chances of launch are currently 70%, but in this room of 101 people from 21 US states, and 4 additional nations (Morocco, New Zealand, UK, and Canada), we are going to keep on believing this-is-happening-right-now until someone makes us stop.

As a little girl, one of my earliest memories is watching the shuttle contrails from landings at Edwards Air Force base. From our California home, we could just make out this white dot in the sky, and I remember running back and force from the TV, where chase jet images showed the shuttle in detail, and the backyard, where I could only imagine what it was so high up in the sky.

Now, an adult who set aside my dreams of being part of NASA HSF (Human Space Flight) to instead focus on my NASA SMD (Space Mission Directorate) reality, it is amazing to still find my way to a launch, and to find myself so close – able to reach out and touch the launch clock. It is an odd way to bookend a life. I was 7-years old when Columbia first flew, and if the last launch goes as planned in September 2010, I’ll be 36 when the program ends.

A lifetime of dreaming of flying on the wings of great white bird must replaced with a reformulation of my parents and grandparents more encapsulated dreams. With Constellation, the next generation of astronauts – my generation turned astronaut – will buckle back in to capsules.

But while Constellation moves NASA in a new direction, the commercial space program is continuing to imagine new things never thought of in the days of Glenn and Aldrain. With SpaceShipTwo and Virgin Galactic, we’re looking at new ways fly white winged birds into the inky black of space.

We are at T minus less than 3 hours and counting. There are two more holds. And there are 101 hearts willing away the clouds and wishing for clear check lists and smooth skies.

We are at T minus less than 3 hours and counting, and if all goes well in 3 real hours we’ll be watching Space Shuttle Atlantis launch into a clear blue sky.