There were many nerves around the NASA community when the shuttle Endeavour crew was on the launch pad for the sixth time on July 15. There were sighs of relief when the shut tle launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, none bigger than the ones from clients at Rockdale's MARC Opportunity Center.
Clients and staff have been getting educated on the space program and history of the Nat iona l Aeronaut ic s and Space Administration (NASA) for almost a year. The group has gone through exhibits at both the Lyndon B. Johnson and George Bush presidential libraries and are planning a trip later this summer to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The Endeavour's launch was scrapped two times in mid- June due to hydrogen gas leaks and three times earlier this month due to stormy weather at the Florida space center.
One MARC client, Christina Mitchell was overjoyed when the shuttle finally lifted off, as she has developed a friendship with the shuttle's commander Mark Polansky through the social network Twitter.
Polansky and fellow astronaut Mike Massimino have been the first to Twitter from space and Mitchell has kept up with both of them. Massimino was on the Hubble missions earlier this year.
Astronauts can Twitter from space once a day, and three or four times daily while in training.
Times were a bit scary when debris fell off during Endeavour's climb to orbit, but that is fixed and Thompson, along with her friends at the MARC Center, are breathing a sigh of relief.
Endeavour's mission includes the delivery of sections belonging to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory complex on the Inter nat iona l Space Station. The have also put a "front porch" on the ISS for future experiments in the exposed environment.
The Endeavour and its crew are due to land
Peggy Nadeau, director of the MARC Center, said that most of the clients were born during the shuttle age and really didn't know much about how the space program began. The 50 years of NASA is split between the exhibits at the two libraries (LBJ and Bush).
A group from the Rockdale MARC Center has made trips to both LBJ and Bush libraries and have seen how much space exploration has grown - literally.
"The shuttles and such have gotten so big that there were just smaller replicas of them at the Bush library," Nadeau said. "At LBJ the first modules were so small that they had an example of actual size.
"It was so small in there. It is hard to believe that three people fit in them with all their equipment."
Also at the library in Austin, there were chances for tourists to experience simulators of lift off and space flight. Thompson said she rode the chair simulator eight or nine times.
"They all liked the simulators," Nadeau said.
The group got started on this space exploration of their own when first learning about the exhibit at the Bush Librar y. According to Nadeau, it just sort of took off from there.
"I never expected this to be as acute as its been," she said. "I never thought anyone would be as interested as Christina is about all of this."
Mitchell keeps a book of her Twitter conversations with Mas- simino and Polansky and articles about them and their missions.
"She'd love to meet Mike (Massimino) some day," Nadeau said of Mitchell.
'One small step'
Ju ly 15's launch day a lso marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's liftoff, the mission that put the first man on the moon.
Armstrong's simple and instantaneously popular phrase, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," as he first stepped on the lunar surface was unknowingly the beginning of such huge advances in space exploration and technology.
Michael Collins was also on that Apollo 11 moon mission with Armstrong and Aldrin.
The MARC Center received an Alcoa Foundation grant allowing the clients to take the library field trips and the planned Houston trip.
Nadeau said they are all so appreciative since the plant is now closed.
"It was a nice parting gift for us," she said. "We want to thank them so much. It has been an awesome experience for us all."