✓ Goal #98) Witness a Shuttle Launch

By now you’ve probably heard that the final Space Shuttle launched on Friday.

And if you’ve followed my blog over the last year, you know that witnessing a Space Shuttle launch has been a goal I’ve been struggling to accomplish for just as long. I’ve been to Florida three times in a desperate attempt to complete this goal.

Before I’d even departed for my first trip to Florida, NASA announced that the Shuttle launch was postponed. I tried to cancel our flight but wasn’t able to so I decided to go anyway and enjoy my time in Florida. I only had a couple of days before I flew back home so I spent a day at Disney World and one at Sea World. I was able to knock Goal 99 off the list, so at least the trip wasn’t a complete loss.

My next trip to Florida was a few months ago for the launch of Endeavour. I was confident everything would happen as scheduled. After all, President Obama and Gabrielle Giffords were there … NASA couldn’t delay the launch with so many prominent people there! But about two hours before lift-off, the launch was scrubbed. This time I ‘d decided to drive to Florida (all the way from Minneapolis.) Now I’d just have to turn around and drive back home without accomplishing a damn thing.

And last week I began a three-day drive from Denver to Titusville for the final launch of Atlantis (and the last launch of the Space Shuttle program.) The weather forecast predicted a 70% chance that the launch wouldn’t happen and the night before the launch, lightning struck a water tower 515 feet from the launch pad, causing concern that the Shuttle might have sustained some sort of damage.

Things weren’t looking good.

The next morning, the sky was overcast with only a few small spots of blue. I checked Kennedy Space Center’s Facebook page to make sure the launch was still go, and it was … Titusville, here I come!

My ticket was for the Hall of Fame, which is about 11 miles from the launch pad. It might not have been the greatest place, but it was still good enough. I was just happy to finally see a launch with my own eyes, even if it was from a distance. The countdown clock ticked away the minutes and my excitement grew. A few minutes before lift-off, Houston announced that the weather conditions were acceptable. The crowd began to cheer and clap. It was going to happen! But thirty seconds before lift-off, they stopped the countdown.

My heart sunk.

All I could do was wait … and hope.

A minute later, the all-clear was given, and the clock began to tick down the final seconds.

In the distance there was a huge flash of light, and smoke rolled across the ground. The fire and smoke lifted into the sky before disappearing above the clouds a few seconds later. Then the rumble of the Shuttle swept over us. Finally I’d accomplished my goal of witnessing a Space Shuttle launch. It only took a year of trying and three trips to Florida to make it happen. I guess it really is true that if you don’t quit, you can’t fail.

Looking back at all the time, energy, and money I’ve put into making this happen, I’m excited to have accomplished this goal on the final launch of the Shuttle program. It’s a moment in history and I was a part of that history.

You Can’t Fail if You Don’t Quit

I’m famous (if by “famous” I mean I’m aware of myself) for saying “If you don’t quit, you can’t fail.”

For the most part, I really believe that statement. I think most failures in life are the result of quitting, or never trying in the first place. For whatever reason, people get overwhelmed in their moments of struggles and give up. Or they’re afraid of what might happen if they do pursue their dreams, and never start.

I still face many moments of doubt. If I didn’t, I might begin to question whether I’m challenging myself enough.

When I think about climbing Devil’s Tower, I wonder if I really have what it takes. Can I climb well enough? Do I have the endurance to make it to the top? What if I freak out a few hundred feet in the air? Or when I think about the marathon I’m running in June, I fear that my knees will give out. I had problems with them a couple of summers ago and could barely walk. What if that happens again? What if I have to poop when I’m in the middle of nowhere?

For almost anything in life, there’s a reason not to take the risk. And many times, many people don’t. Or they only give it a half-hearted attempt, never totally committing themselves for fear of failure. Or maybe it’s the fear of success. What if you actually do succeed at what you set out to do? Maybe your life would be drastically different from the one you know today. That’s scary. Life today is familiar and comfortable. We know what to expect…it’s safe. Tossing that security aside in pursuit of the unknown, even for better possibilities, is frightening!

But what if you’re already giving it all that you’ve got and still can’t seem to make things work? Is it true that if you don’t quit you can’t fail? Or is that just a bunch of motivational bullshit people try to sell you? I think it’s a bit of both, actually.

An example of this in my life is my goal of witnessing a Space Shuttle launch. I’ve been to Florida on two occasions now (and am mulling around a third attempt) and both trips have have been failures. Now, it’s not for a lack of trying. I’ve been working on this for a year, and so far, no luck.

My most recent attempt at witnessing a Shuttle launch was last weekend.

Erin and I packed our backpacks and headed out for the 3,000 mile road trip to Florida (and back.) When we arrived at Kennedy Space Center, I was excited to finally get this goal taken care of. It would be a wonderful finish to a difficult challenge. It was a historical moment. President Obama and Gabrielle Giffords were there, and in a couple of hours we’d all get to watch the most spectacular accomplishment of mankind.

Of course, that’s not how things worked out.

The launch was delayed due to equipment malfunctions and my two days of driving to Florida was for nothing. Having spent only a few hours enjoying the day at KSC, we hit the road again to return home. I was (and still am) incredibly frustrated and disappointed that no matter how hard I tried to make this goal happen, no amount of effort on my part can prevent a delay. I’m at the mercy of NASA.

Can I try again?

Of course I can, but the real question is “Will I?” At this point, I’m not sure. I feel like I’ve given this everything I possibly can. I’ve spent days driving, traveled thousands of miles and when I consider the money that I’ve spent on this trip and the previous one, a lot of money has gone into making this happen. Is it worth it for me to continue to invest time and money into a goal that I can’t control the outcome? I don’t know.

But it’s hard to let go of something that I’ve worked so hard for, and maybe this proves that if I don’t quit, I can’t fail, since one day, the Shuttle will launch. And if I persist, I’ll be there to see it.

What do you think? Is it possible to fail if you don’t quit or is failure the result of giving up or never trying in the first place?

Update: I made the third trip, on the very last Shuttle Launch and am happy to announce that because I didn’t quit, I didn’t fail! I finally got to witness a Space Shuttle launch. Finally!

Goal #98) Witness a Space Shuttle Launch

A few months ago a reader informed me that the Space Shuttle would be launching for the last time in September. If I was ever going to accomplish my goal of witnessing a Space Shuttle launch, I’d better be doing it soon. I checked my schedule to see if I could make something work but was disappointed to find that I would be in class during each upcoming launch date. It wasn’t going to work out and I put it out of my mind.

Then a couple of days ago I received an email from Niel:

I noticed that you want to see a Space Shuttle launch. I wondered if you knew that the Space Shuttle fleet is in the process of retiring and there will be no more launches after September. I saw the launch of Endeavour in February, and I think it’s worth the effort to see it.

My reply was little more than an expression of my disappointment with the retirement of the Shuttle Program and my disgust in our government for closing down a program that inspires our youth to pursue ambitious goals in mathematics and science. I closed the email with this statement:

I have checked out the launch schedule in the past for the upcoming year and at the time I wasn’t sure that it would fit into my schedule but being the rebel that I can sometimes be, I might have to find a way to make it happen!

After sending my response to Niel, I checked out the launch schedule again and found that, indeed, I had scheduling conflicts with school. Frustrated, and a little angry at a perceived lack of control in my life, I fired off an email to my Chemistry professor politely informing him that I would be missing class so I could travel to Florida to watch the launch of Endeavour.

Then I booked my flight to Orlando.

I had no idea what the repercussions of skipping class would be or whether there would be a quiz or exam that day. I didn’t care. Sometimes a person just needs to follow their ambitions without fear of consequence. The next morning when I checked my email I had a response from my professor:

I understand your interest in the Space Shuttle. I will help you out with this as much as possible.

At this moment, all I have is a plane ticket to Orlando and a hotel room. I don’t have a ticket to the launch area and it is not even a guarantee that the launch will take place that day. It’s a risk I am willing to take. My opportunity to accomplish this goal is coming to an end and it is time to do whatever it takes to turn this goal into a reality.