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On Florida

by Andy Shaner

September 07, 2007 -

It's hard to believe it has already been a month since Phoenix began its 9 months of adventure to Mars. I was thinking about this the other day and starting writing down some thoughts I remember running through my mind during my experience at launch. I have crafted them together into something of a "story." Enjoy.

L minus 2. This time, pants and shoes are present. "If it's not too much trouble, could somebody take us out?" Please say yes, please say yes. "Yeah, let's go." We proceed through the gate and pass the badge with a nod and a grin that could circle the globe. God, it is so humid; this better be worth it. Funny thing though, it doesn't look that big. However, it will get the job done and that's all that matters. Stairs? We are going to climb stairs? Fifteen feet and my knees are shaking. I can't fight it and I embrace what few people have ever embraced. Just think, in less than 48 hours, this one million dollar object of my affection will complete its job in less than 120 seconds. 45 feet and I've stopped paying attention. I don't think he's noticed. Maybe I'll ask a really simple question every now and then. This connects what to what? This is so complicated. I'm going to pretend like I'm listening and just enjoy the view. 65 feet and we're halfway there. That's a lot of oxygen in there. It's only the beginning.

75 feet and I am face to face with the artwork I have described hundreds of times to thousands of people. This vibrant piece of artwork illustrates a story five years in the making, written by over 300 authors. A story as old as humanity. 85 feet and the most spectacular view my eyes have ever seen. Normally I would be petrified, but I am surrounded by so much metal I feel like I am cheating gravity. "We're going to step inside here. You should see this." Considering we really have no business being here, these guys are really nice. "Go ahead and stick your head in there." Awesome. This is going to give it one hell of a boost. 90 feet. "Where is this cold air coming from?" Not that I'm complaining, it feels really good. "It's in there, right through that door. We can't take the time to prep but you can look through the window." Thoughts of sub-zero temperatures in Denver race through my mind and I get a chill from head to toe, even in the hot, heavy Florida air. 130 feet and we have come to the end.

100 feet. 80 feet. 60 feet. Looking back, it would have been nice to have had a camera. "Why don't you come back in about an hour? I'll take you out with a camera pass." Lunch is a blur although I'm pretty sure I ate something. Back on site, we run into the boss. Snap a few pictures for posterity and we're on our way. The elevator was cozy, even with only three people. Ready, set, go! Two pictures later, we are running down stairs. I guess this is no place to be when a lightning storm rolls in.

Yet another moment forever etched into my memory.

T minus 3:00:00.00. Why didn't I go to sleep earlier? Oh yeah. I'm so excited I could wet myself. So excited, yet too tired to talk. T minus 2:00:00.00. Fiancee? Check. Parents? Check. Let's go. This is the longest 30 minute drive I have ever taken. OK. Where are the buses? Oh, they're in the other parking lot. Find the bus. Board the bus. Wait on the bus. Let's go people!! Still too tired to talk, but God somebody pinch me. Am I really here? T minus 30:00.00. What?! You saw a gator?! Where? T minus 5:00.00. The sky is so dark. It seems so far away, but there it is. Basking in those bright lights, you can't miss it. Within a two mile radius? It would kill you? No way. T minus 4:00.00. Ha! That will teach you to speed. T minus 1:00.00. It's going to happen. Five years of planning and it all comes down to this. I am so excited, and nervous. I am so happy Allison is here. I love her so much.

T minus 5…4…3…2…1…you can hear a pin drop…hundreds of people rejoice. Come on…come on… keep going. I will it to climb higher and higher, cheating gravity. The sky is so bright I could read a book. I hope my friends don't see my tear. There they go. One, two, three, four, five…six million dollars. That is so cool. They look like fireworks. Here comes the sound, though not deadly at this distance. Soon, it is only a bright spot arcing across the pre-dawn sky. Behind it, a trail of vapor that would eventually put on a show of its own. I say goodbye. In the warm, heavy Florida air, a chill runs from head to toe. I will see it again, only this time, on another world, not too unlike our own. Like it has for thousands of years, a Phoenix is reborn.

Yet another moment forever burned into my memory.