The first launch I saw was the last launch before Challenger blew up and, after [that], everyone said that we had all been taking space launches for granted. Not me, must have been some other mother, but no, no, child, it wasn't me. Maybe TV fools took them for granted, but no one that ever stood and felt NASA explode human beings into space took them for granted.
The countdown gets close. We get down to double digits. It's dawn and you can see the shuttle artificially lit, glowing brilliantly five miles away. Mankind's lights are kicking dawn's ass in the candlepower department, and NASA hasn't really started yet. The countdown gets to single digits, and you can see the engine start. They're on their way to space.
You see more smoke then you've ever seen before – clouds of thick, heavenly, white smoke. It's nothing like bad magic show smoke. It's virgin white technological smoke, and in the center is the light of the engines and they are burning bright. It's miles away and you're looking at this flame and the flame is far away and it's brighter than watching an arc welder from across a room. It's bright. The fluffy smoke clouds of the angels of exploration spill out of your field of vision. They spill out of your peripheral vision.
You don't exactly hear it at first, it almost knocks you over. It's the loudest, most wonderful sound you've ever heard. You can't really hear it. It's too loud to hear. It's wonderful, deep, and low. This is a real explosion and it's controlled and it's doing nothing but good and it makes your unbuttoned shirt flap around your arms. It's beyond sound, it's wind. It's a baseball bat in the chest.
You start cheering. You start yelling. You start crying. You are yelling from the depth of your little lizard brain. You're yelling because stinkin' animals have done this. You know the alligators are cheering and the birds are cheering and every living thing on the planet is cheering. We're all cheering together because Earth animals are going into space.