Rookie's first shuttle launch: Fighting traffic to see moment in history
NASA makes preparations Thursday for the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, set for Friday.
July 8th, 2011
09:20 AM ET

Rookie's first shuttle launch: Fighting traffic to see moment in history

Editor's note: CNN senior producer Eric Marrapodi is attending his first shuttle launch. Atlantis is set to blast off Friday in the final mission of America's 30-year space shuttle program. Here are his preparations for the big moment:

4:30 a.m.: Getting there is half the battle.

I'm a rookie. This is my first shuttle launch.

My iPhone alarm clock buzzes my wake-up call. I'm already anxious about traffic.

CNN Miami producer Rich Phillips put the fear of God in me early on when he told me it once took him five hours to travel 12 miles down here for a launch.

Brooke Baldwin and I are getting ready for morning live shots for "CNN Newsroom" so we made the call to get on the road early and stave off any traffic snafus.

5 a.m.: As we pull out of the parking lot of our beachfront hotel, there is a line of cars waiting to get on the beach for a prime viewing spot. This is not a good sign.

5:10 a.m.: We stop at a 7-Eleven to fuel up on sports drinks, water and beef jerky, knowing we could be in traffic for hours either before or after the launch.

5:20 a.m.: We hit our first major traffic scare of the morning ... the line at Dunkin' Donuts.

Locals chat us up in the line. People here don't count how many shuttles they've seen launch; they count on one hand the number they have missed.

Everyone has an opinion about where the best spot is to watch.

One guy tells us he and a pal took a canoe out for the first space shuttle launch in 1981. He said they paddled up until guys on a boat with machine guns stopped them.

One woman asks me if this is my first time here. It takes me a good five minutes of her waxing poetic about a breakfast sandwich until I realize she doesn't mean a shuttle launch. She means Dunkin' Donuts.

6:15 a.m.: We are back on the road and moving well. I'm smiling inside, and then we hit the exit for the space center. Seven miles out and we are at a dead stop.

6:30 a.m.: Traffic is crawling. We pass the Astronaut Hall of Fame and people are packed onto the lawn. They've been here awhile. Turns out the holdup is a checkpoint. We flash our NASA credentials and a smile and are waved in.

7 a.m.: As we clear the checkpoint, it's clear sailing through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve and into Kennedy Space Center.

7:10 a.m.: The sign on the side of the road at the space center reads 0 days until launch. Hurdle one: traffic. Check and mate.

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Filed under: Shuttle • Space
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Mmmmm

    Atlantis, honey, while you're out bring me back a Popsicle and a bag of potatoes chips!

    July 8, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kara

    Enjoy it, you'll be much closer than I was for my first and only launch in February. But I had a great view and about 100 of my closest friends. And new friends that I still talk to. Pretty cool. Don't take pictures, just enjoy it.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:20 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Brian

    Even though it was fifteen years ago, I'm so happy I had the opportunity to watch one of these launches. It's an epic sight.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. KristinaKaye

    Been there for the last 2 launches ... and the traffic is exactly as noted. BUT, it gets better when you leave ... oh yeah!!! Took us 6 hours to get back to Orlando.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kara

      Took us 4 after the launch in February to get to Disney, but we also stayed and talked to the others we watched. By the time we got to our van, we got in sat for about 30 minutes, turned it around and away we went.

      July 8, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. cris

    it is one of the coolest things anyone could ever see~ i got up close on merritt island about 11 years ago..awesome!

    July 8, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Spaceman

    Campervan sounds good !

    July 8, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sandy

    So for us uneducated people on the other side of the planet ....where is the shuttle taking off from? Is it Cape Canaveral?

    July 8, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. LIsa

    I saw my first (and only) launch when Endeavour went up in May. Clouds moved in over the Kennedy Space Center about a half-hour before the launch and shortened our viewing time (folks in Cocoa Beach, where we were staying, had a far better and longer view, as it turned out), but the high emotion at the Center is palpable and it really makes waiting those hours for the lift-off an exciting time. We took time while at the Kennedy Space Center to enjoy the Shuttle Launch Experience–sort of a really loud movie with moving seats–because the lines to get in were short by that time, and although the thing had a lot of warnings attached to it, it turned out to be a really hilariously fun "ride" into space aboard the shuttle. I'm sorry to see the program end, but I will trust they have something new and different lined up to capture our imagination and move us out into space again. Godspeed, Atlantis!

    July 8, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. OH GOD NO

    nancy grace naked, now thats thrilling

    July 8, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. John

    dude you have no idea what you're in for....you will never forget this day....when you see that shuttle go up and you feel the rumble go up your spine thru the hairs on the back of you neck....that's the moment you look up and say "wow this is the real thing" and the tears start pouring out....yes this is a day and a feeling you will never forget for the rest of your life. enjoy!

    July 8, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. CSnSC

    Nice post John. Almost put a tear in my eye.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
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