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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 9:20 EDT

A Day In The Life…

May 26, 2012
Image Credit: TsuneoMP / Shutterstock

Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

Last weekend, in just 24 hours, my hand went from being 2-inches away from a shark at the aquarium in the Mall of America in Minnesota, to holding a camera snapping photos of SpaceX attempting to make history in Florida.  The life of a journalist is both work and play, but sometimes it´s just downright exhausting.

Going from one state to another is not an impressive feat, but how about four states in 14 hours for two separate trips?

I took off from my home in Denver earlier in the week to catch the International Convention on Robotics and Automation in St. Paul, Minnesota last week, knowing there was essentially a 50/50 shot of me having to go from St. Paul to Florida on Friday.

Robots filled my brain throughout the week, and I even took a break from the work and headed to Target Field to go catch a Twins game.  The week had gone by a lot quicker than I anticipated.

The SpaceX launch was still looking like a go on Thursday, so RedOrbit booked me a trip to Florida on Friday to go and grab my press badge and watch the 4:55am Dragon capsule launch.  So, in a week´s time, I was going from robotics to spacecrafts, fulfilling any childhood boy’s dream of an ultimate trip.

Naturally, I woke up Friday morning to work for a bit before heading off to the airport.  I booked a flight out at around 7:30pm to ensure that if SpaceX decided it was having technical difficulties again, I would be able to catch a flight back to Denver instead of wasting a trip to Florida.

Conveniently, the Mall of America is located right by the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport, so it did make a nice place to kill time between when I had to be out of my hotel, and when my flight took off.

The mall has a pretty great aquarium, including a 300-foot underwater tunnel to view the sea creatures.  I was definitely the only adult at the Sea Life aquarium who not only was not on a date, but had no child to use as an excuse to get close to sharks.

I’ve been a zoo member at two different zoos in the past 5 years, and you would think I should already be use to the weird looks a 27-year-old man with skinny-jeans and tattoos gets from going to an aquarium or zoo alone, but I’m not.  So packed with a chest full of anxiety, I decided to tackle the aquarium head-on.

I was standing around in the long-tunnel, trying to do my best to not give off the creeper vibe, when suddenly a sand tiger shark came out of nowhere and freaked me out.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a man in his mid-70s with his wife laughing at me, cause they knew why I suddenly jolted.

I stood there for a while longer, put my hand on the glass, and soaked in every bit of the $19 I spent, while also grasping the fact that my hand was just a few inches away from sharks, and in a few hours, would be holding a camera and snapping photos of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As the hours until my flight closed in, and I had seen about all the Mall of America I could handle, I went on my way back to the airport and waited for the plane.

The flight was not direct, but we were supposed to just land in Chicago, pick up a few more travelers, and head back down to Orlando.  However, a malfunction in the plane meant we were going to have to switch aircrafts.

Chicago sets off a vibe for me every time I’m in the city, but it´s something I don’t pick up on when I am just sitting on the plane, but walking through Midway airport to get to the other terminal, the feeling started sinking in.  For a moment, I wanted to just hop on the “L” and go experience the city, but I was determined to stay on course.

As the plane made its journey towards the Orlando International Airport, the feeling of being up for 16-hours and knowing I wasn’t even close to getting to go to bed started to sink in.  But again, I knew I had a task in front of me I had the need to accomplish.

The plane landed and I proceeded to go on my way towards the rental car kiosks at the airport, get in the driver seat of a Mazda, and drive to the closest place I could find that had caffeine.  As signs for Kennedy Space Center started to pop-up, my brain began to arise from its zombie-state, because I knew I was about to see something really special.

Missing a turn on the Florida 528 Toll can be a hassle, and I found that out when I proceeded to follow the signs to Kennedy, instead of listening to what the NASA media contact had told me about sticking to the 528 route.

After taking about a 15-mile detour, and getting back on track, I found my way to the NASA badging offices.  At this moment, I knew tourism time was over, and journalism time was starting to begin again.

I was a small fish among big fish in a little pond, but was early enough to the launch so I could be one of the first in line to board the bus towards the Causeway to set up camp a couple hours early before lift-off.

Journalists crowded around, setting up tripods and getting their exposure ready, as the Falcon 9 rocket sat in the distance smoking and readying itself for launch.

Having to stand in the grassy field across the ocean for two-hours is not exactly the greenroom at the Grammy’s, especially after being awake for 19 hours and two plane rides, but I knew it would all be worth it.

As minutes grew closer, so did the anticipation.  I had always dreamed of watching one of the shuttles take off, but was never was able to make it out to a launch, so this was going to have to be the next best thing.

Hearing NASA and SpaceX chatter being played over the loudspeakers, and seeing the time closing in at 4:55 a.m. made me start to feel nervous.  Again, I had a chest full of anxiety, and plenty of sweat from the Florida humidity to leak it out.

Finally, George Diller’s voice came over the loudspeaker, and he began his iconic countdown.  As he counted back from 10, down to one, camera shutters filled the sound waves in the air like a machine gun in a mafia fight.

Smoke began to billow out from the bottom of the rocket, and orange started to flare-up down below, until Diller’s voice sounded off “Lift Off.”  But, there was no lift-off.  SpaceX’s prized rocket’s software had aborted the mission with less than a second to go.

Like a kid who was just told “no” by a complete stranger at Six Flags when standing next to the height-line for the ride, I began to pack up my things and head back for the bus.  From the bus, I got into my rental car and made my way towards the airport.

My plane took-off from Orlando at 9:30am, and I landed back in Denver at around noon.  I had to stay up for a few more hours so I could go pick up my Old English Sheepdog, Mumford, from the dog-hotel he had been staying at. He looked as tired as I did.

After being awake for nearly 32 hours, and flying across America in nearly every direction only to be beaten down by an aborted launch, I was ready to go to bed.  I slept for 13 hours straight, the first time I have been able to do that since high school.

I woke up on Sunday, in my own bed for the first time in a week, and started letting the previous day’s events sink in.  I realized at moment, that even though I had missed out on a lifelong dream, I had lived out an entire chapter of life in short the window of 24 hours.


Source: Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com