Smith family gets to see Endeavour launch

Mike Smith said he found a poster of a shuttle with the name “Endeavour,” he purchased in the 1990s.

Then Smith and his wife, Kathy, got to see the real thing up close earlier in March.

Cari Johnson, the wife of Endeavour pilot Greg Johnson and Mike’s cousin, invited the Smiths to watch the shuttle launch early on March 11.

The Smiths were members of a select party which toured NASA on March 10 and watched the Endeavour launch from a set of bleachers at 2:38 a.m. March 11 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Mike also gave a prayer in front of about 300 space launch attendees during a reception prior to the launch.

The shuttle landed safely on March 26.

Have you ever been to anything like that?

Kathy: “Never. I told Mike I was so glad I knew them. It was just the most incredible thing I ever witnessed. You can’t explain it. With it being a night launch, it was just overwhelming.

“Each astronaut can invite up to 50 people. They (NASA) showed us around all day long. It was a wonderful tour. They give us a briefing and highlighted every astronaut. They did a PowerPoint of them when they were kids, when they were in training, what the mission was going to be on the shuttle launch and what the mission was itself.

“It was really neat. It got you involved. … It was just a very fun atmosphere whether we were on a briefing or on a tour bus.”

Mike: “The first thing we saw Monday morning was a wire fence around the shuttle. They took us out to the fence. We were a few hundred yards from the shuttle itself.

“It was really an exciting opportunity to get close to it, which was very nice.”

How long did the tour and reception take?

Kathy: “It was the whole day. We were up 24 hours.

“It was at about 3 a.m. the next morning, so it was the same day. From the tour, to the briefing, to the reception, we were supposed to meet the buses for the launch.”

Mike: “Basically, we arrived at 9 a.m. Monday. They took us on a bus tour to the shuttle itself, and it took about an hour to an hour and a half.

“Then they took us to a theater. The astronauts introduced themselves and us to each other, then they did a briefing.

We went to the Kennedy Space Center at 1 p.m., and went on the shuttle simulators.

At 5 p.m., we went to an individual reception for Greg and that lasted until 9:30 p.m. At 11:15 a.m., we went to a park and that was 15 miles away. They put us on buses to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch.”

Tell me about conducting the prayer?

Kathy: “At the family reception, I went up to Cari and I said, ‘I don’t know if you would be interested, but Mike has said a prayer with the family before.’

“She said, ‘Yes, yes, yes. I wanted someone to do a prayer. I just didn’t know how to ask.’

“She wanted Mike to do it for the whole reception. There were about 50 people on the tour (and the launch). At the reception, there were about 300 people there.”

What reaction did you have when Cari put you in front of 300 people?

Mike: “It was just an honor to do it.

“There was an astronaut who returned in October and was appreciative. Three, four, or five came up and said something.”

Kathy: “I kept saying to myself, ‘This isn’t Disney.’ This is very, very serious stuff. Mike gave a very serious prayer from his heart on the events that were about to happen. It was a beautiful prayer.”

What was your reaction at the launch?

Mike: “Kathy bawled.”

Kathy: “I cried. It was just very, very emotional. The astronauts were talking over the PA system, which was a good thing they could interact.

“ … Whenever that shuttle lifted off with the steam and gas, I could feel the hand of God protecting those astronauts. I get teary-eyed when I think of it.”

How large was the shuttle?

Mike: “I didn’t have any specific details, but it was huge. You can see there’s a tower. If I understood right, once they begin lift off, it’s going 100 mph when it clears this tower. That’s just in a matter of few short feet.”

Were you worried about the weather?

Mike: “I was worried about the weather a little bit. If there’s a cloud in the sky, it could delay it. But all went well, and it did.”

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