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  • Writer's pictureDes & Sandie Nichols


Updated: Aug 11, 2023

There was one reaction that we didn't expect. To witness the test flight, the maiden voyage, of what is currently the world's largest rocket was always going to be an amazing sight, a moment in space history, a tick on our own bucket list. After two days exploring Kennedy Space Center, we had learned so much about 'rocket science' and had become aware of the enormity of the SpaceX challenge with its new Falcon Heavy spacecraft. Basically, it was propelled by three of their normal rockets strapped together. It is, as an expert described, like driving three cars at the same time. Or herding three rocket-powered cats. Even the brilliant young man behind the venture, Elon Musk, had openly claimed there was a 'fifty-fifty chance of it blowing up on the launchpad'.

When the launch time was put back again and again, the cloud of pessimism and disappointment was starting to hang over the thousands of enthusiasts with whom we had gathered under the clear blue Florida sky. The window was from 1.30pm to 4.00pm and, as the predicted launch was set back to 3.45, there was a growing acceptance that, if it didn't go this time, it wouldn't go today.

But the clock just kept ticking down. Two hours, one hour..... and then the announcement came, 'fueling has started'. Suddenly, the tenuous pessimism that hung like a pall over the Center exploded into vociferous encouragement. Everyone yelled unbridled whoops of excitement, as if the more noise we made the more certain it would actually happen.

Fifteen minutes to go and the yelling turned into a nervous buzz of constrained expectation.

Ten minutes and a somewhat unnerving disclaimer was announced, all about how, if debris, gas or fire enveloped you, it was not the responsibility of the Space Center or SpaceX. Bit late now, we thought.

Two minutes and counting and the swell of suppressed anticipation was released to bursting point. We had crossed the Rubicon. Now there was no going back.

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1...LIFT OFF!

On the giant screen we watched the explosion from the base of this modern megalith, matched by the deafening eruption of raw human elation from the thousands around us. We shouted, we yelled and we were one. For these few minutes, we were one people, Earthlings sharing one planet, putting differences aside, all one big happy family.

After about two minutes, way up in the sky, the two powerful side rocket cores peeled off successfully, their job done. Well almost. They now had to land back at Cape Canaveral. The sustained joy that still gripped the crowd then reached a new crescendo as we watched the two specks come straight down, faithfully returning to their SpaceX masters. Like a choreographed duet by two heavyweight boxers, we watched as they fired their retro-boosters, creating the sonic boom-boom, and landed precisely and elegantly on their prepared pad. The gentleness of these two fire-belching monsters turning into overweight ballerinas from space as they landed in harmony was not lost on us.

It was then that I looked at Sandie. Just like with the eclipse last year, she was in tears, a bundle of emotion which she just could not contain. As was I. And those around us.The involuntary outpouring was the outcome of the affection, enthusiasm, the fear of failure and the relief of success after the hours of tense anticipation. We both felt an illogical surrogate pride as if we were part of the human team that had just achieved this miracle.

This was the reaction we had not expected. The uncontrolled elation. Just when we could hardly take any more as the rocket disappeared into the blue heavens, these two beautiful, masterful, disembodied rockets danced gracefully back to Earth. What a show! What a way to end the most dramatic 10 minutes you can imagine. The stuff of science fiction, but now science fact.

The admiration we have for Elon Musk and his team is limitless, especially (from an old marketing man) seeing his mastery of cross promotion with his other venture, Tesla cars. Never miss an opportunity, I always said. Genius is a word bandied about too freely in newspapers but it should be reserved for people like Musk. There is a new breed of inventors and re-inventors of our age, modern-day Edisons who take what exists, tear up the rule book, take the hard route and make the impossible possible. People who see laterally and futuristically, while others stand around in acceptance of what exists - Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Steve Jobs at Apple, Elon Musk at SpaceX. Even with the likes of Über, Air BNB, Dyson, we can see we live in a new age where the next generation is pushing through the barriers they have inherited from the tired, aging baby-boomers to take us all into a brave new world. Let's hope that we can all embrace change and applaud their brilliant contribution - unfortunately, we spend more time navel-gazing than looking at the stars.

We rushed towards the car park, but called into the loos first, expecting long delays in getting home. As I put my hands under the roaring hand dryer, just for a moment, I closed my eyes and felt I was strapped to the next SpaceX mission. I wish.

Stop worrying, you doomsayers. The world is in great hands. The next generation is OK. Relax and hand over. For them, and us, the best is yet to come. Go with it.

A close-up of the dummy in the SpaceX spacesuit 'driving' the Tesla in space. A marketing coup of sheer genius from Elon Musk.

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