Congratulations to NASA on a very successful launch of STS-117 Atlantis. Dan Arildson, Vivian Atlas, Rob Tiffany and I were at Paul's Smokehouse restaurant in Titusville, Florida to watch the launch of STS-117 Space Shuttle Atlantis. It was an amazing experience, to be able to see the launch with your own eyes. STS-117 too has a meaningful ring to it because all of our offices are in Building 117 back at the campus.

It took us a good 3 hours to drive 30 miles to Titusville because of the HUGE jam caused by the toll gates and the huge amount of people heading out that direction.

here's what it looked like 9 minutes before the launch. We arrived just in time.

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There were literally thousands of people along the shore lines waiting for the countdown. We could hear the faint voice of the office in the mission control center over one of the radios in the parked cars and everybody started counting down, 5, 4, 3, 2... silence.. for the next 45 seconds you see a cloud of smoke and a rising, blinding flash of light.

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As the plume of smoke continues to rise, we stare in awe at the scene right in front of us. The beautiful blue skies, wide open space and miles of flat land and sea stretching till the horizon, and in the middle of this sea of nothingness, we see this small shuttle carrying it's precious cargo and it's huge booster rockets streaking up to the sky, generating a huge trail of dense smoke in its wake.

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Almost a minute later, the roar of the engines from the liftoff assaults everyone on the beach, causing a huge gasp from the crowd followed by an equally thundering applause. It's a deep trembling sound that you feel deep in your body.

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We could actually follow it and still see, with the naked eye, the booster rockets being jettisoned, and when that happened, the crowd roared and cheered in applause again.

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We stayed until we couldn't see the shuttle anymore and went back into Paul's Smokehouse to have some Amber Bock while waiting for three hours before getting a place to sit for dinner.

You can watch launch videos and look at nicer pictures at the NASA Space Shuttle website here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

Direct link to videos: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/live_tv.html

I just wished Raeven and Skyler were here to see the launch, it would have taught them about the amazing feats the human mind and body can achieve AND that this country they live in can provide the means and resources for them to see their dreams come true.