Plan B

By Greg Hertel

Plan A was a three week trip to Vietnam — rent a motorcycle and ride around the country. This would be the perfect escape from our long, grey, wet, windy, cold, nasty winter. But fate had another idea. Two weeks before departure I get an e-mail from my airline.

“AMERICAN AIRLINE has made a schedule change to your upcoming trip, and your original flight option is no longer available.”

And there were no other options offered other than a refund and no explanation. OK, the Corona Virus had steadily been ramping up and I was beginning to question this choice of an Asian vacation so time to initiate Plan B: Accept the refund and head to Florida and stay with friends, lay on the beach and drink tropical cocktails. I booked the flight to Orlando and out of curiosity checked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration website. There was going to be a Space X launch!

One of my life long dreams has been to be at the Cape for a rocket launch. There’s a 10-year-old kid inside me who has always loved rockets, astronomy and space science. I missed all of the big ones in the past. I was working, in college, couldn’t afford the trip. This time, it looked like everything was falling in place. Then I got to thinking, how close would I be? I checked. The Space Center is tightly controlled and all of the roads that used to be good viewing are off-limits and shut down. The nearest approach was about 12 miles. But what if I had a Press pass? There was an “apply” option so I called the Journal and inquired if they would adopt me for this in exchange for a story. They said “Yes.”

I started the process just a few days before my departure date and the day before I left, I got an e-mail from NASA that said that I was approved! Plan B was looking better and better. It was a hectic repack from beaches and hostels in Vietnam to Florida motels and the Kennedy Space Center. And of course, it didn’t go smoothly. The first launch was rescheduled due to high winds. I spent a hectic half day canceling plans and reservations for things I had been planning to do in the south end of the state and finding a motel close to the Center. I was still waiting for information on “badging” which I knew I’d need to get in and I went to the press office but no one was there. Frustrating because NASA had been well organized. They had even contacted the Journal to verify that I was doing a story for them.

I also applied for VIP status to watch from atop the Vehicle Assembly Building. At 586-feet this is the tallest single-story building in the world. It’s where the moon shots and all of the Space Shuttles were assembled. When the rockets are ready, a 500-foot tall door opens and the crawler they stand on begins its journey to the launch pad. This vantage point would give a tremendous view of the rocket launch.

I finally received instructions to pick up my badge and packet on Thursday, the day before the launch. The press building was open and staff offered me a Spanish language packet when they noticed that I was from the “Journal of the San Juans.” Now, using my credentials, I drove to the press auditorium for the presentation of the experiments in the payload and a televised press conference.

To be continued…