atlantis_launchWith radio blasting we heard the information. “This is the 32nd mission of the STS-132 Atlantis Space Shuttle. Its first mission was October 3rd to 7th in 1985. Since then it has logged over 120 million miles in its 25 years of service.

It will carry six crew members and be in space for 12 days logging in 4.8 millions miles on this round trip. It will leave today and arrive on May 16th. It mission is to install a new Russian mini research module, deliver tons of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, and carry away tons of trash and unused and broken equipment. They will also do three space walks. This will be its final mission of the Atlantis before it retires. The other two surviving Space Shuttles are the Discovery and the Endeavour.”

{youtube}fL5q-pkVgy0{/youtube}

Then we heard the countdown. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- BLAST OFF! We were able to feel the earth rumble. Then another roadside viewer yelled…’THERE IT IS! THERE IT IS!!!” In an instant, thousands of eyes were looking spaceward. Cameras were flashing. People were hooting as we all watched it disappear into the clouds.

We were lucky because many times the shuttle launches have been scrapped because of technical problems. But here it was a bright sunny Florida day and I was happily standing with my long lost cousin experiencing history, and a new adventure for both of us. Life can be so grand if you take the risk to enjoy it!

The whole experience was over in a few moments. As soon as the shuttle was out of sight, we looked at each other and smiled.  “Mission Accomplished!”

We high fived each other, then hopped in his car, made a u-turn and we were off and running. We wanted to beat the mass exodus out.  It was now 2:50 p.m. We realized we needed gas but figured if we could get gas after we passed the toll booths, we could hold off some traffic. The goal was to keep the mass of traffic way behind us.

Our plan worked, and I was back at the hotel by 3:30 p.m. I felt fantastic. I love it when I get something in mind and I find a way to get it done. Mike and I hung out for a bit more. It was an incredible two days! Unfortunately he had to get back to work. We hugged goodbye and promised from now on to keep in touch.

That night I went to the Toastmaster dinner. One of the events that night was a toastmaster favorite called Table Topics. It’s an event where 12 contestants speakers go up, are given and impromptu topic and have to speak on it for a set period of time. The best on the spot speech wins. I loved it because it’s so much like stand up comedy and life…you have to be flexible and think quick on your feet to get ahead.

As the contest was going on however, I found it ironic that for the third time that weekend I had to do some impromtu thinking myself. There was a slight problem with my books not being delivered to the hotel. Knowing that the most sales of books come right after a speaker talks I had to think of how I could still make sales without the physical product being there. Jay suggested I make up order forms if I couldn’t do direct sales. The only problem was he wasn’t going to be able to get them done right away because the business room was closed. Upon, Jay’s suggestion and with the attitude of flexibility, I ran up to my room, quickly made up a book order form on my laptop, put it on my thumb drive, went to the front desk and found a VIP room where I could get them printed out. I then ran downstairs with 100 copies ready, all in time before I did my talk.

As I was about to go onstage, Scott asked me if I saw the Shuttle launch from the garage. I smiled, “I saw the launch.” I went up on stage on did my “Dare to Do It” presentation to a crowd of 400 people.  In my talk I emphasized the importance of seizing opportunities in life as they open themselves up to you. I then revealed my stealth trip to see the shuttle. Scott smiled.

I got a standing ovation that night. It was awesome. They even presented me with a pair of ruby slippers for my tornado chasing trek. As I walked off the stage the meeting was officially adjourned. The gravel went down and the audience was about to disperse.

Then a final cool thing happened. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ron Parppart, the district head of Toastmasters, show up smiling with my boxes of books. He had made a flexible run of his own to retrieve the books which were sitting over an hour away from the hotel.

The books were now on the table ready to be sold, but no one knew. I asked Ron to jump to the stage and make an announcement. He happily obliged. People turned from exiting the room to my book table. I was pulling them out of boxes and happily selling and signing them books as I talked with the audience members.

Who could ask for more? With the willingness to be flexible and open to every opportunity that life has to offer, a family reunion, a historic launch and a standing ovation all came to play out.

If you embrace life…it can surely be grand.

Note: Atlantis Shuttle safely returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Station runway 33 on May 26th, 2010 at 8:38 am. Flawlessly, while I was away on my Tornado chasing adventure.