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Eagle kids see space shuttle soar

Special to the DailyJensen Rawlings, left, McCarthy Dorf, center and Porter Rawlings were appropriately attired for their trip to Kennedy Space Center last week, during which they were special guests of shuttle astronaut Garrett Reisman.
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EAGLE, Colorado ” Watching a space shuttle launch as one of the astronaut’s invited guests is a heady experience ” as a couple of Eagle kids learned last week.

Jensen Rawlings, 5, and his brother, Porter, 6, together with their grandparents, Patty and Bob Dorf, were the guests of astronaut Garrett Reisman for the March 11 launch of the space shuttle Endeavor. As such, they were treated to a V.I.P. tour of the Kennedy Space Center, and front row seats to the 2:28 a.m. launch.

The boys, together with cousin, McCarthy Dorf, 4, of North Carolina, witnessed 10 seconds they say they will never forget. “The roar was so loud I had to cover my ears, and the fire was so bright it made daylight,” says Jensen.

“We felt the ground moving and it was really loud,” added his brother Porter. “It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.”

How did the Rawlings boys find themselves watching the shuttle launch? They can chalk it up to a friendship that began years ago between their grandfather and Reisman.

Patty Dorf says her husband met Reisman a number of years ago, after the Columbia shuttle exploded over Texas. Reisman brought two of the Columbia astronauts’ widows to Vail for a visit, staying in a home of Bob Dorf’s college roommate. The astronaut-to-be and Dorf hit it off and forged a friendship.

When Reisman learned he would be one of the astronauts aboard the Endeavor, he asked if the Dorfs would be interested in attending the launch.

“Pretty soon, here comes this invitation. At first I thought it was a joke,” said Patty. And not only were the Dorfs invited, they learned the grandkids could come along.

Turns out it’s a moving target to plan a trip to Florida around a shuttle launch date. If weather conditions aren’t perfect within a very tight window of time ” 10 minutes or less ” a launch is delayed. The Dorfs were very fortunate that the March 11 launch went off.

But the launch itself was only part of the Dorf’s experience. The day before the early morning event, they were treated to a tour of Kennedy Space Center and an invitation-only cocktail party. At the party, they met Reisman’s friends and family ” which included everyone from his mother to his high-school wrestling coach to one of his elementary schoolteachers.

The boys were a hit at the party, in part because of costuming. The three were all clad in kid-sized, bright orange space suits.

The Dorfs didn’t have the opportunity to meet with Reisman himself because he was in pre-flight quarantine. “But he was still so hands-on, really making us feel like he wanted the kids there,” said Heather Rawlings, Porter and Jensen’s mom.

In the weeks leading up to the launch, the family was given special e-mail clearance to read Reisman’s blogs about his preparations for the mission.

Viewing the launch was a bit of a logistical challenge. The Dorfs caught an 11 p.m. bus to a special guest viewing area, and settled down in sleeping bags to await the lift-off. The boys and Patty caught a nap before being rousted at around 2 a.m.

From the viewing area, located only three miles from the launch pad, guests could listen to the pre-flight preparations. A few minutes before the launch, a NASA worker sang, “The Star Spangled Banner.” All the preparation led up to a 10-second climax ” punctuated first by the brilliant light of the booster rockets firing, and then the swell of the engine roar.

“It’s over so fast, you wish it would last longer, being you are so excited about it,” said Patty. “But it was so moving, I can’t imaging my grandkids will every forget it.”

The family has since watched replays of the event online. They will closely follow Endeavor’s mission, scheduled to last until Wednesday. Reisman ” ‘their astronaut,’ as the Rawlings kids describe him ” is slated to spend the next four months aboard the International Space Station.

Porter, when he returned to school Monday, had a great topic for his class writing assignment. And he has a word of advice for anyone contemplating a trip to witness a shuttle launch.

“I would tell you you can’t wait to see it.”


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