Nebraskans trek to Florida to watch space shuttle launch

2010-03-28T23:55:00Z Nebraskans trek to Florida to watch space shuttle launchBy ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

When Nebraska astronaut Clay Anderson blasts off into space, there may be some bleary-eyed family, friends and fans at the Kennedy Space Center watching the launch pad.

Space shuttle Discovery, with seven NASA astronauts on board, including Anderson, is scheduled to lift off from launch pad 39A at 6:21 a.m. EDT on April 5 on the east coast of Florida.

That's 5:21 a.m. Nebraska time - great if you're a rooster, but way too early for most people.

Those gathering at the VIP launch area at Banana Creek will have to board the buses at 3 a.m. Anderson's sister, Lorie Hartzell of Hastings, and her family will be among the passengers.

"We're going to have a lot more family than we had last time, which will be nice," Hartzell said. "It's going to be a nice group."

Family members making the trip to Florida include Hartzell's husband, Phil; their daughter, Kari, and son, Eric; Clay's brother Kirby and his family from Omaha, his uncle Jim Anderson of Ashland, and several cousins.

But there will be a void. The late matriarch of the Anderson family, Alice, died in December 2007.

"I tear up every time I think about it," Hartzell said. "She will be watching from a better view with my dad. They will be together this time."

Clay Anderson's dad, John "Jack" Anderson, passed away in 1984. Both parents motivated their son to pursue his dream to fly into space, but it was Alice who nurtured that goal which became a reality on June 8, 2007.

"It doesn't seem like two years ago," said Jim Anderson. "It just seems like it was yesterday, and here two years later we are going to do it again."

Did he ever expect to see his nephew fly into space not once but twice?

"Not in my wildest dreams."

The Strategic Air and Space Museum through a promotional campaign encouraged Nebraskans to make the trip to Florida to watch Anderson's launch but is not an official sponsor, said Zach Willet, the museum's camps coordinator. He said the museum wanted to get people excited about the launch and create awareness. Interested persons were directed to a travel agency. Just how many other Nebraskans will make the trip is not known.

For those who can't make the trip to Florida, the museum plans to host a live-feed broadcast of the shuttle launch - one of the last for NASA - in its theater.

Museum interim director Evonne Williams said they don't expect a huge crowd to show up at 5:21 a.m., "but there will be a handful of us watching it live." The museum is located near Mahoney State Park, just off Interstate exit 426 between Lincoln and Omaha.

Astronaut Anderson also has to adjust to the early launch schedule to prepare for the STS-131 mission. He's been sleeping days and staying up nights.

"This launch time puts us in a position where we must be on a sleep cycle that has us in bed at noon, awaking around 8 p.m.," he wrote in his most recent online training journal.

Hartzell said she talked to her brother recently and he said he was tired but in good spirits.

Space shuttle Discovery will deliver a multi-purpose logistics module to the International Space Station.

Anderson is scheduled for three space walks.

Hartzell recalled that when family members went to Florida to see his first launch in 2007, "everything went so fast that we didn't have time to think about it."

"We're a little better prepared (this time) because we know what to expect but we're still thrilled with the opportunity that he gets to live his dream again and we get to watch it," Hartzell said.

She said her brother expects that this will be his last Space flight because NASA is scheduled to end its 30-year-old space shuttle program later this year. Hartzell said Anderson could take on a new role with NASA.

"To get to go once is amazing," she said. "To get to go twice is really special."

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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