Come One, Come All!
When Space Shuttle Discovery roars to life for its Return to Flight mission, more than 14,000 awestruck spectators are expected to watch the launch from within NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Feeling the ground shake with them will be members of the Center's specially trained hosting group, the Public Affairs Tiger Team.
Image to right: Thousands of spectators line NASA Causeway at Kennedy Space Center to watch a Space Shuttle launch. While cars are not currently permitted at viewing sites, people still are, and they arrive by the busload.
It's the job of the Tiger Team to offer help and hospitality to guests visiting the Center to watch Space Shuttle and rocket launches. "They act as hosts and hostesses. In a lot of cases, they are the first and only NASA people that some of these spectators ever come in contact with," said Laurel Lichtenberger, launch viewing sites manager and the team's coordinator.
Team members are easily recognized by their sunny smiles and patriotic red, white and blue shirts. During launches, they assist guests watching from the Center's Banana Creek, NASA Causeway and employee viewing sites. The volunteers provide safety oversight, crowd control and launch information for the thousands of people who turn out on launch day.
The team is made up of employees from throughout the Center. Lichtenberger said although their professional jobs differ, team members share a common reason for volunteering. "These folks love to do this because they love the space program and, for some, it's a change from their everyday job."
Lichtenberger maintains a list of about 100 employees willing to chip in and offer their time for launches. With Space Shuttle Discovery set to lift off on July 13, she’s calling on much of her team for launch day. "More than half of my volunteers will be helping with Return to Flight."
Two volunteers welcoming spectators for the historic flight are Vickie Hall and Nancy Bray. Both women work in the Center's information technology department and enjoy the chance to mix with spectators.
Hall serves as the backup manager for the launch viewing sites, working at Banana Creek on launch day and at the orbiter runway during landings. She's also a longtime veteran of the group. "I've been doing this since Skylab in 1972. For Shuttle missions, I think I've missed one launch and one landing," Hall said.
Bray joined the hosting team at Hall's urging. "I've been doing this since 1999, when Vickie called me because they were short on people. I said, 'Sure, why not,' "said Bray.
For Bray, mixing with guests makes her launch day. "I enjoy watching others see a launch for the first time" she said. "I meet people from everywhere, and it reminds me that the Shuttle Program reaches out all over our country and other countries."
As experienced as the Tiger Team is, the group never seems to lose its enthusiasm for a launch. Perhaps it's the team's upbeat attitude, or the continual thrill of witnessing America's bold reach into space. Whatever the reason, being there for liftoff always leaves volunteers like Bray ready for more. "It doesn't matter how often you see a launch, it's still exciting."
For information on watching a Space Shuttle or rocket launch, see the following resources:
+ Viewing a Rocket Launch
+ Viewing a Space Shuttle Launch
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center