When I'd tell people what I did for a living, they always thought it sounded so glamorous. Jetting between California and Florida for launches. Meeting journalists from around the world. But it was hard work. Long hours, unpredictable schedules, and anything and everything that can go wrong sometimes would. And if you forgot and wore red, which signifies a no-go for launch, you'd hear about it and probably from more than one person; we're a very superstitious bunch.
My very first launch, I had responsibility for escorting a cadre of South Korean journalists around the Space Coast as they prepared to witness the launch of their country's first communication satellite, on a Delta II. But first things first -- they wanted to go to the "Happiest Place on Earth": Disney World.
Unknown to us, while we were twirling in teacups at the amusement park, Hurricane Erin was swirling straight for Cocoa Beach.
Two things in this world are universally understood -- a smiling face and a mad face. When we were in the auditorium watching the movie "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" in 3-D and the reporters were shrieking, I could tell from their faces they were happy. When we were on the bus hours later and I told them we had been evacuated because of the hurricane and we could not return to Cocoa Beach for their equipment or clothes, there was no mistaking those faces, either. So I sat there with my 1990s brick-size cellphone growing heavier and heavier in my hand while the chorus around me swelled and the only recognizable sound was my name. Finally the nearly dead monstrosity rang and we had a destination, the Peabody Hotel! Away we went and like ants to a picnic we poured into the hotel.
After hours of negotiating, everyone finally had accommodations. My room was on the 28th floor and the howling wind and driving rain was forcing water into my room around the window frames. As the night dragged on, Hurricane Erin started her slow journey toward the Florida Panhandle, and I headed to the bathtub for what remained of the night.
The next day my cadre of reporters headed out to the Orlando amusement parks, in 60-mph (100-kilometers-per-hour) sideways rain. It must have impressed even the world-famous Peabody ducks, who spend their days waddling around the hotel fountain for which they are named.