CAPE CANAVERAL – Nicole Passonno Stott, who grew up in Clearwater and learned to fly by soaring above Pinellas County, blasted off late Friday on the space shuttle Discovery.
The spacecraft launched with a thundering roar, creating a sunrise at midnight as blazing engines illuminated a night sky that no longer looked like night.
Stott has now begun a three-month adventure in space, and become the second Clearwater High School graduate to launch aboard a space shuttle.
Several friends and family members trekked over to see the fiery launch, as they did for two previous attempts that were scrubbed. "It's been a stressful week and here I am just a friend," said David Martin of Oldsmar, a high school classmate of Stott's.
"Oh my gosh, everyone here's just on a complete high," said longtime friend Dan Buffington of Temple Terrace. "Nothing compares to seeing it live."
Stott, 46, and six other astronauts aboard Discovery are now en route to resupply the International Space Station. On their 14-day mission, Stott will conduct three space walks with John "Danny" Olivas.
But Stott's work won't end there. When the rest of her space shuttle colleagues return to Earth in two weeks, Stott will remain in orbit aboard the space station with another crew of astronauts. She will return on the shuttle Atlantis in November.
"It takes a special kind of person to do that," said Rick Moore, a friend of Stott's since first grade.