CAPE CANAVERAL — Always a calm and even-keeled man, Bob Kimbrough felt completely at ease as he drove from his Hudson home to watch his son fulfill a dream this week.
But he wasn't prepared for the rush of teary emotion as space shuttle Endeavor rose off its dock, turned the black sky a blinding white and filled the warm air with a rip-roaring sound that his wife, Deanna, described as "soul-shattering."
The 75 or so family members that were at Kennedy Space Center's Friday night launch to send off Army Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough and his crew gasped and applauded the safe and successful liftoff.
"I have never seen one like this," said Bob Kimbrough. "Everything was awesome, just so awesome. It could not have been more perfect."
NASA officials said the same. Other than a loose door frame that was discovered just minutes before Endeavour's 7:55 p.m. takeoff — it did not pose a danger — the launch went off without a hitch.
Conditions were considered ideal for the trip to the International Space Station.
It was the 31st night launch out of 124 total launches in shuttle history. The last night launch was March 11.
It was Shane Kimbrough's first journey into space, and many in Pasco and Hernando counties were pulling for him.
Kimbrough is a well-known name in Hernando, where James Walt Kimbrough and his wife, Elizabeth, settled in Spring Lake to raise cattle and grow citrus in the early 1900s. Today, his great-grandson Jim Kimbrough is a prominent banker in the area.
Joining Shane Kimbrough on the mission are astronauts Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Stephen Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanshyn-Piper, Donald Petit and Sandra Magnus.
Magnus will stay behind on the space station, swapping places with current resident Greg Chamitoff.
Endeavor's crew is on a 15-day mission to install new crew quarters, a wastewater recycling system and other home improvements to the space station, allowing up to six crew members, instead of the current limit of three, to live there at one time. NASA is hoping six astronauts will be able to live there by spring 2009.
The crew also will repair a broken solar panel and perform other inspections and maintenance on the station. Kimbrough will leave the shuttle on two of the four planned spacewalks, which will last about 6 1/2 hours each.
The next space shuttle launch is scheduled for February, when Discovery's crew will deliver an important structural piece to add to the space station.
NASA plans to finish building the space station in 2010 and stop flying space shuttles the same year. A spaceship now being designed would take astronauts to the moon, and possibly to Mars, by the year 2020.
Emily Nipps can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.