I started working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a part-time grad student researcher in 1992. Over the years I have transitioned from planetary geology to science education at NASA. As an education and outreach lead I've seen three spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center - MESSENGER on a Delta II in 2004, New Horizons on an Atlas V in 2006 and LRO on an Atlas V in June. MESSENGER was a 2:30 AM launch and lit up the night sky well before the booming sound of the rocket reached us. New Horizons seemed to disappear out of site in an instant..with it's tiny payload atop the giant Atlas V. And LRO seemed to hesitate, as if it wasn't quite ready to leave the Earth.
Witnessing Atlantis was something completely different--human beings in a glider attached to multiple rockets, initially hidden behind the launch structure.
Suddenly a cloud of exhaust appears- and Atlantis takes off. I am not quite prepared as the sound rolls toward me and shakes my chest-leaving a euphoric feeling behind. It is a shared feeling, we all linger watching Atlantis streak away, catching a glimpse as the tanks are ejected and the shuttle begins to curve around the Earth.