The smoke was just clearing.
The deafening roar of her engines echoed over the Florida cape and out on the water like a never-ending thunderclap.
Pausing to look up almost with every step, Robert Carter wandered out to the launch pad. He had given his all to see this day, and hoped and prayed it would be enough. He felt for Aquarius as though it were a long-lost child, with whom by a thousand coincidences that composed an ordained miracle, he had been graciously allowed the privilege to reconnect. There was a sense of not just being, but belonging, from Day One.
"For this purpose I was reserved!" The words escaped his lips as he saw the first stage separate."
Where would she go? What would she do? Baby, if I could just be there with you, he thought. On that ship, arcing across the heavens, rode so many hopes and dreams, and yet there came the sense of an open end.
The project coordinator told him it would return, but had given no specific date. He wondered what the manifest would state; what awesome treasures she would contain? And he looked forward with eager anticipation.
Aquarius was one-of-a-kind!
He wandered onto the launch pad, its surfaces still glistening with steam as the residue of the largest object ever sent into space continued to race skyward. There were going to be eleven more like her. The funds had been allocated, the plans and decisions made. As the sun rose that early morning on 30 August, 2018, Carter could see the placard on the lower bulkhead; a faithful remnant from old Launch pad 34:
Per Aspera Ad Astra
He grinned widely, remembering the challenges surmounted in getting the colonization project this far, establishing this toe-hold in the solar system.
"That's goddamn right."