We pooled our money, counting it aloud under the dim glow of the streetlamp in the grocery store parking lot. One hundred, two hundred, three-hundred… It was nearing 2 a.m. If we were going to do this, we had to do it now. The countdown had already begun…

My boyfriend went back to the petite lady in the tank top and handed her the cash. “It’s $360,” he said. The woman nodded, said thanks and told us she’d be right back.

The next few moments were tense. I looked at my hand. It was shivering even though it was so humid out that steam rose from the asphalt. It was only hours after our plane had touched down in Orlando and we were both exhausted, but restless. If everything worked out, this had the potential to be the most spectacular twenty-four hours of our lives.

A man in glasses approached us, growing more sepia-toned with every step as he drew closer to the tangerine halo cast by the streetlamp. I could see the goods we so coveted in his left hand. My heart pounded harder.

“Oh my God. I can’t believe we’re actually doing this…!” I half-whispered, half-shouted to my boyfriend out of simultaneous nervousness and excitement. The man handed me what we’d just paid $180 each for. This was the good sh*t and I tucked it safely away into my handbag, making it official — tonight was gonna be wild.

“Have you two done this before?” the man asked in his gruff, septuagenarian voice.

“No. It’s our first time,” I said. I might’ve blushed.

“Well, let’s hope for the best then. Pleasure doing business with you,” He began to retreat back into the swampy late-night/early-morning air. “Oh, and if anyone asks,” he added over his shoulder, “you’re the Wongs.”

I looked at my boyfriend and he looked at me. At 6’4″ with Nordic features, he didn’t look much like a Wong, but at this point, we’d have to go with it and hope no one needed to verify our identities.

“Are you ready for this, Mr. Wong?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” he asked. “I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life!”

And so has “Mrs. Wong,” which is why we gambled all of our spending money on scalped tickets to the Kennedy Space Center’s official causeway area to watch NASA’s space shuttle program conclude with one last spectacular launch — STS-135, the Atlantis. (What? You thought I was talking about black-tar heroin?)

But would it happen? The weather forecast when we bought into our Wong status at 2 a.m. gave the shuttle only a 30 percent chance of lift-off. The forecast remained the same after “the Wongs” made it past security at 3 a.m. and into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center (no one checked our IDs!), where we got to nerd out around the premises all night long. And when we finally filed into the bus again at daybreak to get out to the causeway, Mother Nature still remained 70 percent certain to delay the launch. (Fickle bitch.) But if “the Wongs” were to be disappointed, so would the 1 million or so other people nerds who had also spent hundreds of dollars, Euros, rubles, cubits to attend the launch live. This was a gamble.

And we had to win. This wasn’t just another shuttle launch. It was the last shuttle launch, a historic event, the end of an era. To delay it would be disappointing at best (I mentioned, we paid $360 to become Mr. and Mrs. Wong, right?) and devastating at worst. History cannot be delayed! …Especially, ahem, when our return flight, which was slated to leave early on Sunday — the most probable day for a rescheduling — meant we’d miss it entirely. Our Wong window, so to speak, was closing faster than the launch window.

But as the moment of scheduled lift-off came closer, it looked like “the Wongs” and America-at-large were gonna get lucky…

And, as you can see (and as I’m sure you’ve read) we did. Today, the Atlantis currently finds itself docked to the International Space Station for one last glorious time. This is history.

Thank you, NASA, for both the above photo and your work. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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