Crowds at the Cape say farewell to Atlantis

Spectators watch as space shuttle Atlantis lifts off Friday, July 8, 2011, in Titusville, Fla.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Television can show you the pictures. But it is difficult to capture the excitement of a shuttle launch. You have to see it, you have to hear it, and you have to feel it in person. And hundreds of thousands of people came to Cape Canaveral to do just that -- the last chance they would ever have. CBS correspondent Kelly Cobiella was out among them.

Chris Bell has dreamed of this moment since he was a kid. He drove 1,100 miles from Detroit to Titusville, Fla. with his mother-in-law and three children -- and spent the night in a tent in pouring rain to make sure his family had front row seats to history.

"I know how much enjoyment and how much excitement I got just seeing launches on television," he said. "I know this is something that the two boys, they're going to remember."

Along Florida's Space Coast, people staked out any open patch of grass they could find. Many came two days ago and slept when and where they could -- all for just the incredible 42 seconds between lift-off and the shuttle's disappearance in the clouds.

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"You're overwhelmed by adrenaline and emotion," said Matthew Pavletich, a tourist from New Zealand. "It's coming so fast, you feel like saying, 'Stop, stop, stop, wait a minute! I want to savor it.'"

The rumble of rockets has drawn crowds to this coast for 50 years: for Mercury and Apollo, the shuttle's first flight, and today for its last.

"It's one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my entire life," said one teary-eyed observer. "I'm so emotional. It was fabulous."

It was a spectacle that left Chris Bell's boys dreaming of their own adventures in space. One remarked, "I'm going to be the first king of the moon."

The shuttle's final blast-off left millions more like him marveling at space history.