"At 3, he saw something I waited my whole life to see," said his father, Brian, 30, who witnessed history from Port Canaveral with his wife, Amy, and relatives.
"It's one of those bucket-list things," he said.
The Hand family vacation to Florida coincided with the launch. They ended up with prime viewing spots after arriving only 10 minutes before Atlantis flew into space.
"It went up right in front of me," Hand said. "You would feel it, hear it, see smoke. It was really unique."
Hand and others hope space exploration continues with new "earth - shattering" endeavors.
"Technology is getting to the point that, who knows, maybe in 30 years I will get to go into space," Hand said.
As Henry Quinn, a former educator and space enthusiast from Evans, watched the live launch from his home television and computer, he thought about the tens of thousands of contractors who will be losing jobs in the coming weeks.
"They've worked long and hard for this," he said, "and I feel sorry for them losing their jobs."
"I have a great deal of pride for what they've done and the accomplishments of the program," Quinn said.
For Evans resident Nancy Bobbitt, seeing the launch live was well worth waking up at 4 a.m. to travel to a viewing site about five miles from the launch pad .
"Being there with all those other people and hearing their reactions makes it worth it," she said.
S pectators near Bobbitt clapped, cried and cheered, "Go, baby, go."
"Awesome, amazing, unbelievable," she said.
Leslie Olig, of Augusta, and her husband and two daughters scouted out their viewing spot Thursday night just down the road from the RV Resort in Titusville where they are staying.
The family watched the live NASA feed on their iPad while eating breakfast and wondering whether the weather would cooperate with the scheduled launch.
"There was a moment this morning when the sun broke through the clouds just enough to let those guys get going," Olig said.
The crowd around her, including a man who drove overnight from Philadelphia, counted down together, she said.
"It was a patriotic crowd," Olig said. "I saw one guy wipe a tear out of his eye."
Reach Meg Mirshak at (706) 823-3228