No matter how many times you’ve seen a Shuttle launch on TV, you are not prepared for the event in person. This was made even better by being surrounded by fans and enthusiasts of the US Space program. The only other experience I’ve had that came close was being at the Olympics in 2000. But this was more intense, because while I enjoy the Olympics, I dream about space travel.
We arrived at Kennedy Space Center at 3:30am, our scheduled entry time. And set up chairs and blankets amongst a sea of people, finding a space deep in the crowd. Imagine Woodstock for science buffs, and you are getting the picture.
From the Kennedy Space Center you can’t see the pad directly, as there are a row of tree in the way. You can however see where the Shuttle would be coming up. As the clouds came in and out you got a nice bat signal effect.
As dawn broke, the most of the planets we visible, as they are all hanging out in the morning sky. You can see Venus right over the sign, and Jupiter higher up. I also finally saw Mercury naked eye for the first time, which our horizon up here makes difficult.
The crow was ready as the sun came up, but we still had hours of wait time at this point. We passed the time by going on the Shuttle Experience, which was a really great simulation.
As the clock kept moving forward, our MC’s for the day, kept saying things were looking better and better for launch. But then again, launches have been scrubbed with 3 seconds to go. When we came out of the scheduled hold and started from T – 9:00 (where there are no more scheduled holds) the crowd all leaped to their feet. The energy was amazing. Once we passed T – 5:00 I started recording, so here is the crowd and launch from my perspective:
The launch happens at 4:30 and you can heard the rumble at about 5:30 (remember the speed of sound is much slower than the speed of light). Even in it’s brief visibility, it was amazing. The moment I first saw that jet come above the trees I was brought to tears. We humans can do amazing, incredible things, when we bring our collective will together.
So many of my adventures over the last 10 years have been because I met and made such a good and diverse pool of friends while I was at Wesleyan University. These adventures have taken me visiting to Puerto Rico, India, England, and Germany (twice). Next up on this long list of adventures is going to try to see the penultimate shuttle launch, STS-134, starting on Monday. My friend Shoshe, fellow physics major at Wesleyan, stayed with the field and is now working on a PhD in planetary science (i.e. geology of Mars) at Cornell. She and her family had gotten some passes for the launch at Kennedy Space Center, and after various delays, it turned out they had a few more passes than people that could go. She offered one to me, and I jumped at the opportunity. At the end of the day there was even an extra one past that, so Ben‘s joining as well.
I’ve got a one way ticket to Orlando, and hotel reservations for the week. There is a launch window every day next week, so that will give us a decent chance to catch the launch, assuming there are no long term mechanical failures like the last delay. Very much looking forward to this adventure, and I’ll be sure to post pictures once it’s over.