Without much hurrah, I disappeared for a week. Fear not, I’m back in the saddle again. Last week’s diversion was simply a trip to my home state, Florida. When cheap airfare presented itself, the Mr. and I jumped at the opportunity to see one of the last shuttle launches. Having grown up on the Space Coast, I’m unfortunately more or less apathetic about launches. I thought I’d seen it all but have since learned there is a BIG difference between seeing the launch from 3 miles away versus from your dock.
NASA announced they would be hosting a tweet-up for the STS 129 launch but alas, the two day event meant we’d need to be there a day earlier than our scheduled flight so we bypassed the organized event. Thank heavens my dad secured a Turn Basin car pass. Wahoo! It’s the closest possible viewing point safely. My dad has worked with the space program since the Apollo missions (40 years, ACK!) and I’m convinced he knows everything there is to know about launches. My Pop Pop didn’t disappoint and has us riveted with information.
While driving in, we passed crowds gathered on the lawn of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, heard about the local bald eagles, alligators and other wild life found in this wildlife sanctuary.
In this video you’ll see (immediately to the left) an emergency shuttle landing strip, the silver airfoil astronaut van that transports the astronauts to the launch pad, the crowd and bleachers and the Vehicle Assembly Building. After I took this picture, we saw the closing van park and the workers get out. They are the last to interact with the astronauts and are responsible for securing the astronauts in the shuttle and closing the hatch. Big duties!
Also in the video is the firing room. It is attached to and on the left of the VAB building. You can identify it as the shorter, white building with a long line of blackish windows across the back. The firing room is where the supervising launch team make sure that everything is ready to go pre-launch. You can hear the announcer and launch control talking from the speaker.
While the countdown clock ticked steadily, I was struck with a moment of pure brilliance and used the binoculars as a zoom lens. That worked well until the actual launch when the adrenaline overtook me and the shot below is the best picture I could muster during the immediate blast off. WHOOPS! We learned that the large water tank to the left of the launch pad is releases all the water a few seconds before the launch. The initial white clouds are actually steam! They use the water to keep the whole launch structure (gantry) from melting into a huge blob. That’s hot!
Hack lens aside, the rest of the pictures are pretty spectacular but nothing in comparison to actually being there. The sound is overwhelming and I don’t doubt that there were plenty of other wet eyes.
Can we have a moment of silence for this first picture? The external tanks are white and are detached a little farther up. The solid rocket booster is the orange tank. Throughout the launch, the shuttle is rotating and angling in order to get the right projected path to meet up with the International Space Station. They’re meeting up so that NASA can give the space station some spare parts.
We were initially worried about the thick cloud cover we found that morning. It wasn’t enough to delay the launch but would hinder our ability to see the shuttle. No fear, most of it had cleared out by launch time and we were left with a beautiful day.
…stayed one night in St. Augustine where we had a lovely meal at The Tasting Room, went on a Ghost and Gravestones tour, sat outside the Lightner Museum and visited the Castillo de San Marcos with a cannon demonstration and all…
… and were cooked a brilliant and tradition Thanksgiving meal by my mom! (Would you like to see my exasperated face? That right below is a prime specimen. But seriously, what a lovely table.) We dined on a very southern menu of oyster dressing, a whole turkey, fresh green beans, sweet potato casserole, a salad, heavenly hash, Martinelli’s sparkling cider and pumpkin pie. NOSH!
PS If you’d like coverage from another San Franciscan who attended the NASA tweetup event, Scott from Laughing Squid posted a great writeup with lots of stories, pictures and video.