After YEARS of trying I finally got to see the shuttle launch. It was amazing and the pictures and video cannot even begin to give you an idea of the overall experience. Growing up in Clear Lake I had several friends whose parents were astronauts. We tried several times when I was growing up to go see a launch, but every time the shuttle was delayed and we ended up having a Disney vacation and going back to Houston. Now, there are only 9 more launches until we retire all the Shuttles. So, I was perfectly happy changing my flight 4 times to make sure I actually got to see this launch.
I had VIP tickets with Members of Congress and foreign dignitaries (we were sending up a Japanese Astronaut so there was heavy continent of government officials from Japan) and we stood out on the 5th floor balcony of one of the buildings at the Kennedy Space Center. The only people closer were the families of the astronauts and the press. They determine the closest possible place someone can safely be for a launch and they line it with Police and Rescue vehicles. We were about a quarter mile back from that.
Before the launch we were briefed by astronaut Pat Forrester about all the activities the Astronauts were going through today, what they would do while they were in space on this mission, and what it feels like to go to space. Mr. Forrester had flown two missions and has spent numerous hours walking in space. What I found fascinating about his briefing was when he said that the Shuttle is just falling to earth. Once it gets up there, there are no more engines for flying. You just shoot the Shuttle up in the sky and then it falls to earth. Inside the shuttle it is pressurized so you just kind of float around. However, when you go outside for a space walk you are essentially falling to earth. He said it feels like you walk off a 50 story building. The whole time you are out there you feel like you are falling. Can you imagine…your stomach in your chest the whole time.
The other part of the launch that I loved is the fact that we launch the Shuttle Straight up in the air, however, it looks like it curves as it goes up in the sky. But it doesn’t, the earth rotates. So as I am standing on the 5th floor balcony, I get a sense of the earth’s rotation in comparison to the position of the Shuttle as it rockets into the sky. It was amazing. Reality science at its best.
My favorite part of the launch was when it took off. It was a picture perfect night…blue clear skies, dusk was setting in…it was absolutely beautiful! You see the rockets fire, and these gold flames and white smoke shoot out from the bottom. The Shuttle rockets into the sky and when it is half way up in the sky you feel it. It is this loud low rumble that shakes EVERYTHING to the core. The entire building was shaking. I am only sorry I wasn’t video taping when the sound occurred. You know, they tell you not to take pictures and just experience it, which is what I tried to do. You will notice from the video I got carried away and couldn’t keep it focused on the shuttle.
I just can’t believe we figured out a way to go into space. It just shows you the importance of making sure we have kids studying engineering, technology science and math. Without these skills, we will get left behind. We were the first to land on the moon, and now we risk falling behind other countries. Did you know we will have a 5 year gap between retiring the shuttle and the next generation space vehicle being built? For 5 years we are going to have to count on the Russians to take us to and from the International Space Station. Does that make anyone else nervous?
Enough politics, it was a fantastic event, I loved it. I did not, however, love the 3 hour 16 minutes ride to go 48 miles back to Orlando. It especially stunk in the crappy Chevy cobalt rental car!
Enjoy the Pictures.
Checkout my pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenkerber/