An amazing sight - space shuttle launch up close
I felt both lucky and privileged to be able to attend the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-117) a week or so ago. I used to live in South Florida (about 200 miles from the Cape) and I have seen several launches from there. However, from that far away, you only see the Shuttle on very clear days and only when it has climbed fairly high into the sky. By pure chance, I found myself able to be at the Cape for the recent launch and seeing a it up close is just waaaay better!
I was in Orlando for a short vacation with the family and had not even realized that a launch was planned anytime soon. When we heard that the launch was scheduled and that there was an 80% chance of good weather, we decided the chance it and drive the 60 miles out to the Cape. The roads were very busy, clearly a few other people had the same idea :-) The whole way there and the whole time we were waiting for the launch, I kept saying to myself "try not to get excited, something will probably delay the launch, this probably won't happen today" - but I did get excited and it did launch!
We watched the launch from the lawn alongside the Astronaut Hall of Fame which is about 8 or 9 miles from the launch pad (on the mainland side of the causeway). We got there several hours early but NASA did an excellent job of keeping us both informed and entertained during the wait for launch. They had a big screen setup with up close shots of the launch preparations and they also had a stage setup. Former Shuttle Astronaut Col. Bob Springer made several appearances on the stage and spoke to us about where things were in the launch. He also took questions (many from young children) and answered them all very well. What a great role model he was (if only other people kids look up to were such good advocates for believing in your dreams). NASA also had setup a food tent, toilets, and gave everyone who had paid the small fee to park and attend the launch there unlimited access to the Hall of Fame and Museum (which my wife and I and the kids really enjoyed).
The picture below (which is bigger than I would normally post) shows pretty much the view we had. Not knowing there was any chance this might happen when we left home, I had left all of my bulky long lenses behind so this was taken with my small 35-90mm lens but it still captures the moment pretty well. Unfortunately there were two launch pads visible and I had positioned myself with a great view of the wrong one! Right before launch I heard that the Shuttle was actually on the launchpad behind the tree (and power lines) that were right in front of me - but hey - I was not looking for a professional shot, just a few great memories and we sure got that. The only thing that this picture cannot convey is the sound wave that we both heard and felt a few seconds after launch.
There was great feeling of community during the wait and the fewthousand of us there all counted out loud for the final few secondsbefore ignition. There was also a noticeable moment of quiet whenAtlantis reached the point in it's takeoff where Challenger hadsuffered the malfunction that none of us will ever forget.
As I said at the start of this posting, I felt both lucky and privileged to be part of this experience! WOW!