Thursday, February 11, 2010

What a trip! - Part 1: Shuttle Launch

We just got back from an awesome trip to Florida. Not only did we get to see the shuttle launch, but we also got to hand out with good friends, eat dinner in Emeril's kitchen, and spend two days at Disney. As you can imagine there's lots to write about, so I'm gonna break this up into multiple posts.

First, the shuttle launch. Jeremy and I, along with our friends Brent, Mari, and Edgar, made our way out to Florida for the STS-130 launch. STS-130 is scheduled to be the last night launch, and we were fortunate that Jeremy got a causeway pass from NASA. The original launch date was to be Sunday morning at 4:39am. After getting into Florida around 9pm we picked up our rental car at Thrifty. I should mention here that we almost had to take a 12 passenger van because they were completely out of cars. Apparently the snow storms up east locked everyone down, so people weren't returning the cars when they were supposed to. Fortunately at the last minute they "found" some more cars and we were able to get a Nissan Versa (or something like that). Could you imagine us driving around in a 12 passenger van for 5 people! Anyway, after grabbing some grub and a blanket from the hotel, we headed out to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) around midnight. Since the launch wasn't until 4:39am we spent the next 4 hours just hanging out. The side picture was taken through Edgar's binoculars and with 4x zoom on my camera. It was really hard to hold both the binoculars and the camera still enough to take a clear shot. Much to our surprise it was much colder on the water than we anticipated and we huddled together to stay warm. After 4 hours of freezing, it was 9 minutes to launch... And then it got scrubbed. :( Yep, at around 3am the low clouds started coming in and the 80% chance of launch we had at the beginning of the night, fell to 40% by 3:30 and then 0% by 4:30am. We were all very disappointed. Not only that, but since there were so many people on the causeway and also at the KSC visitor area, it took us about 2.5 hrs to get back to the hotel. Crazy. Fortunately Brent, Mari, and Edgar were all able to change their flights to Monday morning and stay for another night.

Now jump about 20 hours later to 11pm Sunday night, and we started the process all over again. Only this time, we were much more prepared for the weather. We all had several blankets and comforters (thank you AmeriSuites) and hunkered down for another 4 hours. Only this time our waiting paid off. At the 9 minute mark they gave the go for launch and we all scrambled out of our blankets and into place. Of course Jeremy and I forgot our binoculars but Edgar said you could see the beanie cap come off and the shuttle engines gimble. They also announced some other stuff, but I was too excited to listen. At the 2 minute mark everything seemed to happen so fast. Before you knew it they were announcing 30 seconds to go and then 10, 9, 8.... 3, 2, 1... LIFTOFF!!! And for that split second nothing happened. In that brief moment you see the huge plume of smoke engulf the shuttle and all you can see is smoke. Then a split second later you see the shuttle peak out of the smoke and lift off to space, and the sky instantly turn from night to day. It was the most amazing thing to watch. Before you knew it, the fireball was almost out of sight, and it was becoming night time again. Also neat, was the fact that our friend, Kylie, was doing the commentary from Houston over the PA system! Yay Kylie! Since we had a good spot on the causeway, I was able to set up my small tripod and camera and make a short video of the launch. This is from about 6 miles out. Enjoy! Oh and also check out all the pictures from the shuttle launch HERE.

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