Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Endeavor, Day 6, May 16, 2011

This day began a short 3 hours after the last day ended. I was hoping for a few more hours of sleep but after some discussion agreed, we should leave at 3am to avoid any traffic issues. We grabbed our sack breakfasts, drove across the street to pick up Justin Moore, a church IT friend from northern Indiana, and headed for our Indian River viewing location.

Part of the traffic discussion was my contention that there wouldn't be any and we could sleep a bit longer. Of course, I was right and there was no traffic but I am glad we arrived when we did as we got a great spot right on the banks of the Indian River with a clear view of pad 39A and the VAB.

The view was awesome! The pad illuminated in the Xenon lights, the clear night sky, and a beautiful sunrise with the planets Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars clearly in view. We even got to see the helicopter that escorts the AstroVan as it flew with them to the pad. All the while, we were watching NASA TV on or iPads.

Over the next several hours, we watched the sunrise, the Shuttle Training Aircraft testing the weather doing touch and go landings, and even an inflight refueling of 2 Blackhawks helicopters. The clouds would come and the clouds would go, almost as though they were toying with the launch commit criteria and us. 

About 30 minutes to launch the sky was clear and we thought we were going to see the entire ascent. However, as we got closer to launch time the clouds again moved in and were within 500 feet from violating the criteria needed to remain go for launch. The clouds stayed above 5500 feet and at 8:56am, Space Shuttle Endeavor launched on STS 134. 

After 20 seconds, the shuttle slipped through the clouds and was out of sight. About 75 seconds after launch, the sound wave hit and we were able to hear the shuttle even though we could not see it.
At first, I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see the entire ascent but these clouds did have a silver lining. The thin cloud cover combined with the position of the sun cast a shadow across the top of the clouds of the con trail as the shuttle ascended. This provided a unique once-in-a-lifetime view of the shuttle launch appearing as a shadow growing across the clouds. This shadow more than made up for the fact that we didn’t see more than 20 seconds of the launch. And we weren’t the only ones who didn’t see the full launch, those at the Press Site and Causeway also only saw about 20 seconds.  

As the shadow dissipated, we began to pack up our stuff and head out for the rest of our day. It took us about 30 minutes to reach a McDonald’s 2 miles away so we could grab some breakfast and caffeine. Then we headed to KSCVC where we met up with a friend from the STS 132 launch and toured the Apollo / Saturn V Center, watched the IMAX movies, rode the Space Shuttle Launch Experience, walked around the Rocket Garden, and shopped a bit in the Space Store.

Even though we were pretty wiped out when the Visitor’s Center closed at 6pm we still had enough energy left for dinner at the best seafood restaurant in Titusville, Dixie Crossroads.

After dinner, we headed back to Orlando and some much needed sleep.