Sunday, June 10, 2007

STS-117 Space Shuttle Launch

We went to the Kennedy Space Center on Friday to see a space shuttle launch. It's one of those things we've always wanted to do.

This is the business end of the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo missions to the moon. If you look very closely you can see Alfonze in the sea of people.

This is Stage 3 of the Apollo rocket. A little girl in the crowd kept saying "Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!" That's exactly how it is when you're standing under the Apollo rocket.

We could see the shuttle launch pads from the area where the Apollo exhibit is. I didn't see the shuttle when I took the picture. The sky was overcast and hazy. Once I got home and looked at it on the computer monitor I found it. It's another "Where's Waldo?" moment, like finding the cheetah in the zoo photo. (You can click on the images to see larger versions.)

The bus tour had 3 stops and lasted a good part of the afternoon. When we took the bus back to the Visitor Center the place was packed. We stood in line for an hour to buy hot dogs. After wolfing down the hot dogs we got our hands stamped and went back to the car to our cooler with bottled water. We sat in the car with the doors open and a nice breeze came through. Next time we'll bring some food, too. Then we packed up our things to get ready to wait for the launch. We had folding camping chairs, camera bags, etc. When we returned to the entrance the crowd had dissipated, except for one person hanging around the ticket windows. It was Gene Kranz! He was a Flight Director during the Mercury and Apollo missions. Gene Kranz and his team earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom for helping bring the Apollo 13 crew safely home. He talked to us while I fumbled with the cameras to get a photo. Gene is from Toledo, Ohio and he knows where Erie, Michigan is. The folks back in Toledo are never going to believe this! If we hadn't have waited an hour for hot dogs we wouldn't have been there to meet Gene Kranz.

Here's what we saw as space shuttle Atlantis was launched.

The first thing we saw was a brilliant amber light as bright as the sun shining through the trees. A lady behind me screamed "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" The shuttle was moving so fast that we didn't hear any sound until it cleared the tree tops. There was a crackling sound, like a 4th of July sparkler, that proceeded to get louder. Then we heard a low, thundering boom that shook everything. Not only did we hear it, but we could feel it. The crackling sound faded as the shuttle climbed higher into the sky.

Then the shuttle rolled and dropped the booster rockets. We saw 3 pinpoints of light from the shuttle and the 2 booster rockets. All of this happened in less than 2 minutes. The shuttle was gone as suddenly as it appeared. It was a breathtaking event.

This is how the rocket trail cloud looked at about 9pm.

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