Tuesday, March 11, 2008

STS-123 Shuttle Endeavor Launch

This is the first night launch in 5 years. It is scheduled for Tuesday morning 2:30am EDT. We opted to view the launch from the grounds of a hotel across the Indian River. We met a lot of interesting people. Many were seeing a space shuttle launch for the first time. Two former fighter pilots who work at Johnson Space Center in Houston explained what was happening before launch. There were a lot of aircraft flying around Kennedy Space Center. Some were weather planes flying in and out of the clouds. There were several space shuttle training aircraft making passes at the runway. One of the pilots we met explained that if the training aircraft had any trouble trying to land, then the launch would be scrubbed. Otherwise, the space shuttle would also have trouble landing in case of an emergency after lift off. There were fighter aircraft flying around the area and helicopters with spot lights checking the coast line.

I was not prepared for how bright the light from the launch was. The shuttle launch turned night into day. I hurried to close the iris on my old Minolta camera before taking more photos.

The shuttle looked like a brilliant star that lit up the entire area. It was moving so fast that the low rumbling sound of lift off took a few seconds to reach us after the shuttle was off the ground.

Then shuttle Endeavor disappeared into the clouds. There was a brief moment when the clouds and vapor trail were lit up like a mushroom. It was eerie looking.

The hotel parking lot was a mess as people piled into their cars to leave. We were glad to go back to the hotel room to spend the night rather than sit in traffic.

I highly recommend avoiding SR 528 (Bee Line/Beach Line Expressway) after a space shuttle launch. We didn't know any better the first time we saw a launch. It took us 2 hours to get to Kennedy Space Center from Tampa, but it took 6 hours to get home. Now our strategy is to either drive north of Orlando, then head south toward Tampa, or to spend the night in Titusville. We also bought a Sunpass, which lets us drive through the tolls instead of stopping to pay cash.

Seeing a space shuttle launch is a spectacular sight, but the best time to visit Kennedy Space Center is not on a shuttle launch day. The new technologies developed at NASA are fascinating. Come the day before or after to take tours and see the sights.

Related links:
Kennedy Space Center

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