Monday, February 08, 2010

STS-130 Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch

It was cold and windy on the water. People were huddled together under blankets. Some were on the ground in sleeping bags. Cameras on tripods were ready to take in the last night launch of the space shuttle era.  It's 3:30am and the space shuttle is scheduled to launch at 4:14:08am.

They waited in the darkness for hours listening to the radio and checking for news on cell phones. The previous night had been a disappointment when the launch was scrubbed due to a low cloud ceiling. Tonight, the weather for launch was perfect in Florida, but the emergency landing sites in Europe were all experiencing inclement weather. Less than a half-hour before launch, the weather had cleared in Zaragoza, Spain. Conditions went from red to green and everyone cheered.

Rollcall was about to be called in Mission Control during the last meeting before launch known as The Nine Minute Hold. Everyone polled replies "GO." Once the countdown restarts at T-9 minutes things happen very quickly. The people sitting in the dark stand up, drop their blankets and check camera settings. At T-5 minutes the orbiter access arm slowly swings away from the space shuttle. At T-2.5 minutes the beanie cap at the top of the orange fuel tank lifts and retracts. At T-6.6 seconds the main engines start. 3...2...1...GO!

There's a small glow of amber light at the launchpad as smoke starts streaming out the sides. The light glows dark orange as the space shuttle silently lifts off. We are about 9 miles away and the sound hasn't reached us yet. The light becomes brighter as the space shuttle ascends and suddenly overwhelms the darkness like a rising sun. The entire area is lit as if by daylight and then the rumbling begins. The sound is accompanied by crackles and pops and builds into a crescendo as what looks like a star continues to rise.

Clouds above the space shuttle are illuminated in an eerie funnel shape as if opening a door to another world.

A long flame enters the clouds and the rumbling continues.

No one can take their eyes off of it. Some completely abandon their cameras to watch.

The white star separates from two orange flames as the solid rocket boosters drop away from the space shuttle. The people in the dark applaud and continue to watch as the sound fades and the light dims to a pinpoint. They gather their equipment and leave knowing that they will never see a sight quite like this again.

More of our photos of STS-130 launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

A Gallery of Photos: The Last Night Launch

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