Monday, April 05, 2010

Predawn Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery STS-131

Space Shuttle Discovery lights up a dark sky just before dawn on Monday morning at 6:22am.  The seven member crew of Mission STS-131 is set to resupply the International Space Station and complete 3 space walks.

I arrived around 4am.  The temperature was 59 degrees F, little wind, some fog in low lying areas, and not a single cloud in the sky.

Closer to launch time, people were pressing together, sort of like at a rock concert (except without the booze, drugs and foul language). They were all trying to get as close to the fence as possible, which is at the edge of the Indian River.

At about half an hour prior to launch, a technical glitch created a NO GO situation.  They were working feverishly to fix it, and had less than 30 minutes to do so.  It sounded something like, the flux capacitor wasn't communicating with the disgronificator, so the converginator was disabled.  Who knew?!

About 20 minutes prior to launch, under a totally clear, constellation filled sky complete with waning moon, something happened that has not happened in the prior five night launches.  The International Space Station passed overhead!  Oh Yeah!!!  It eclipsed the moon.  It was one of those times when you truly had to be there.

All of the people that pressed around me had never seen a Space Shuttle launch before.  Most of them had heard that there was a launch attempt this morning and they changed their plans and came over to witness the event

At nine minutes before launch the countdown clock stopped for the Nine Minute Hold.  NASA personnel at Mission Control in Houston and at Launch Control at Kennedy Space Center in Florida have one more meeting before launch to work out last minute details.  The technical glitch was resolved.  Everyone responded "GO!" during roll call, and the Flight Director wished the crew Godspeed.  The countdown continued.

Liftoff is silent from 9 miles away.  The entire area is overwhelmed by light and then the sound builds.  It was so loud that the ground shook.  Car alarms went off.  All sorts of sea creatures surfaced out of the water in surprise.  There were turtles, dolphins, and alligators, to name a few.

As the Space Shuttle sped down range, there was a separation in the contrail. I've never seen that before. There was a huge gap as if the engines had stopped for 15-20 seconds and then came back on. After the gap, there was a trail behind the Space Shuttle that looked just like a huge comet!  It looked like a picture of a comet that you would see in a schoolbook; something like the ancients would have painted.  It was phenominal!  My pictures do not do it justice. One day, perhaps I'll be cool enough to capture a moment like that!

As the dawn painted a rainbow on the horizon, the top of the contrail was brightly illuminated by the sun. We packed up our camp and headed to the car taking glances at the sky as the sun rose.

As we sat in post launch traffic, we continued to watch the remnants of the contrail change colors in the sunrise. I've never seen anything like it.

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