Early this morning shuttle Endeavour was launched on STS-130 mission to the ISS, this isn't the last shuttle flight yet, but it was the last scheduled night launch. I'm writing this from Florida where I was at the launch on the NASA causeway this morning to see the launch in person. I'm thrilled to have been present for this moment in history, but it's also very sad that another shuttle may not ever create another artificial sunrise at night. There are only 4 more launches until the bird is grounded forever.
I'm seriously considering going to another launch this year, and possibly join the huge mob in September, but feel that the final launch could be very depressing too. Once STS-133 has left Earth the US space program will be a total mess in my opinion. The only way for US astronauts to get in space will be with the Russians, at least until one of the private companies come up with a manned spacecraft, but that is still way out.
I know that NASA boss Charles Bolden seems upbeat about the future but of course he can't just frown and grumble about it when making his speeches.
All my new friends I made over the last 2 nights have also agreed with me that this is a bad mistake canceling Constellation. Ok....I'm not much of a fan of Constellation, since I feel it's a leap backwards, but at least it was on it's way to being operational. But now that's gone.
I feel in a way that exploration is dying, and money is the more dominant motivation than curiosity. Maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't NASA based on exploration rather than some CEO getting rich hauling cargo? Not to point fingers at Elon Musk, I think Space X is the first hope for the future with their Falcon 9 rocket.
It also occurred to me that the James Webb telescope will need a ride. With the Aries V dead, what will lift that?
Anyway, with that off my mind, the launch was fantastic! It took 2 nights of hanging out in the cold (low 40s all night) waiting for the launch after 4am. Didn't happen Sunday morning due to an overcast layer at about 4000 feet. Familiar launch scrub once again. Stayed up all night again the next night and was rewarded with the sky brightening up, and seeing the shuttle go. It's alway shocking how bright that thing is, and I could see it nearly all the way to the horizon. It disappeared at about 7:30 minutes after launch. I was hoping to see MECO, but it was too far. I read that viewers in New York could see MECO as well as the short blasts on the OMS engines at ET separation.
Ha! If you know that lingo above, you are a shuttle geek too.
I took the video below with my little Panasonic pocket digital camera. Quality isn't that great, and I wasn't intending it to be, but it's MINE, and I was there!
(Click the video to see full size)