Monday, February 8, 2010

Last night launch of the shuttle.....and I was there!

I guess there are some sad parallels with this.  Apollo 17 was the last mission to the moon, the last manned flight of a Saturn V and the only night launch of that spacecraft.  Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were canceled ending that part of history.
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)


Stephan said...

Just as you think the light couldn't get any brighter, it does! The beauty and power of it all is magnificent!

Tom said...

Yeah, it's VERY bright. I was trying to watch for the SRBs to fall off, but when I blinked my eyes while looking at it, I could just see that green spot in the middle of my view - like when you look at the sun or the flash of a camera!

Anonymous said...

The James Webb Space Telescope is a collaboration with the Canadians and the European Space Agency which is providing the Ariane 5 as the launch vehicle. It was planned that way from the beginning. Ariane 5 can heft a lot less than the shuttle of course, but no problem since they knew from the beginning. Aviation Week magazine didn't even print up all the rocket and spacecraft specs in their annual issue this year. I think they knew something.

Tom said...

Right! I figured the Ariane 5 would be the only heavy lifter that would do that. I was kind of spilling thoughts out of my brain when I was typing that one up.
I didn't see that Aviation Week article. Sounds interesting.