|Tom and Keith awaiting launch|
It was kind of a quick decision to go to the launch, it was delayed back in November for a bunch of reasons including the cracks in the tank which required it to go back to the hanger for repairs. Expecting a clogged up Gator Tours server the morning they sold them, I was surprised to find the web site open and fully functional. Bought a ticket and realized at that point that it was time for a vacation, I was going to the launch!
As usual, anytime you try to see this thing fly, it's stressful. Tickets bought about a month ahead, then NASA has to have the Flight Readiness Review to "officially" lock in the launch date and time about 2 weeks before flying. The FRR passed (*whew!*) and launch was officially 2/24/11 at 4:50pm.
(click on any of the photos to see full size)
|Final time on 39A|
|Discovery has cleared the tower!|
Several hours at the visitor center and back on the bus for the ride to the causeway. I heard there was about 400,000 people there for this launch. Not sure if that was total or just on NASA property. I was just glad I wasn't driving!
The final hours before the launch are spent staring at the spacecraft across the water, watching an occasional dolphin, talking with total strangers who all share a common excitement, and checking, rechecking the camera again and again.
|Rolling over and climbing|
With only 3 seconds remaining in the launch window the countdown was resumed. Talk about stress!!! Normally I'm a fairly quiet person but I did yell out a "YEAAAHHHH!!!" and punched my fist in the air when I heard that. I wonder who's had a faster heart rate in the final minutes? Me or the astronauts strapped into that thing? Pretty intense excitement - even after seeing 2 other launches.
I've tried to describe launches before, but it's just hard to really put it in words that can describe what it's like. I did notice more this time the feeling of the sound hitting my chest, but didn't notice any feeling of the ground shaking or anything. I just wish the shuttle would take it's time getting off the ground the show happens so fast. I feel that this launch was the fastest that I have seen, but I know that isn't the case. If it would just struggle into the air and pick up speed slower, like the old Saturn V did, then we could enjoy the feeling and view of it longer. But it's a hot rod compared to the Saturn and doesn't waste time leaving the planet.
|Booster separation - always a relief|
|Shuttle stuff in dining room|
As I write this, I just heard they extended the mission for one more day. Hopefully, they will take the Soyuz for a flight around the "pattern" and take some photos of the entire ISS complex with Discovery and all the other cargo spacecraft and Soyuz docked. Such an amazing photo that will be if they work it out and do it.
Then in a few days we'll hear the call "Discovery, wheels stopped" after she lands for the final time.....never to fly again, that will be a sad moment.