Thursday, March 26, 2009

Discovery Shuttle Launch!

On March 15th, I was able to get over to Cocoa Beach to see the STS-119 mission launch. Discovery is scheduled to land here at Kennedy Space Center once again on March 28th.

There was a last minute surprise for the launch team. A free tail bat landed on the foam of the shuttle's external fuel tank. Apparently from the report, the bat did not get scared off by the lights or sirens designed to scare away birds and animals before the launch. They decided to go ahead with the launch as the bat posed no serious problem.

They had infrared heat sensors watching the bat on take off. I guess he didn't cook as expected though. Pre-launch he remained at 60 F and post-launch it only heated up to 70 F. I guess the speed and thrust of the shuttle and pushes the heat a good distance away from it. There are pictures here.
I surfed in the morning, but the afternoon winds picked up.
People lined up for 20+ miles along the beaches to see the launch. South view.
There was a bit of humidity in the air, which limited the visibility. North view.But it was a beautiful night for a launch. Jets passing by.Yes, it did look as bright as the sun!It wasn't as loud as I had expected though.But that might have been in part to do with the strong winds out of the south and the nearby waves breaking.The trail finally reaches up into the sunlight.Many of the NASA ground crew commented in later interviews that this was the most beautiful shuttle launch that they had ever seen.Here it switches to the primary booster tank which burns bright white.The previous two tanks, which burned the bright orange, fall away (left) from the shuttle (right).The smoke trails remained in the sky for over an hour. They were beautiful in the sunlight.Everything went right.
The last shot with the shuttle visible (barely), somewhere around New Jersey.The show was over pretty quickly (30 mins at most).

A lot of people treat it like a football game. They find their parking spots hours in advance and break out their BBQs and coolers. It would be a good idea for leaving too, the traffic and parking was also like a football game.

There must have been at least a few hundred thousand people watching the launch in person. I heard that you can see the shuttle launch from Orlando and up much of the East Coast.

Part of the draw for this event was that it may be the last ever space Shuttle launch. The program is going to be re-engineered. They have learned a lot from these shuttles and they want to build newer, more sturdy, more reliable, more efficient space vehicles. The International Space Station will continue to be manned, supplied, etc via rockets.

In addition it is Spring Break now. So many families and their children are here in Florida enjoying the beaches.

The shuttle landing will be at 1:43 p.m. EDT, so I doubt there will be much to see. Most of the fire and light display will be somewhere over Texas and Louisiana. By the time the shuttle reaches Kennedy, it should be flying just like a normal plane.

It was quite an experience and I am extremely glad that I got the chance to see it!

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