After a long wait and much anticipation, I finally witnessed a Shuttle launch. This was STS-127, the 127th shuttle flight, 23rd for Endeavour and 32nd construction mission to the International Space Station.
I was beginning to think they were something out of myth and legend;-) After two months on the launch pad and five scrubs due to hydrogen leaks, lightning strikes, and generally stormy weather Endeavour finally leaped off the launch pad into the Florida sky at 6:03:24 EDT time this evening. It was a sight to behold!
The long wait ended up being well worth it, because I had an even better view than expected. I had a ticket for viewing from the NASA causeway, which is a road across the Indian River, that ranges from about 6.5 to 7.5 miles from the launch pad. This is where I spent the afternoons on the fourth and fifth launch attempts, and it’s not bad. Today however, NASA made the decision to close the causeway to everyone – still don’t know exactly why. So they took us instead to the alternate viewing site located at the Saturn V rocket exhibit. From here, looking across the Banana River, I was only 3.5 miles from the launch pad – the closest anyone is ever allowed. This is where the family members and other VIPs normally view launches. In the twelve years since the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center has been running the tours and launch viewings, they have never taken a group to this site for launch. What a treat!
And to think, I almost called it quits and went home on Monday. Sure am glad I stayed!
So the next launch attempt is Wednesday evening – tomorrow, and I decided to stick it out. It’s getting stupid now, but I’m committed. Weather forecast calls for better than an even chance of getting off the ground tomorrow, so what the heck.
That left today wide open, so I decided on Sea World. There were several nice shows, including Shamu, seen in the picture on this page. Of course, lots of animal exhibits. The best, was probably the dolphin nursery. They had several mothers, a couple of two year old dolphins and some newborns that were just a few months old in a separate location. It was amazing to see even these tiny little ones leaping out of the water;-)
They also had a couple of nice roller coasters, the Kraken, and Manta. Manta is the newest, it’s a suspended coaster, meaning you’re hanging from the track rather than sitting on it. Additionally, once you’;re strapped in, the cars get rotated upwards so that you’re in a “flying” position, head first up the track. It was awesome, especially the inside loop when you literally dive towards the ground. It just wasn’t long enough. I actually liked the Kraken better, it was also a steel coaster, but without cars, just seats going across in rows. It was also quite a bit longer than Manta and had lots of unexpected twists and turns, very fun!
So after yet another scrub due to weather at the 9 minute hold I’m now 0 for 6 in my launch viewing attempts. The streaks gotta break sometime…
At least I’m no longer really disappointed by this. I went to the launch today with no actual expectations of seeing a launch. Despite the optimist in me, based on what happened yesterday, I truly expected the weather to be an issue. I figured if it launched that would be spectacular, but I honestly didn’t expect it. Even when the clouds were clearing and the announcer was saying he had a good feeling, I just looked at the clouds and thought, “yeah, right”.
The best part came at T-9 minutes and holding with 10 minutes left in the hold – that’s 19 minutes to liftoff. They were explaining over the PA that the lightning had just abated, but they needed a 30 minute window with no lightning to call it clear. I had been talking with a couple of guys from Orlando and we just looked at each other and agreed “that’s pretty simple math”; – you can’t fit 30 into 19. We started packing our gear while the countdown continued. The crack of thunder shortly after sealed it.
After conducting the formal poll the launch was officially scrubbed a couple minutes later. I was really planning to head home tomorrow convinced that I was done with this for the year, but… I just can’t let go, so I figure I’ll stick around for the last attempt this week on Wednesday. If it doesn’;t go then I’ll pull the plug on this mission. Maybe try for one next winter if it doesn’t go. They’re now predicting improving weather for Wednesday, plus the launch is a bit earlier 6 p.m., so perhaps they’ll finally get off the ground!
So things were looking good with a 70% chance of favorable conditions at launch time of 7:13 p.m. Unfortunately with the countdown clock holding at 9 minutes and about 15 minutes before scheduled launch time, they had to scrub the launch again as the weather encroached within the 20 mile limit of the runway and was approaching the 10 mile limit to the launch pad.
The streak is alive; 0 for 5!
I was fairly certain I would head home today, especially after the nearly 4 hour drive back to Orlando -it’s usually no more than an hour. But after getting 4 hours of sleep when I got up to go to the airport I changed my mind. I decided since I’ve still got a ticket and I’m here that I might as well give it one last shot.
So this is it for STS-127 for me – either I see them light it up tonight, or I’ll have to consider trying to come back for one of the remaining 7 missions.
I left the hotel at about 9:30 this morning and stopped for some breakfast. Was on the road out to the Space Center by 10:30 on what was a beautiful, though ridiculously hot and muggy, morning here in Florida. Nothing but clear blue skies in front of me, though I wasn’t getting too excited since the clouds tend to start building in the afternoon.
About half-way to KSC, scanning through the radio dial I stumbled on the tail-end of Car Talk on NPR, which was followed by the hourly news update. Top Story: Shuttle launch delayed 24 hours for engineers to study possible damage caused by lightning strikes yesterday.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!?!?!
At least my perfect record is still alive – 0 for 4 now! Turns out the area around the launch pad, including the lightning mast and a water tower, was struck at least 11 times Friday afternoon during a thunderstorm, Neither the shuttle nor fuel tank was struck and the initial indications don’t show any damage, but there are lots of things to check, so they decided to delay until Sunday evening. Good news is that the weather forecast is improving. They are now predicting a 70% of favorable weather at launch time tomorrow – today’s was only 40%.
If all goes well, they are targeting a 7:13 p.m. Eastern Time launch tomorrow. So it looks like I’ll be spending one more night in Florida. Hopefully the last for a long time!
So I’m back in Florida, giving it another go for STS-127. Hopefully, I can break my 0 for 3 streak. The sky looks pretty clear this morning, but as of yesterday, the weather guys were only giving it a 40% chance of having acceptable conditions at launch time.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed…
After hanging out at the hotel last night and watching the weather go downhill fast, I was honestly expecting them to scrub the launch due to that reason. It would have been the first time since 1995 that they had to scrub due to weather before fueling the tanks. Well their weather guys decided shortly before 11 p.m. that the weather was improving and that they would commence fueling. As I left the hotel, the rain had indeed subsided to a very light drizzle, however there was still lots of lightening occurring.
I stopped to grab a quick bite to eat, since I was expecting a long night and kept tabs on the progress – things seemed to be going well. Leaving the restaurant, I got my tickets and vehicle pass rounded up and headed towards the visitor center. Had a bit of a scare when I got to the security checkpoint and all of a sudden couldn’t find my vehicle pass. They waved me out of the line and I frantically searched the car – it’s a small space – where’d it go?!
Turns out it had slipped almost completely behind the passenger seat – I got back in line and was waved through a couple minutes later. Crisis averted!
Got to the space center with the usual eager anticipation – so far so good on the launch pad. It was about 12:45 and the first bus out to the NASA causeway, the viewing area, didn’t leave till 2:45. I caught the 1:00 a.m. showing of the 3D IMAX film about the space station – very cool. The movie let out about 1:50 and I headed over to the Launch Status building for the 2 a.m. briefing. I no sooner sat down when over the PA the announcement was made that the launch was being scrubbed at 1:55 a.m. What a letdown.
I hung out with a few other people to hear the first briefing at about 2:30 – no news other than what was already known – a very similar fuel leak as last Saturday and on STS-119 (which I missed in March). It’s back to square one for NASA to figure out what’s going on and fix the problem. Safety has to be the number 1 priority. The next launch window opens July 11 – but whether they Go then or later depends on how the troubleshooting proceeds.
I hope to somehow make it back down here when they’re ready. For now, it’s time to begin the long trek back home. While I had some nice visits to several national parks along the way, I must say that this trip has been a bit of a disappointment given the failure of the main objective. Oh well, it’s all about the journey and not the destination as they say – whoever they are…
So today I spent driving back to KSC from Key West. It’s still ridiculously hot and muggy – I didn’t sleep much at all last night. Drove through a couple of rain showers and it was looking a bit nasty, but on arriving here in Cocoa, things are looking sunny again and the forecast calls for 80% chance of good weather for the 5:40 a.m. launch tomorrow.
I’m going to grab a bite to eat and relax a little before heading over to the space center around midnight. And I’m staying in a hotel tonight – though I won’t actually be sleeping here – but it’s nice to hang out anyway. I don’t know how people managed to live here before air conditioning – I’m a wimp. Just standing in the shade I was sweating like crazy!
If all goes according to, the latest, plan I’m going to start the drive home tomorrow sometime late morning. I figure I’ll come back and grab a couple hours sleep, take a shower, and hit the road. We’ll see…
So I spent the day at Fort Jefferson which is the main, OK really the only attraction besides birds, of Dry Tortugas NP. It’s a pretty amazing place. The fort was constructed from 1845-1874 and is the largest masonry fort in the world, It consists of over 16 million bricks. Most brought in from Pensacola, FL, but the upper courses (due to the Civil War), along with the granite all the way from New England.
Today, it’s just a 2 hour boat ride in air conditioned comfort, but would still be a monumental undertaking to construct. This was built in the mid 19th century when it took a sailing ship nearly a full day to reach this place, 70 miles west of Key West. Can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to live here – and at its peak there were over 2,000 men, women and children living here. Amazing!
STS-127 is now on track for a Wednesday morning launch. So tomorrow, I’m heading back up the coast of Florida to KSC and will hopefully see a launch at the crack of dawn on Wednesday. Keeping my fingers crossed!
So with the delay of the launch until Wednesday at the earliest, and there is a conflict that day with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), I have a few days to kill. Driving up to D.C. was out of the question given the distance, so I decided to head as far south as I could.
So, I’m in Key West – OK, not quite, as the campground is about 20 miles short of there. But I’ll be heading over there bright and early tomorrow morning in order to catch the ferry for the day tour of Dry Tortugas NP. It’s a small island group about 70 miles beyond Key West. There was a fort there at one time and a tour is included with the trip. I may do a little snorkeling as well.
I got here about 4:30 and wouldn’t you know as soon as I laid out my tent to set it up, a nice little thundershower passed through. It only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was enough to soak the tent through since it was laying on the ground already. Oh well, it’s nearly dry already, so it’s not the end of the world. It’s also hot, of course, but there’s a fairly nice breeze blowing through occasionally, so hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’m also hoping that being just 50 yards or so from the water will moderate the heat…