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…