A New Year often gives you a moment to reflect on things from the previous year. One of the things I wished to see this year but didn’t was the delivery of the shuttles to their final homes in museums. It didn’t work out and that is done. However, I did get to see a shuttle launch once during the program and that happened before I started blogging so I decided to have a post that maybe gets counted as an archive outing (or is that lack of recent shots means I have to go back and get old stuff?).
Anyway, here are some shots from the launch of Atlantis on STS-129 in November 2009. This was a trip that could have ended up going sadly wrong but in the end it was a great success. We had planned to make a trip to see a launch for a while and this one was one we had picked out for various reasons. However, we failed in our first effort to get tickets for the causeway which was where I wanted to be to be as close as possible. When we couldn’t get that, we decided instead to get tickets for the visitor center since it would still be a good place to see things.
We planned a few days in Florida with the launch on the first full day there. The idea was that we would have some margin if the launch got delayed (as they often did). Unfortunately, NASA were one step ahead of us and moved the launch after we had made out travel arrangements. They moved the launch to the last day we were due to be there. This made it a one shot deal. Once we were down there, we had a few days to look around. While out wandering around Celebration, I got a call from a good friend of mine. He didn’t know where we were but, when I told him, he said he knew a retired astronaut who might be able to help us out.
I have to admit I thought this was a long shot. An hour later, he calls back and tells us we are on a VIP bus. We have to go to KSC the next day and they will have our information and sort us out. I was stunned. Needless to say, we went to KSC the next day. Initially, they didn’t know who we were but they did eventually sort it all out and we were now on a better plan than we could have envisioned. We even got premium parking! Come the day of the launch we headed out early – no point in being late for something like this.
The atmosphere at the visitors center where we had to go first was excellent. There were loads of people there and everyone was excited. It was like being at a fair. When the time came, we loaded up on the buses and went to Banana Creek. This is just past the Vehicle Assembly Building. Moreover, you are looking across water the whole way so, while you are slightly further away than the press area at the VAB, you don’t have much heat haze – a big deal when shooting over three miles in Florida! This area was really busy as well and this group was probably even more excited than the crowd at the visitor center. There were a really nice bunch of people around us and the time zipped by.
Finally it was time for the launch. It all happened very quickly. Suddenly the countdown was approaching zero and then it happened. A spectacular sight. I shot a ton of shots but I did remember to just look and be impressed by it all. My abiding memory was how orange the flame was. It is so bright that it blows out in all images but when you see it you realize it is very orange. Look at the color of the clouds around and you will get an idea of the true color since they reflect it in a very toned down way.
Within a couple of minutes the boosters had separated and it was gone. We were all hurried back onto the buses since the exhaust plume apparently contains some quite unpleasant chemicals. Then it was all over. It was so sudden and no instant replay! Then it was time to hang around since the traffic out was going to be horrendous (it was even much later). A great experience and one I am always glad I did.