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Space Shuttle Discovery Night Time Launch

In our lifetimes there are a few moments that always stick in the memory. First dates, first kisses, special days and special moments. Monday morning April 5th at 6:21 AM we experienced one of those few moments when we were on hand to witness the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida.

During our trip back to California in February we missed a shuttle launch so upon our return have been patiently waiting for this one. At this time, this launch, was the last scheduled nighttime launch for NASA. Based upon moves by the current administration it appears likely that the space shuttle program will end as scheduled following the next three launches. In all likelihood this launch we witnessed could be one of the last US-based shuttle launches for decades.

Based on thorough research we decided to drive down to Titusville Florida to watch the launch from the Space Memorial Park. This is the closest legal and free spot to witness the launch. With a direct line of sight across the water to Cape Canaveral and the launch tower the shuttle is exactly 12 miles away. This whole area of Florida is referred to as the Space Coast and the area is reeling with the news of the ending of the program.

It has been 49 years almost to the day since the first man went into space. As two people who have never witnessed a space shuttle launch the experience truly brings the excitement, danger, and sheer coolness of space travel to life. The thought that the US is potentially giving up strategic and scientific advantages of space travel due to political motives is challenging. Let us hope that our nations leaders have a long-term strategic plan for the space program.

Back to the shuttle launch

Titusville is located 25 miles south of our current home in New Smyrna Beach Florida. With the early morning Monday launch we decided that trying to sleep, awake at 4 AM, and then race to get their was not going to work. We are not morning people. We decided instead to arrive late Sunday night and hang out until the early morning to watch the launch.

Arriving around midnight we found the parking lot for the Space Memorial Park to be full. People had arrived sometime during the day and had already set up their spots out on the grass around the park. This included the basic stuff like chairs and coolers but also included full queen-size air mattresses and barbecues. After scanning the area we recognized that 1. We were not going to sit outside for the next six hours to save a spot 2. Going to fight with others to view the launch.

We started walking south along the waterfront and almost immediately found our ideal location. Adjacent to the park is a large high-rise condo complex. This complex included a grassy area along the waterfront. There were no posted no trespassing signs and no security so we planned to hang out in the truck till about 5:30 and then walk over to watch the launch.

While Katarina caught some sleep Mark used the time to complete Monday’s work on his laptop. There was a great website streaming live updates of the launch so we were always informed of any changes.

The crowds up to this point had been isolated to the Memorial Park but around 5 AM that changed. The volume of vehicles surged and the crowds really descended on the area. It was time for us to secure our viewing area. Grabbing our gear we walked over to our pre-screened grassy area only to find everybody else. Katarina smartly noticed that while everybody had set up chairs they had ignored the nice brick wall at the waters edge, we found our spot.

The atmosphere of the crowd was unlike any we had experienced before. People were amazingly jubilant and excited for 5 AM, nobody argued, bickered, or complained. As launch time neared we were treated to a rare sight as the International Space Station raced overhead from Southwest heading Northeast, traveling at 17,000 mph the space station looked like a bright star racing across the night sky. It is captured in the pictures below as a streak passing the Moon.

As the final countdown neared, surprisingly, our nerves were on end. It was incredible to feel the rush of excitement and adrenaline as we waited for the unknown to occur. Knowing that just a few miles away human beings were sitting on top of millions of pounds of high explosives about to race into space was enthralling. The night sky behind the tower had a slight blue glow to it and you could faintly make out the launch tower.

On time and on cue we were shocked into sheer jubilation as the shuttle engines ignited and the ship lifted off the pad. The intensity of the flame was truly indescribable; it was just one of those things that you have to see to believe. The shuttle quickly gained altitude and arced towards the northeast in its race to catch the space station. To this point the sound had not reached us yet and when it did the thunderous roar was awe inspiring.

We, like the rest of the crowd, watched enthusiastically as the ship raced into the early morning sky. The two booster rockets safely separated and a few minutes later the ship reached space. At this point the crowd cheered with excitement and encouragement . Fortunately the show was still not over, the smoke column extended from the launch pad to 50 miles into the sky. As the sun’s rays shone on the higher altitude the colors were out of this world.

The experience this Monday morning reminded us of why we chose to head out on the road. Our lives are a series of memories and adventures and today we tacked on a really big one. Enjoy the photos.


3 Responses to “Space Shuttle Discovery Night Time Launch”

  1. TERESA says:

    wow how beautiful

  2. Mike says:

    I witnessed STS-130, Endeavor, Feb 8, 2010, 4:14am, from almost the exact location. Also a Monday morning. You captured my experience almost verbatim, from the energy of the crowd, to the roar. Though the launch I saw was earlier, and there were no beautiful sunrise colors, just the night sky lighting like daylight and the intense rumble of power was, forgive me, I’m at a loss for words here. It was my first shuttle launch as well. Sometimes I still get breathless thinking about it.