#NASAtweetup 134Redux, Day 2: Launch Day!

Apparently, I fell asleep as soon as I got into bed, without managing to turn off the light, or take off my glasses… or set the alarm… But miraculously woke up right on time anyway. (Right on time being like, 2:30am!) I got ready, snagged some coffee my aunt had very kindly made for me before she went to bed, loaded my junk into the borrowed minivan, and headed off to KSC one last time!

There was no “twent” this time, but there are two sets of bleachers on the press site that we were welcomed to use, so I claimed a spot on the one that had very convenient desky/tabletop surfaces for each bench row, and set up camp for the morning. Then around 5 we went down to the road to see the AstroVan coming through… again.

We waved, and definitely saw a hand inside the van wave back! 😀

Best of all, after dropping off LCC-bound folks, they continued on in the right direction! No U-turn this time! Yay!

AstroVan, Endeavour-Bound!

Early Morning Press Site

Press

It was odd being out and about in the middle of the night and there being so many people around, including a whole mess of news crews gearing up for the launch. Even stranger, and totally awesome, was there being programming for us tweeps at that hour! After the AstroVan pass, we were instructed to go to the press briefing room where we had waited out the storm, for a presentation on STORRM! (heehee.)

STORRM Briefing

The metal box you see in the front there is the STORRM module (Sensor Test for Orion Relative navigation Risk Mitigation… basically a nifty new docking camera/navigation sensor system), a twin of which is flying on Endeavour to test it out. The folks on the dais told us all about the history of the program and the technology, a lot of which is the software analyzing the data from the cameras and sensors, and the tests they’ll be doing on STS-134.

We got to chat with them a bit after, and watch Endeavour’s crew suiting up on NASAtv too. By the time we left, the sun was coming up, and the shoreline was filling with tripods claiming front row spots.

Tripod Land Rush

The next couple hours were spent charging batteries, acquiring/consuming breakfast and coffee, keeping tabs on NASAtv and the interwebs for the status of the crew and shuttle preperations and the weather forecast, and mostly just hanging out, getting to know the tweeps around us (including Nina and Chris, who got engaged in front of the countdown clock the morning of the first launch attempt!).

The weather looked questionable at times. There were a couple of technical glitches, but they were all fixed or determined to not be a problem. I listened to the radio on the bleachers as long as I dared, started my cellphone recording video and propped it up, and headed out to the shore to find a spot to watch the launch!

T minus 3 minutes, 59 seconds

T minus 3 minutes, 59 seconds

3...2...1...

One last shot of Endeavour on the launch pad.

3…2…1…

I had had to leave the tripod behind, as it was too big fit in either of the bags I took on the plane, so I crawled through the line of tripods and sat under the rope at the edge of the shore, and propped my camera on my knee. I didn’t want to just watch the launch through the viewfinder, so I focused, used the live view screen to frame it with the launch pad at the very bottom of the frame, and when the time came, just held down the shutter button hoping for the best.

Of course, it didn’t really work, and the angle drifted over and up before there was anything to see, so I got a bunch of pictures of clouds… but then the buffer filled, so I let up for a second, picked it up, and blindly started shooting just holding it against my collar bone… and I got one lucky shot!

Endeavour in Flight!

It was… insane. Amazing. Seemed so much faster than I expected, especially since the cloud ceiling was so low. The countdown hit zero, the smoke began billowing out, Endeavour started to rise, the rumbling crackling wave of sound hit us, and then zwoop! right up and disappeared into the clouds, making them glow for a moment before punching through, the column of smoke trailing it cast its shadow across the cloud layer, and off to space!

Endeavour zoom

Zoomed/cropped version

Plume

The smoke plume

Empty Launch Pad

The smoke begins to clear

Immediately, like a kid coming off a roller coaster, all I could think was,

“Can we do it again now?”

Once confident the shuttle was out of range and wouldn’t peek-a-boo through the clouds, and the roar subsided, folks meandered back to listen to the radio coverage or watch NASAtv as Endeavour dumped its SRBs, jettisoned the external tank, and completed its 8 minute journey to Low Earth Orbit.

*sigh*

Mr. Pink-tie-and-sneakers says *le sigh*

Counting Up

''So, uh, what now?''

The countdown clock was counting up, but most people stuck around for a while, letting the traffic from the crowds watching from the causeway, visitors complex, or other sites clear out first… and perhaps moreso, processing the amazingness we just witnessed.

We talked, tweeted, took a preliminary pass through our pictures, and watched and rewatched everyone’s videos. I, for one, was just kind of stunned. Endeavour broke my brain. In a good way. A very, very good way. It’s disappointing that the clouds cut our view so short, but so so amazing that I got to see it at all. I can’t wait to come back and see STS-135 launch (because clearly, that has to happen now!) but it’s so sad that it will be the last shuttle launch ever. I demand a hundred more launches! But I’m so grateful I got the chance to see one from so close!

Like I said, brain = broken.
(Like how a power surge can fry your computer? The awesome overload of NASAtweetup has fried my brain.)

We hung out a while, chatting about random things, and intermittently spurting incoherent babble involving space shuttles and amazingness, and eventually people began to disperse. By the time I figured the traffic was probably manageable, my uncle’s launch responsibilities were wrapping up, so we met up in the VAB parking lot and I followed him home a back way, and traffic was surprisingly light, even for an alternate route several hours after launch!

The rest of the trip was pretty low key (not that anything could have compared anyway!) We went out for post-launch-lunch… and then a few hours later, my aunt got home from work, and we all went out to dinner. Tuesday, I did wash so I’d have something to wear home, got a bit of work done, and met up with Nina and Chris for dinner, which was lots of fun!

Then Wednesday morning it was off to the airport and home… with a 90 minute layover in Memphis that turned into several hours, because the plane we were supposed to be leaving on got ridiculously delayed at its previous stop. Delta was a class act about it, and handed out $25 vouchers when we finally did leave, but it still made for a nasty-long day. From the time we left my aunt & uncle’s house to when I finally walked through my own door was about 14 hours, for what is normally just under 2 hours in the air on a direct flight. For an extra 4 or 5 hours, I could have driven home and saved $175. >.< Oh well! Travelsuck does not diminish the awe of a shuttle launch, nor the awesome that is NASAtweetup! See you at 135, tweeps! 😀

THE END.

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