Fast forward two weeks and numerous potential launch dates, and it was time to fly back to Kennedy. You know you’ve been here enough times that you don’t need a map to navigate to the routine spots. But with that familiarity came the confidence to get the shots I wanted. Unfortunately with two weeks passing, the narrow launch window to send the Orbiter to the International Space Station (which moves 30 minutes earlier each day) went from a beautifully lit afternoon shot to a harsh back lit morning shot. And subsequently a very early morning for the Astronaut walk out. But the same was true for the RSS roll out, which was at night during the first launch attempt, but now would be basking in the warm Florida sun.
The media crowd had thinned out some, but was still a formidable force. We lined up for the usual bomb sniff dog search of our gear and boarded the bus to the base of the Launch Pad. With the sun shining and amazing clouds in the background, the shots were fast and furious!
Wide angles showing the people, tight shots of the detail of the Orbiter, and artistic shots of the special Tennessee river rock (used for its low friction properties to reduce the possibility of sparks as the Crawler moves from the VAB to the Launch Complex).
And before we knew it, it was time to board the buses back to the media complex. While most of the people left and took off to get some rest and catch up on their stories, I stuck around in the hopes of catching one of the vans out to the launch pad to get some close up shots of the Orbiter.
There were a lot of media still waiting to get their remote cameras setup on the pad and in the vicinity. And when it was over, there must have been at least 500 cameras in the vicinity of the pad. Each with a timer to awaken the camera just before launch and then a sound sensor to activate the shutter to get the shots.
It was there announced that if we wanted to take shots of the Astronaut walk out, we had to be ready for the bomb dogs at 3:45am for the 5:11am walk out. Which meant wake up at 2:15am and drive out to the Cape. A challenge I was ready to accept.
As I made that early morning drive, body still on California time, my subconscious was pondering the possibilities of another delay. Would it happen again and would I fly out for a third time? But a quick check and it was a 70% chance of a go! But as the past three weeks had taught me, this was all a lesson of control…or mainly that I was not in control of anything, and much like the astronauts aboard the Orbiter Endeavor, I was just along for the ride.
Flash bulbs went off like fireworks on the Fourth of July as the crew walked out. Hundreds of media and NASA workers showed up in the early dawn to wish these six brave gentlemen a fond farewell as majority of Florida and the United States slept. They boarded their classic silver “Astrovan” to make the 20 min trek to their e-ticket ride.
And in the footsteps of these Astronauts, we similarly boarded our bus back to the media center; albeit a much shorter and less nerve wracking ride then theirs.
With a couple of hours to kill before the targeted liftoff time of 8:56 a.m. EDT rolls around. But as time went on, an ominous layer of clouds formed over Endeavor. But the ever vigilant 45th Weather Squadron from Patrick AFB kept an eye on the outlook as they do for ever single launch and landing. All forecasts said it was good to go!
The giant clock, located a mere 3 miles from the Space Shuttle ticked down. T-minus 3 hours turned into minutes. The Launch Control Center, located right across the street had given the green light for the Shuttle to make another attempt to take Cmdr Mark Kelly and his crew to space on this penultimate flight for the NASA Space Shuttle program. But it was no less exciting then the first.
A large speaker counted down. T-minus 9 minutes and the countdown has resumed….T-minus 7 minutes Hydraulic power system (APU) start…T-minus 2 minutes Crew closes visors…T-minus 7 seconds Main engine start…3…2…1…Ignition! The smoke plume was larger then I had ever seen. For a split second I hesitated and didn’t press the shutter button on my camera. I was told that the actual lift off would not occur till seven seconds after the ignition, so I waited. The flame in the viewfinder grew brighter and brighter. It was like looking directly into the sun, but I didn’t dare take my eye off of it. The rumble hit us as did the sound of the rockets turning fuel into pure power. Higher and higher it went, and 22 seconds after the Solid Rocket Boosters fired, Endeavor went into the clouds and out of our view.
From what I’m told, that was the shortest viewing of any Space Shuttle launch ever, but for me, it was the longest I had ever seen. And knowing that there were six human beings setting out on the ultimate adventure made it all worth while. Hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe united together so that this mission could take off. This adventure was not about six human beings, but about the rest of mankind coming together and sharing in that ultimate adventure, travelling to space. In it’s own way, this trip was my own little adventure. Travelling across the country, at the whim and mercy of nature and NASA, and wanting nothing but to witness the start of another groups journey. Granted my view was pretty nice, but I think their view is a little bit better.