It was really a thrill to witness the perfectly awesome launch of the space shuttle Endeavour on STS-118 earlier this evening from the Banana Creek Viewing Area at KSC. The countdown proceeded with barely a hitch, and the launch was at the planned time (6:36 pm EDT). This was my first in-person launch, and although I know a lot about these things, it was still quite amazing and even surprising in some respects.
One impressive thing is of course the sound, though it wasn't quite as gut-shaking as I had expected - the roar of the engines reminded me of an F-14 low-altitude afterburner flyby at an air show, which I've heard a few times. The F-14 engines aren't as powerful as the shuttle's, but it flies a lot closer than 4 miles. The SRB's also burn incredibly bright - you never quite see that in video or photos, it's almost like a welding arc (or an afterburner). Finally there's the impression of enormous mass being slowly lifted with tremendous effort, which of course it is - but even from miles across the water (and looking very small with the naked eye), it really looked like heavy lifting - something I had not felt from videos or simulations. Of course it didn't stay slow for long.
I took a few pictures using the large display of my camera so I could look directly at the shuttle and just snap away while roughly pointing at it. These aren't the best pictures you'll find of the launch, but I'm still glad I took a few of my own. I soon switched to binoculars, and the sky was so clear that I was able to watch the SRB's separate and drop away from the orbiter. Really cool!
Of course the SRB's separate at about 2 minutes into the flight, so this whole launch thing is a very brief but exciting burst of energy - physical and psychological. Everyone was clapping and cheering, but it was soon it out of sight, and we all made for the buses. It's sort of like a rock concert with one really, really great two-minute song, and then it takes you three hours to get home (or back to Orlando in this case, normally a one hour ride).
I want to see it again! Do that again! I guess I'll have to come back.