Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Perfectly Awesome Launch!

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.


Anonymous said...

Glad you got to see it...lucky dog :)

Anonymous said...

Very nice take off.
Sooooooo luky you are, thank you for the picts.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you got to see it and enjoyed your photos. I found this blog thanks to your flattering link and comments about my website. Thank you.

I also viewed STS-118 from your location and wish I could have said hi now that I know you were there. Was this your first launch?

Your assessment of the sound was around what I felt this time too. But I would call it less than typical, so you if you come back you might be more impressed by the audible portion than an air show.

For example, 117 was incredibly loud and powerful, the loudest one (the loudest anything) I can ever remember hearing. But, every factor counts, whether it is distance to weather, wind and humidity that day. 118 didn't seem to have the punch most shuttle launches I have seen had had, and you're right about the afterburner reference. Like I said 117 was just INCREDIBLY loud, but then again I stayed at the traditional press site, which is 3.0 miles versus 3.9 at Banana Creek.

Sometimes, people I know who have come for their first launch and view from, say, Titusville (12 miles) report it wasn't as loud as they expected. I always tell them, "well let's put it this way: you were 12 miles away and still did hear it quite well. Can you think of anything else you can hear from 12 miles like that?" :-) It put's it all in perspective and shows just how powerful it is.

In any case, I am glad to hear you got to see it and got to see it up close. If you are in town again, please send a note along. And if you have any questions feel free to ask!

Thanks again for your link and blog.