From the photoblog on 05/16/2011.
What an incredible day!
I woke up at 2AM and drove from my hotel outside of Orlando to Kennedy Space Center. After about an hour's drive, I arrived to the check point area of Kennedy Space Center. I showed my badge and passport, and after a guard double-checked with his supervisor, I was good to go.
The first thing I did when I arrived to the NASA press site was to walk over to the countdown clock area and set up my tripod. Two weeks ago, I made a mistake and didn't set up a tripod until too late in the day, but this time I was prepared.
From around 3:30AM to 4:30AM, I split my time between taking photos of Endeavour glistening in the night, checking my Twitter feed, and following the #NASAtweetup hashtag in my Twitter client of choice, Echofon.
At around 5AM, our group made our way to the grassy knoll next to the Saturn Causeway. A few participants made clever signs, so that what happened two weeks ago did NOT happen today. No u-turns allowed, indeed!
As 5:11AM, the Astrovan was on its way to the launch pad. I saw the tweet from @NASAKennedy, and everything looked good. However, when the Astrovan made a stop in front of our group, some of us we were. Not another scrub? Stephanie Schierholz, our fearless organizer, explained that this procedure wasn't atypical. A few people departed from the Astrovan, and as the doors opened, we got a peek at the crew waving back at us. It was a wonderful moment. Seconds later, the Astrovan raced forward. No u-turn this time.
Between 5:30AM and 6:00AM, we made our way to the news auditorium to
hear NASA's STORRM team explain what they were doing on this STS-134 mission:A prototype system using these technologies, consisting of the Visual
Navigation System, or VNS, and a docking camera, will advance the
capability necessary for automated rendezvous and docking. Developed
by the Orion Project Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, the system
will be tested on STS-134, scheduled for this July as part of Sensor
Test for Orion RelNav Risk Mitigation (STORRM) Development Test
After that informative meeting, I proceeded forward back to the press site and photographed the sunrise. It was a beautiful morning!
The next hour was a waiting game. I learned about the different countdowns, and tweeted the link. At T-20 minutes and holding, I held my breath -- would the launch proceed? As I was listening live to NASA Television, everything appeared a go (there was a minor incident with one of the tiles on the Endeavour, but it didn't affect countdown procedures).
About a minute before the T-9 minutes and counting began, I made my way back to the tripod. I double checked my cameras (I was shooting with the Canon 5D + Canon 17-40 f/4L on the tripod + Canon 7D + Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS hand-held), batteries, and so on. I was ready.
What was interesting is that I (as well as most NASA tweetup participants) were standing *behind* the countdown clock, so it was unclear how far in the countdown sequence we were. Luckily, there was a guy who was streaming the countdown on his iPhone, and he started counting down with a minute left. I appreciated that immensely, as I needed to push the shutter button on my Canon 5D at the instant of Endeavour's launch (you'll find out why in my future post).
And then, with ten seconds to go, the crowd started going: TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX, FIVE, FOUR, THREE...TWO, ONE... LIFT-OFF!!!
It was amazing. People were cheering so loudly. Now, for the first few seconds of lift-off, we relied on our visual senses to stimulate us: sound had not yet arrived. We were located three miles away from the launch site, and the first boom of the engines and the solid rocket boosters cracked about five seconds into the launch sequence. And what a phenomenal sound it was! There were these crackles, going off and on, like fireworks were exploding about five feet away from you. The sound literally made the hair on your arm and legs stand up. It was absolutely incredible!
In the last three weeks, I heard many people say that the best way to view the launch is without looking through the viewfinder. Now I admit, this was extremely hard for me to do. Today, I took a lot of photos, but I did glance away from the viewfinder for a few seconds to see Endeavour lift off with my very eyes. (And for those of you that say that I should have viewed the launch in its entirety, I hope this photo gives me some credibility in my choice to both photograph the launch).
About thirty seconds after lift-off, Endeavour disappeared above the clouds. It was unfortunate for the viewers on the ground, but less so for one lucky lady flying from New York to Palm Beach, who saw the shuttle from her airplane window!
After lift-off, I stuck around for about two hours, listening to the post-launch conference and talking about the launch experience with fellow attendees. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the trip to come back to Kennedy Space Center to witness this last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour was worth every penny!
Once again, huge thanks to Stephanie Schierholz and the rest of the #NASAtweetup crew for organizing this amazing event!
1) See a video of the launch from near where I was standing, shot by @AVWriter. Pay attention to those crackling sounds.
2) New York Times story about the launch. Great quotes here.
3) My growing NASA images are here.
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5) If you would like to purchase a print of this image, click on the
link located at top left of the photo.
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