The other night, Sunday March 15th 2009, was one of the few remaining space shuttle launches. Originally scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday night it got scrubbed due to a gas leak found when filling the tanks. After draining the tanks, fixing the issue, and getting everything ready again, the launch happened at about 7:43 PM Sunday night. I got the chance to be there.
I’m in Maitland, FL and from what people have said, you can still see the shuttle launch from here, over 60 miles away. I’m not surprised as bright as it was. However, I wanted to get closer for better pictures, to catch it on my FLIP video camera, and just get out of the hotel for a while. So, with a little Google searching, I came across the Space View Park in Titusville FL as a great place to catch the launch. And man was it crowded! It seemed like people were tailgating for the Super Bowl, granted this was one of the few launches left, but people had tents set up, plenty of coolers, grills, and food like they had been there ALL DAY; and I’m sure many were. I got in to town with about 2 hours to go and had to find a place to park which was a big enough problem. Every side of the street that you could park on was packed, all fields had cars, businesses were charging people to park in their lots, and everything was crowded. Here’s a couple shots of the streets as I drove looking for a spot.
Since it was about dinner time, I didn’t even want to attempt to eat anywhere in town because I knew how crowded it would be. Just look at the line at the local Burger King – out the door and wrapping around the side!
So instead, I headed into the CVS to pick up a drink and a snack. Even CVS was crowded. Now the line for the bathroom was worse than the checkout line but people were buying any kind of food and drink that they could, blankets and towels to sit on, and even lawn/beach chairs that were probably only going to get that one use out of them!
I headed down one of the little walkways towards the waterfront and people were everywhere. As I got to the end there was no where to sit or stand, so I snapped a couple pictures and moved out back towards the street. I was able to snag a bench to sit on and pass the time waiting for the actual launch. Hundreds of people passed by trying to cram as close as they could for the best view, but really, unless you were in the first couple rows along the water, you had a better view from further back…plus about 20 minutes before the launch, fog rolled in and obstructed your view of the launch pad anyway. So anyway, as more people pushed in with their kids, chairs, coolers, and cameras, time ticked away.
Finally, 7:43 hit and your heard a roar come from the crowd and the space shuttle as it’s engines were ignited and lift off took place. Here’s a video of the full launch from my spot. It’s about 4 minutes if you’re interested in watching it all. I recorded all the way through the disconnecting of the tanks, then it was time to head home.
What should have been a 50 minute drive took over 2 hours to get back to the hotel. However, it was worth the drive and traffic to catch one of the last shuttle launches in history. Here are some more pictures of the shuttle. I do wish it had been a little bit later and darker for more a ‘night’ feel but it was still great!
Congratulations to the crew at NASA and the guys on the STS-119 shuttle mission! Best of luck and hoping for a safe return!