FC: My First Up Close Launch by Jennifer Walker
2: We had just moved to Tampa and Discovery was set to launch Tuesday August 25th at 1:36 am. I was pretty sure you could see the launch from Tampa given good weather conditions. I was praying. God please let the weather be clear so we can see the launch. My sweet husband stayed up while I went to bed (I had to work the next day) he was going to wake me up and we were going to drive to the parking garage where I work and try to see it. But the launch was delayed due to weather. New launch date…Wednesday 1:10 am….unsure if the hydrogen drain valve had closed. It was too important not to confirm, the launch was delayed… New launch date…Friday morning 12:22 am, engineers want one more day to check out the valve… New launch date...Friday August 28th 11:58 pm.
3: Discovery on the launch pad just one week earlier. | The view from the top of the parking garage looking towards Kennedy Space Center
4: I found out Thursday afternoon when I got home from work. FRIDAY NIGHT!?!? WE COULD GO!!!!!!!!! It's okay, breathe. Chuck was one or two steps ahead of me. He had been on-line and found out that you could still get tickets to see it from the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center. BUT they were on a first come, first serve basis, and there were no on-line or phone orders. Early Friday morning, he drove across the state and got in line to get two tickets to view the launch from the visitor's center-only to find out that all we needed were general admission tickets. OH. We have annual passes, those would get us in. There's only one catch, we had to be there by 6:30 pm.
6: I get off work early. We make the two hour drive across the state and get to the Space Center with about 15 minutes to spare. We sit in the parking lot and eat our McDonalds drive thru dinner. Chuck feeds the “official NASA birds.” I don’t care about feeding the birds, I just want to get into the visitor’s center. It doesn’t matter that there’s still over 5 hours until the launch. Impatience is abounding…let’s go…. We walk from the car through the parking lot and over to the visitor’s center complex. There’s a sign outside – NASA launch guests enter through main ticket gate. Well I must have a picture with that! It starts to rain. Heart racing. Wow. We go inside and get through security. I ask the security guard if he will get to see the launch, to my disappointment, he says no. That’s really a shame. I felt bad for him that he would not be able to see the launch.
8: Quick bathroom break and we step outside under the overhang. Wow it's raining hard! But there's no lightning in the area and it's still 5 1/2 hours until launch. We've got time. I stand there in utter amazement that I'm standing there, at Kennedy Space Center, just 8-9 miles away from the launch pad, just 5 1/2 hours before a shuttle launch - and not just any shuttle launch. This is launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. The first shuttle I saw sitting on the pad when I was 8 or 9 years old. To become the first shuttle launch I see up close. Wow.
10: We go hang out at the gift shop, there are shirts that say “I was there.” If she launches tonight, I’m getting one of those…but I can’t buy the shirt prematurely. I decide after a while that it is time to go do the Shuttle Launch Experience. We walk over there and to my disappointment it appears closed, but a closer approach shows that the barriers had only been arranged differently from the times we had been there before. Oh breathe. There were three others with us on the Launch Experience, a three kids. All of us had done it before. The lady in charge told us the best place to sit. In the middle of the 5th or 6th row. I could ride that ride over and over and over. It always makes me cry. At the end of the ride we descend down a ramp. On the railing is one plaque for every shuttle mission. I pause each time at the plaques for Challenger and Columbia
12: As we walk into the gift shop at the end, I hear my sweetie utter the words..."There's an astronaut signing autographs right there." I didn't register the "signing autographs" part, and remembering the last experience I expect to see someone dressed up like an astronaut. But no. There sits James Reilly. The two girls in front of me asked him what he thought about the ride. He said he had never ridden it, but was about to. (oh to be on that ride!) I got his autograph and we step back outside. It's still partly cloudy, but it's stopped raining.
14: The sun is beginning to set. We decide to sit down, but the chairs are soaked from the earlier rain. Thankfully I had a pair of jeans with me (in case for some odd reason I'd get cold...) Dried off the chair and sat down. Look up and there's a rainbow! That's when I knew, Discovery will launch tonight! WOO HOO!! We're sitting there outside, looking at the clouds. I'm in total amazement that we're even there. Every now and then you hear launch control coming over the loud speakers. Wow. Look! there's the helicopter that escorts the astronauts! We saw that up close last week! I am siting outside with my sweetie listening to the weather updates from launch control! How cool is that? Every update is better. No surprise to me...I saw the rainbow!
16: It's time to find a good place to sit and watch the launch. There's still about 4 hours left until launch, but it's a good time to get a good spot. We wander over past the launch experience and in front of the External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters. Oh wow. Here we are, oh wow... We forgot to bring the chairs with us so we found a good curb spot. Of course later I realize that the shuttle is almost directly in front of us...behind the tree. Chuck said the tree wouldn't matter - I didn't think it would, but I wanted to see every last second of the launch that I could. Dang tree. We were sitting next to a family from the UK. They had been there fore every launch attempt this week. They were a fun group of people to sit next to.
17: Where we were sitting. The closest blue trashcan in the bottom right picture is the same trash can you can see the top of in the top right. Note the tree.
18: I was thirsty and had finished my water so I decided to go for a soda. I got up (wow my butt was sore! – but this is an excellent spot to see the launch who cares about a sore butt?) I knew exactly what I wanted-a Pepsi or Dr Pepper in a blue space shuttle sipper. I had thought about getting one of those on previous trips to the space center and never did – but this time it would be special, I got it on the night of the launch.
20: About an hour and a half before launch, I decide to use the bathroom for the last time. It seemed like a good time to do so. As I'm walking to the bathroom I hear over the loud speakers..."In case of an accident..." I don't remember much of the exact announcement, but it was something like, take shelter in the nearest building, something about toxic smoke from the Solid Rocket Boosters... Wow that hit home. My heart sunk, I cried a little, and said a few prayers that Discovery and her crew would make it safely into orbit.
22: When we got the final "Discovery, we are go for launch", the crowd cheered! (especially those who had been there all week.) All the weather looked good (remember the rainbow?) There was some lightning off in the distance, but it was more than 30 miles away so it was okay. When we came out of the T-9:00 hold, everyone cheered. This was it, there were no more holds in the countdown, this was T-9:00 to liftoff ...oh wow...oh wow...oh wow...breathe... A couple minutes before liftoff the beanie cap is removed from the external tank - the crowd cheers!!!
24: T-5..4..3..2..1...and that was it, Chuck was behind me holding my arms, he said "look" and that was all I heard. I didn't hear "liftoff, we have liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery"...although I know it was said. He said look...and the sky lit up like a morning sunrise. It was a beautiful coral/salmon color and in the middle of the brightness was a sharper more intense section of the same color, rectangular in shape with a bright light atop. There she was...Discovery, flying into the night sky. WOW...WOW...WOW...WOW...WOW...WOW...WOW...
25: I stood and watched in awe as she lifted higher and higher into the night sky. I heard Capsule Communications say "Discovery"...I knew she was go for throttle up, but didn't hear that part either. Everyone stood and watched in awe, the rowdy excited crowd was silent. (at least that's what Chuck said, I was pretty unaware of anything else around me)
26: Just before Solid Rocket Booster Separation, you heard the roar of the boosters. It wasn't real loud from where we were standing...oooohhhhhh but you could hear it. Wow...wow...wow...wow...wow...breathe... We all stood and watched until Solid Rocket Booster Separation and we cheered. The brilliant color that filled the night sky faded away, but you could still see Discovery, the bright point of light headed for outer space. I stood there until I couldn't see her anymore, over five minutes. Just before she disappeared into the night sky, a pungent smell filled the air. My first thought was someone behind me lit a cigar. No, it was the smell from the Solid Rocket Boosters. Bad at first, but then, sort of a happy smell...it was solid rocket booster smell.
28: We stood and watched the screen until Main Engine Cut Off and then External Tank Separation. Those of us still watching cheered. And I cried. I tried not to though, I didn't want my tears to obscure my view of the launch. We walked back to the gift shop and then, yes I bought the shirt "STS-128 Launch, I Was There" ...and no, the tree didn't matter.