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A Very Long, Fun Weekend – Endeavour Has Lift-off

The launchpad list up with the xenon lightsYou know by now that the space shuttle Endeavour successfully lifted off to the space station Monday morning as planned. We were there and had a “blast” despite cloud cover at launch time. That was pretty disappointing, but there isn’t anywhere else I’d have rather been yesterday… unless you could have gotten me 3 miles away!

Our friends arrived just before midnight and we were all loaded up and on the road at 12:06, exactly 8 hours 50 minutes before the scheduled launch window. Time went amazingly fast because 1) I’d had a 4 hour nap before dinner 2) I took a caffeine pill before we left and 3) everyone stayed awake and talked the whole way there. We arrived in Titusville, across from Cape Canaveral, a little after 2am. We scouted out the bridge and the causeway looking for the best spot and decided on the seawall on the Cape side of the bridge. There were RVs and tents along the side of the road for miles from what we could see, but we parked about 150 yards past the bridge in prime position to just pull out into traffic.

We set up our stuff to make our long wait on the concrete and rocks more comfortable, took some photos, and tried to get some sleep. It was in the upper 50s where we were sitting with a good 10-15mph wind, so it was pretty chilly sitting in lawn chairs with a windbreaker, hood, and a beach towel as a blanket. I finally managed to hibernate until some dufus up on the bridge behind us came with his camera, NASA radio, tons of space knowledge to share with the other fine, quiet people on the bridge. Oh, and his wonderful belching was the perfect 5am serenade. I wanted to grab him by the back of his jelly-rolled neck to swing him over the railing into the water but feared that he might land on me on the way to his watery end.

The sun was starting to make its presence known just beyond the horizon before 6am, so I made a trip to the car to get my sunglasses (which were hanging at home since we left at night) and one last trip to the port-a-johns because I’d be arrested for public exposure before I missed the launch just because I was going to have a bladder explosion. I made it back in time to take great shots of the sunrise.

By 8am, the AT&T network was jammed and making it impossible to Facebook, Twitter, and check the NASA site for updates. Around 8:30, Gigantor’s radio finally started to be welcome as it started giving periodic countdown updates and telling us what was happening in mission control. “30 seconds until the 9-minute countdown” it said at one point. We took our places, me with my iPhone propped on a rock and my buddy with a 400mm lens attached to my dad’s old Nikon D100 to get closer shots done in RAW format that I could fix when we got home.

The launch

At the 3 minute mark, I was about to explode myself, not because of my bladder, but sitting there for 7 hours just waiting was killing me. I wanted to see it go up, so badly! “This and that have been removed… T minus 8… 7… 6…” I knew at this point that the rockets are supposed to fire, but I still couldn’t see anything, likely because of the curvature of the earth over 12 miles and the tops of the trees, too. “5… 4… 3… 2… 1… 0… and lift-off!” Still nothing! Then I saw it, a big, fast billowing of smoke quite a bit farther out to the right than I would have anticipated started shooting up, then the left side, and there it was! I was finally, after all of these years living in Florida, witnessing my first shuttle launch from this coast!

It shot up amazingly fast past the top of the tower. I’ve seen way more than my fair share of shuttle videos as a space and plane junkie, but nothing could have prepared me for the amazing brilliance of that rocket’s red glare that was propelling this speck up, up, up, faster by the second, until 24 seconds after the zero count, it disappeared into the cloud cover.

Sadly, I stopped the video at that point, not realizing that we hadn’t heard a thing yet. The sound travels at 5 seconds per mile, so it was way out of sight before the sound of the ignition hit us. When it did, though, it was awesome! There was just this overwhelming, god-like awesome roar that started and rapidly grew and grew. After a few seconds there came the famous thump of the shuttle blasting right through the sound barrier without any hesitation. We were far enough away that we didn’t feel any of it, but the sound was so big (very different from NASCAR) that video would not adequately capture it.

Then, one of the coolest things ever started to appear: a dark blue “river” started to stretch across the sky on the blanket of clouds. The pillar of smoke trailing behind the shuttle was casting a shadow on top of the clouds from above, stretching form the launch all the way out of sight to the north.


The sign as we crossed the bridge when we arrived said it would be closed for 2h before and 2h after the launch. We were bummed to have to wait that long, but it turned out that the crowd was way smaller than expected, so by the time we got to our car, we only had to wait 5 minutes to leave and someone was kind enough to let us right out onto the road from our parking spot facing the highway. We made pretty good time coming back, taking the 130 minute trip there back in 3 hours, including a desperate stop at an Orlando Subway so I could get a $5 footlong, which only survived about 6 minutes.

Would I do it again? YES! One more time! STS-135 will be the last shuttle launch ever, later this summer.

You can also read Beautiful’s account and some other photos at Kristinology.


  1. The third sunrise shot is an award winner!  Great composition and moment!  

    I think I have sat next to the same dufus several times over the years.   To get them to leave it is always good to remember these lines ” heard there are free hotdogs 50 yards downwind” or “we are all still contagious from the ebola outbreak that occured when we were on vacation last week”…..he should slowly move away at this point…..!

    • Thanks! Sometimes great composition just strikes me, since I don’t have any
      training but know enough to be dangerous.

      I’ll keep those lines in mind for the next baseball or hockey game.