STS 133 Discovery–a launch experience.

26 Feb

After a windy, cold, foggy end to the day on Wednesday, Thursday morning dawned bright and still, the morning news told us the weather was 90% positive for the launch at 4.50. We were keeping our fingers crossed, I expect the NASA staff were doing more than that.

Around three hours before launch we noticed a gradual influx of visitors around the park and adjacent ground. By an hour before launch almost every bit of spare space had either vehicles or people parked on it! We took a stroll to Seminole Rest to pass some time, the car park was almost full there, clusters of people with camp chairs dotted around the areas of the park where they could get a view and sit in the shade.

Back at our campground we took our chairs out to the communal dock area where everyone was gathered around the TV in the Tiki bar. The sky was blue, a light breeze blowing across the water to take the heat out of the sun, a thin veil of cloud lurked out to the west but far enough north not to be over the launch area approximately 21 miles south of us.

All was going well and the countdown progressing until about ten minutes to launch a communications computer threw a fault, we held our breath… 48seconds before the window to launch would have closed the glitch was corrected and the final countdown progressed. I wondered what the team in the shuttle felt… I was nervous for them if they were calm!

So quickly – there it was – WOW!!!!


I took this shot then one more before I was so over awed by the whole thing I just sat and watched. The main rocket powered the shuttle across the sky from in front of us towards our left – it was heading north and east – eventually we saw the small white solid rocket boosters fall away, still a shining dot in the sky was visible. I watched and watched until it became a pin prick and then was gone. WOW!  Safe return Discovery!

It had seemed like an age we watched and yet it was over so quickly, I wanted to rewind and see it all again…. then when we calculated it was actually no time at all, as the solid rocket boosters are ejected 2 min after launch. Noise? yes eventually, perhaps a minute after launch, there was a roar, but not deafening, probably not as loud as a jet flying low overhead, surprisingly.

Watching the news later we learned that around 250,000 people had been estimated to watch the launch from various vantage points both north and south. Five hours later the traffic was still heavy as people tried to make there way home. How pleased were we that all we had to do was stroll a hundred yards from our door and back!

Friday we paid our second visit to Kennedy Space Centre. We wanted to see the two Imax films, one about Hubble and the other about the Space Station, also we hoped to take a ride in the shuttle launch simulator, a new attraction at the centre. We wanted to find out what it was like for the astronauts.

On our previous visit there had been a big queue for the simulator so we made it our first stop. Thankfully we were not long and whilst waiting we were able to watch monitors which played a video of various shuttle astronauts talking about there experiences. I found this fascinating and would have liked the queue to have been slower so I could have heard more. My thoughts of the previous day about ‘what were the astronauts feeling just before launch’ was answered when one of them relayed that during the two hours following entry into the shuttle and prior to launch – whilst lying on his back, feet in the air and clad in his cumbersome looking protective suit – he was so relaxed he had fallen asleep…. HOW?

When our turn for the simulator arrived we were seated and strapped in before being taken through the process of pre launch, ignition, launch (lots of noise and vigorous shaking) then right up to the solid rockets being blasted off and gliding in orbit. A red warning signal thrown in to add drama. This is supposed to be the same as the simulator the astronauts train in and as near the true experience as you can get. I was surprised it was not the white knuckle experience I had expected, the shaking was a little uncomfortable but that’s all.

However, I am still in awe of those brave folk who do it for real. On the Imax films the images of the external work they do high up in space tethered by a cable are amazing. These two films were our first experience of 3D, that was fun too.

So, back at the campground we have two more days to enjoy this lovely little corner of Florida before we move on. Whilst I would like to think we will be able to find another spot in the State to match this  I am pretty sure we will struggle, as so far only Keaton Beach on the north west coast has been similar, we will see.


Sunrise Saturday morning – around 6.45am

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