STS-101 Launch Viewing
It doesn't always have to fly to be memorable...
April 24 - 26; May 19, 2000NASA Mission Details
Last modified: July 07, 2008
Some pictures on this page are published with the generous permission of a friend.
We all have dreams, more or less ambitious ones. I never wanted to be an astronaut, I guess I was realistic enough to know that it's not going to happen anyway. But I wanted to see a shuttle launch from really up close and personal. Oh yes and I still want to get inside the VAB, and I also want to visit Antarctica, but this only goes to show that I have big dreams =)
Early in April 2000 I was offered the unique opportunity to witness a shuttle
launch from the Press site at KSC. I have been to two launches at the VIP site
before, and to six more at the Causeway or from the coast. Still, a press pass
was the thing I always quietly hoped for... and now I had one. Two friends were coming along; I was the camera guy while
they were responsible for the sound recording with high-end DAT equipment.
is no big difference in distance from the Press site to the launch pad compared
to the distance from the VIP site. It's a toss-up which site is the
"better" one, depending on which of the two pads the shuttle is
launching from. The viewing angle is only slightly different, too. The first,
big difference is the freedom with which one can move around KSC. The gates are
open pretty much the whole time, and you can go to and from the Press site
pretty much anytime you want. Being the good citizens that we are, we didn't
even try to stretch our luck and didn't test the actual limits of freedom.
Still, driving past the VAB to the Press site in your own car at a time when the
whole area was closed to everyone else was quite something.
launch was scheduled for April 24, in the afternoon. We set up our gear hours
before scheduled launch and visited the Press site premises. Naturally, some
dorky pictures had to be taken, too. Unfortunately, the launch was scrubbed
because of high wind conditions. A similar fate caught us on the next day, with
winds even stronger than on the previous day. So without any pictures we headed
back to the nicely air conditioned hotel, as Florida in April is already quite
hot & humid.
April 26th marked the 3rd consecutive day with a launch attempt, the first time ever NASA did this. The weather at KSC was better than on the previous days, but the winds at the contingency landing sites in Africa and Europe were bad. Therefore, the third and last launch opportunity within this window was cancelled. As a matter of fact this was the first time in 5 years that a launch was cancelled due to problems outside of KSC. As my luck goes I so happened to be at the previous such occurrence as well. This latest scrub meant for us that we would fly home without any pictures or sound recordings - and more importantly, without any lasting memories of a launch at the Press site.
The launch was re-scheduled for May 19, 2000. This time, only my friend was to travel to Florida, as others were unable to attend due to work constraints. Very much to my friend's joy, the launch happened just around sunrise on May 19. Personally, I watched it live on TV, at 3am local time. The pictures were most awesome and moving; the atmosphere of the shuttle flying through the deep blue / purple sky of this hour was most amazing, even on TV. I wished I could be in Florida at that moment... But you can't have it all.
When my friend got back home he confirmed that it was the most impressive launch of his veteran career, both visually and acoustically. Indeed, his sound recording was the clearest I've ever heard, and the pictures which he took - even though he regarded them more as simple snapshots - were of amazing color depth and range, in strong contrast to the usual gray sky / black night of most launch pictures.
Even though I was not able to witness the launch in person, the experience of being at the Press site next to the same countdown clock which was used for the Apollo missions was an awesome experience. And who knows, maybe some day I will tour the VAB after all...
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