I was in Orlando for a business meeting today. Tonight after dinner Scott, my roommate for the night, had the TV on a weather channel as we talked about stuff. The hours flew by and suddenly it was after 11 PM. We were about to turn off the TV when I heard the magic words “space shuttle launch.” Huh? Launch? When? And they were talking about a launch tonight. From Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour away.
Scott was too pooped to go. I called Ken. He had just seen a launch a few months ago and didn’t want to do a late night road trip. But he said Patrick was interested. Cool! I gave him a call and sure enough, he was game. Neither one of us had ever seen a launch in person.
We met in the hotel lobby, hopped in my truck and ROAD TRIP. We followed my GPS to get to the toll road across the state, then followed the signs to Kennedy from there. The traffic was fairly light until we dropped down past US-1 and headed into the Space Center itself. Then it was a complete log jam. We still had an hour to go, but we were just inching along. Then we made some progress, but completely stopped again. And again. Then we noticed the advances we made were from the cars that were turning around way in front of us, and heading back the other way. This wasn’t going to work.
So we turned around as soon as we could, got onto US-1 southbound, then stopped at a McDonalds to get the scoop on the best viewing area from a local. The gal in the drive through told us of a park and boat ramp just across the street and down the road about 100 yards, right on the Intracoastal Waterway with a perfect view of the launch pad. Cool! We were in business.
The parking lot was full, so we parked along US-1 then walked to the waterfront and sat on the seawall. Way off in the distance we could see the spotlights pointing at a little dot of white – the shuttle! We still had about 25 minutes to liftoff so we talked to some of the others around us. One couple from was Connecticut and vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale. They’d driven up in the morning and spent the day and most of the night waiting, waiting, waiting. It was their first launch also. Another guy had just been hired on as a security guard at the Space Center and was going to start next Monday. He was from the area and had seen a ton of launches over the decades. It was old hat to him.
A guy nearby had a radio tuned to launch information and announced 2 minutes to liftoff. The crowd was buzzing. 30 seconds! I started recording on my camera. 15 seconds. . . And then a small flash of light. . . And then a huge burst of light as the ship took off. It filled the sky with light! It lifted up and up, and then into the clouds. Completely out of sight. It lasted about 30 seconds. I kept recording until the sound hit us, a little more than a minute later.
It was quick, but it was impressive. And it was worth missing a few hours sleep. VERY COOL.