Thursday, July 16, 2009

We have liftoff!


After 4500 miles on the bike, 11 days of waiting, 6 launch attempts, 3 trips out to the pad and two 13 hour truck drives, I finally got to see the shuttle go up. Man it was awesome. Jason shot video, I hope to post it soon.

The story is, NASA claimed to solve the hydrogen leak issue, and ran a test to prove it. The launch was re-scheduled for July 11th, so after extending my break in TN a few days longer, Jason and I decided to make the trip back down to see it. But I didn't take the bike, time was of the essence for both of us and I really didn't want to slab the 13 hour drive from Nashville to Titusville on a motorcycle, in the rain. So we left at 7AM Friday and arrived that night in FL about 9PM. Saturday, the launch was scrubbed because of lightning strike issues from a storm on Friday. Sunday, we went down to the VIP section at Banana Creek (3.3 miles) to see the launch, but it was scrubbed just before T-9:00 due to a weather violation at the RTLS (Return to Launch Site).

Monday, due to awesome things I can't reveal (A.T.I.C.R.), we went to view the launch from OSB, which is a bit closer and the REAL VIP spot. All the head honcho's were there from NASA, JAXA (Japanese NASA), CSA (Canadian Space Agency), congressmen, senators, etc. We had lobster tail, tiger prawn, fruits, drinks and even a special STS-127 edition Jones Cola. It was truly special and a once-in-a-lifetime event. Unfortunately, as on Sunday, the RTLS had a weather violation and it was scrubbed again.

They did a 48 hour scrub this time. Jason and I had already sworn up and down we'd leave after the last launch, but we both pushed our schedules to the max and decided to stay for the Wednesday attempt. Good thing we did because after a few email exchanges, I managed to get promoted to "Escort". I had a badge and was able to help out a bit during the mission. How badass is that? And the more you ask how all this happened, the less I'll tell you so don't ask. :)

Tuesday, while we waited, we hit up the store and took Jason's cousin Corey to the gun range. Highlight of the day was when I got a "nice tracheotomy" from the gristly instructor when he saw my target. We also went out to a causeway near the pad to get a night shot or two with the big Xenon lights turned on.

Shuttle at Night

Wednesday, we were back again at Banana Creek (along with everyone, even the real VIP's) and it was hot out. Lots of people walking around in suits in the hot weather, yuck. I was actually pretty nervous, knowing this was my last try to see the shuttle. We had been getting rain on the way to the pad, but once we got there, it was nice and clear. Hearing all the "OK" statements during the 40 minute hold prior to T-9:00, (including weather!!) made my pulse race. The moment the clock started moving again (at T-8:59), the crowd went nuts and so did I. Basically, if you imagine that the Shuttle is a car, it takes 9 minutes to start before it can move. So unless there is a technical issue, resuming the countdown after T-9:00 means it's going up.

That 9 minutes went by like seconds. At 3 minutes, they have an announcement about safety and where to go in case flaming rocket fuel is raining from the sky or a cloud of hydrochloric acid is floating your way. Really brings the danger close to home when you hear that stuff. At T-0:06 you start to see the puffy clouds and flames and at T-0 it slowly lifts off the pad. I say slowly because from 3 miles, it looks slow. It's actually going hundreds of miles an hour within a few seconds. It actually takes about 10 seconds for the sound to arrive's clear of the pad before you start to hear it. And it is LOUD. Shakes your chest from the sound. It's not a roar like a jet, but more of a crackling rumble. It arc'd thru the sky for about 2 minutes before the SRB's dropped off and it sped out of sight.

Man it was so worth it. Now the major destination for this trip was validated and one of my life goals can be crossed off the list. See a Space Shuttle Launch.

Here are a few more shots from the launch:
Go Endeavour!

After the launch, we left immediately for Nashville, drove the 13 hours through the night and got in at 7:30am. After crashing for a few hours, I headed up to Hendersonville to pack up the bike and then blasted up to Crossville to stay the night with my dad.

Tomorrow, I drive thru Jamestown, TN (where I lived until I was 5) and then up into Kentucky, on my way to Ohio for the superbike race and to meet up with Tracy again.


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