Florida Trip Day 2: Atlantis.

I had a hard time coming up with a title for this post, in case you couldn’t tell.

For a couple of days now, I’ve had several silly, punny titles kicking around in my head… but when I saw the shuttle launch, I knew that going with a silly title was the wrong tone. I just couldn’t do it. It just seemed to call for more…

Sigh. I was just about to say that the situation called for more gravity than that, but… I guess I can’t seem to avoid bad puns, can I?

Anyway, honestly, I didn’t think Atlantis would actually launch yesterday. Up to the morning of the launch, they were predicting only a 30% chance that it’d launch due to inclement weather (see yesterday’s post for an inkling of what we expected.) So I was fully prepared to show up and be disappointed.

I’m still amazed that the weather held for the launch, and still in total awe of what I witnessed. I say this without hyperbole — it was truly one of the most amazing, awesome (in the literal sense of the word) things I’ve ever seen.

So I’ll shut up (somewhat) now and y’all can look at the pictures that do a better job of summing up the day.

 

I originally was going to keep a list of all of the different states that I saw represented via license plate, but then I decided it'd be more fun to take pictures of them (hey, I had several hours to kill before the launch!) and throw them in an approximately geographical collage. This took longer than I thought it would, but it sure was fun. :-) Click it for a slightly larger version. Oh, and this is 39 US states and 1 Canadian providence. Cool!!

 

For the launch, we got up at the painfully early hour of 3:30 AM (12:30 AM CA time, so normally I'd just be going to bed!) and went to the bridge in Titusville that we'd scouted out the previous day.

 

The back side of the shuttle launch pad at about 5AM.

 

Guess who has two thumbs and forgot to bring mosquito repellent? Yep. And they were SO BAD. It doesn't help that I swell up a ridiculous amount... good times! Fortunately, once we got onto the bridge (as opposed to down near the water where we parked) they were pretty much non-existent.

 

There was already a pretty good crowd on the bridge by the time we got there.

 

I didn't have a chair, so I pulled up a piece of the bridge wall (between the road and sidewalk) and tried to get some sleep. The sweatshirt was an anti-mosquito defense.

 

Parking area on one side of the bridge.

 

Entrepreneurs.

 

This guy was shooting actual film. Like, movie film. SO COOL.

 

Despite the sign...

 

...a lot of people had been there a day or more...

 

...some more comfortable...

 

...than others.

 

Lawn flamingos make great parking placeholders.

 

After a while, boredom set in...

 

...but then things randomly got interesting, and I happened to be there when they did. Shocking, I know.

 

Ummm, what??

 

Apparently a suspicious package was reported. It turned out to be someone's missing briefcase. Nonetheless, this resulted in them shutting down ALL of the porta potties on our side of the bridge for over a half hour, AND they wouldn't let anyone in the area leave the area (and I'd been just about to get in line when they cordoned everything off.) Fun!!

 

Random fanboat. Not sure why I got such a kick out of this, but I did.

 

Finally, FINALLY it was launch time. A number of people (including the guy next to us) had scanners/radios, so we were able to listen to what was going on.

 

A quick aside before I post the launch pics.

When I  first decided to go to this, I of course debated renting a better zoom lens. Then I looked at the price, and looked at the reality of atmospherical optics and realized that I’d be ten miles away from the launch site (the closest you can get without paying) and that no matter how awesome of a zoom lens I had, I’d still be contending with atmospheric water vapor. In other words, it’d probably be hazy, and that’d degrade image quality.

So I would have gotten clearer, sharper pictures… of a hazy launch.

I’d intended to at least bring my 70-200 lens and 2x teleconverter, which would effectively double the zoom power of the lens (to 400 mm.) Well, I remembered the lens… and forgot the teleconverter. WHOOPS.

So the pictures you see here are crops of shots of the shuttle from ten miles away. That’s why they look like they were taken with a cell phone camera. Regardless, I love them because, dude, I WAS THERE. F*CKING AWESOME.

 

When it hit about 8 seconds to launch, people who could hear the count on the scanner/radio started chanting it, and the crowd immediately picked it up. It was such an intense moment that I'm choking up right now just thinking about it. Feel free to roll your eyes at me. Anyway, so this is the launch pad, and that's smoke just barely starting to billow up.

 

Almost...

 

Liftoff.

 

By this point I was in tears, and I wasn't the only one.

 

Go baby go!

 

Arcing northeast toward the Atlantic.

 

Absolute awe.

 

At this point I put my camera down — I knew it was about to disappear in the clouds, and I wanted a few seconds to just watch. And I watched, and I marveled, and I cried. I wish I could explain why… but I still haven’t found the words.

 

The contrail lept from the earth to the clouds like an otherworldly umbilical cord.

 

Wonder.

 

What was really neat was that, because we were 10 or so miles out, the sound took at least a minute to get to us. We only had about 45 seconds of visual on the shuttle before she hit the clouds, so the gap between the visual and audio gave us a chance to finish cheering for the shuttle and regroup our senses before the sound arrived.

It was SO so neat when it did–the crowd started chanting “here comes the sound” and cheering for it, just as they had counted for the liftoff and then cheered the shuttle. And the sound was absolutely incredible. Not quite deafening where we were, but still awesomely loud.

Afterwards, it was a very long hour and a half before the bridge reopened to traffic and we were able to leave… and an equally long, traffic-filled ride back to Orlando. But it was worth it. So, so worth it.

 

We've got spirit, yes we do! We've got spirit, how 'bout you? (Note--this wasn't my group, but when I saw them, I had to get a pic.) Oh, and check out the one guy's Spacecamp shorts. WIN. :-)

 

In closing, I’m going to leave you with something my boyfriend wrote. He wasn’t able to be here, and I know how much he wanted to be, and I wanted him here and missed him immensely. Missed getting to share something this amazing with him, because that’s the best part of our relationship — sharing the absolutely incredible moments in life like this.

So anyway, here’s what he wrote to me after the launch today.

I’m very happy that you went hon. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there, but thank you for going and bearing witness for both of us.

What you saw will, from this point, only exist in your memory and the memories of those around you. It will never, ever happen again. Thirty years of tradition, of pride, of courage, of tragedy, of sacrifice, are coming to a permanent and irreversible end.

There will never be anything like Apollo again, and there will never be anything like the shuttle program, ever again.

People decades from now will marvel that those ships flew for thirty years. That such primitive craft went up again and again. That we only lost two.

And you were there to see the last one. To see the very last shuttle wrench itself from the earth’s grasp for the very last time. To see the last aged craft push off from shore and head off into the dark sea for the very last time.

Thank you for going and seeing, love.

 

I’m so, so blessed to have been able to be here. I wish these pictures could capture half of it… but at least I have this blog post to look back on when I’m old and gray and trying to explain to my grandkids what the space shuttle was.
Godspeed, Atlantis.

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