A Gorgeous Penultimate Shuttle Liftoff!
I am a sucker for shuttle launches. It’s in my blood as a space geek and I proudly admit it! Today was no different. After two other tries (a postponement and a launch scrub) the shuttle Endeavour leapt up from launch pad 39A in a blaze of fire from the solid rockets and a cloud of steam. As usual, I forgot just how loud a launch can be. And, as I wrote in a story for Yahoo’s Associated Content earlier today, the sound just shakes your bones. I will also have a story at Sky&Telescope.com sometime later today — talking about a unique observing opportunity I had this morning before launch. Check it out!
There was a filmmaker standing with us from Florida State University. He’d never seen a launch before, whereas I’d seen two others. So, I warned him about the sound. And the sight of a shuttle launch. And, much to my great appreciation, the launch was exactly as I described for him. Pretty much.
However, we weren’t quite prepared for the major difference between this flight and others I’d seen: the part of launch we were able to see was really short! That was because about an hour before launch, a big set of clouds moved in. They weren’t thick enough to stop the launch, and in fact, the weather was actually quite good for launch! So, when it was time for Endeavour to launch, we only saw it for about 22 seconds before it disappeared above the clouds. Oh, we could HEAR it for longer than that. And, we clapped and cheered for the successful launch, just the same.
So, now that we’ve witnessed history — the last flight of Endeavour and the next-to-last flight of the entire shuttle program, what’s next? Good question. NASA has plans for new launch vehicles, which we are all watching anxiously. And, there’s a burgeoning commercial space fleet a-borning. What fruit that will bear (and when) remains to be seen. For now, however, we’re facing the end of one part of NASA (and human) spaceflight, and looking anxiously for the new. This launch may have to last me for a long, long time. I hope not!