STS-135 NASA Tweetup at launch clock, courtesy of NASA
I can’t believe over a day has passed since I witnessed history at the launch of STS-135, the final mission in NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program, on July 8, 2011. I have to admit as I intimated in my last post that I did not think it would actually happen on that originally scheduled date after learning that the weather forecast allowed only a 30 percent probability for launch. But, as we were told, a break in the weather during the 10-minute launch window wasn’t too much to expect and NASA management knew that when it ordered “tanking” (fueling) Atlantis early on launch day.
We had been told to check if tanking had been announced before making the trek to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) so after my wife woke me shortly after 2 am (I MIGHT have overslept if she hadn’t ), I was on the road by 3 am and made it to Gate 3 of KSC IN LESS THAN AN HOUR because I was so early! Hardly anyone else was on the road and I expect that those I encountered were either press or NASA personnel (those who weren’t already at work)
As a matter of fact, I was so early that I couldn’t get into KSC because my Tweetup credentials did not allow entry until 5 am. I decided to head for NASA’s Press Accreditation building (where I had picked up those prized credentials on Wednesday) to wait because it was also closer to Gate 2, a gate which only allows employees to enter KSC, which we had been advised to use. When I got there, a large subset of fellow Tweetup participants were already there. As I waited, I noticed a line of cars building on State Road 3 in front of the parking lot so I realized that it could be difficult for our convoy to exit the parking lot onto SR 3. I went to talk to one of the security guards at the checkpoint which had been established on SR 3 and we worked out an arrangement where we would line up our cars in the parking lot shortly before 5 am and he would enable us to get out of the parking lot without having to wait for any cars to pass on SR 3. I am so glad I thought of that and I think my fellow tweeps were as well!
As a result, we were at the KSC press site shortly after 5 am and that’s when our 6-hour wait to witness history began. NASA had another full morning of program for us (Elmo didN’T join us this time ) so the time passed as we enjoyed ourselves with other activities such as the memorable group picture above (I’m in the SECOND row right of center next to the girl with the lime-green shirt in the first row) and the Astrovan carrying the STS-135 crew to launchpad LC-39A as we cheered them on. Not quite as momentous, I noticed I had made my 26,000th tweet (it’s taken me a little over 4 years) about an hour before launch. Most memorable, we heard from Doug Crippen who was on Columbia for STS-1 in 1981!
As launch time approached, we moved out of our “TWent” to view the launch and I chose a vantage point away from the crowd because I wanted to capture the SOUND of the launch rather than merely its imagery. When I witnessed the launch of STS-133 from Titusville earlier, I was disappointed that I could not hear the shuttle’s engines!
I used Audioboo on my iPad and recorded on my Flip camera as well. I’m so glad I brought the Flip for backup because for some reason still unknown to me (I think there’s a time limit on length of a boo), Audioboo stopped recording before the launch. One of the reasons why I stayed closer to the TWent was to stay within range of the WiFi which NASA had so graciously provided in the TWent. Next time, I think I’ll just use Griffin Technology’s iTalk app and then upload the sound file later. That app has worked very well for me when I podcasted my classes earlier. Here’s what I managed to get with the Flip and here’s someone else’s which is much better.
After the launch, we hung out to wait for the traffic to clear…I still haven’t heard any estimates of the size of the crowd. By mid-afternoon, I decided to leave after our NASA hosts told us they would be taking down the WiFi (I know I’m so predictable) and that was just as well because the trip home at that point was uneventful except for its ease! I didn’t even have to use my original plan to head north to enter Seminole County via State Road 46. Instead I went west on State Road 50 toward Orlando (it was a mess after STS-133) and I encountered no traffic until just west of Christmas so I just turned off at Christmas to head north for Seminole County. That was the same route I had used earlier that morning.
So as you can see, it was a very good day. I witnessed history as I would want my descendants to note. Nevertheless, if I ever have any grandchildren, I would want them to know that this day wasn’t nearly as memorable as the day on which their parents were born and I became a father!
I wish you the same joy as well!