A First-Time Launch: A Memorable Trip!

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May 13, 2009: Home Again

The first launch journey has come to an end — a journey well worth experiencing. My hat is off to all those that work in the shuttle program and launch support.  Even though at this moment I am really tired I will never forget the experience.

Here are a few photos that are of the behind the scene nature I would like to share. Hope you enjoy them! You can also see my video of the crew leaving crew quarters in the Air Stream RV by clicking this link (QuickTime, about 21 MB). Note the entourage!
Located in the news facility is the Television Studio/Auditorium where all the briefings take place regarding the shuttle mission.

I have always wondered what the rest of the briefing room looks like — here it is!

The crawler moves the shuttle from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad.  The fence in the photo helps give a point of reference for the size of the crawler.

A helicopter returning support personnel from the pad, post-launch, to the launch control center.

A First-Time Launch: Chills Up My Spine!

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Launch Day! May 11, 2009: Getting Ready for Launch!

This is an awesome day — what an experience!

About 1 ½ hours ago I watched as the crew left their quarters to travel to the launch. WOW!! All of my life I have watched this play out on TV.  It is much more intense in person — I have never felt prouder to be an American. In fact, if I were to be asked to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the moment I would!! 

You can see my video of the crew leaving crew quarters in the Air Stream RV by clicking this link (QuickTime, about 21 MB). Note the entourage!

The Air Stream RV is parked near the exit of the crew quarters; in front of the RV is Kennedy Space Center security.  Just behind the RV is an armored vehicle and an assortment of vehicles follow. A helicopter flies overhead to insure security.  Applause erupts — the crew comes into view. Chills run up my spine and tears fill my eyes — what a moment.  It is beyond me to express the pride I feel in our country, in the NASA workforce and their capability to put humans into space.

Photos will be posted later.

Going out to claim a spot near the countdown clock!!

A First-Time Launch: More of the Photo Diary

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Launch Day! May 11, 2009: A Photo Diary

Here we go! Reed’s comments set the stage for how our launch day began: 

Our bus was scheduled to leave the hotel at 9, but didn’t leave until 9:30. There’s a former astronaut on the bus with us as well as our tour guide from yesterday. We arrive at the launch viewing location and not long after, the astronaut van comes down the street taking them to the launch pad. 

Lots of traffic on the way in to Kennedy Space Center today. Today is the big day!

The Press sit parking lot is quickly filling — it is only 8 a.m.

One of the first events occurring mid morning was the crew departing from their quarters.  In this photo is the astronaut transportation vehicle.

Another view of the vehicle. Excitement and emotion is running high.

Finally the crew emerges. The crowd begins to cheer — my eyes begin to tear — this is really an emotional experience and I had not anticipated it. I am proud to be an American and have never felt more patriotic!

NASCAR driver Brian Vickers at the press site pre-launch.

The crowd and media around the Press Site building at about T -7.

The countdown clock showing T – 5:15 and counting.  Notice the shuttle on the pad in the distance.

 Members of the media stake out their spot to photograph and film the launch.

Gathering to watch the launch. 

A closer view of media on the roof.  Also, note viewers on large building in background.

The ground trembles, and with a rumble like thunder, Atlantis roars into space (image is from www.nasa.gov).

The plume of smoke left by Atlantis post-launch.

A First-Time Launch: Wow. Just…WOW.

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Launch Day! May 11, 2009: We Have Liftoff!

Walking from the press site to the countdown clock at T-7 and counting I can’t believe it is about to happen!

My blackberry is buzzing — coworkers want us to wave — what are you wearing — what are you thinking. It has been several hours since I have been outside the press site and the crowds have grown considerably.  I stop to make several photos, which I will post a bit later today.  We settle on a location to watch the launch, my co-worker, Lori tells me if we stand near the flag pole it is a good viewing point.

We barely get to the flag pole and it is 30 seconds to launch. 

I am on the phone with one of my co-workers — the smoke begins to billow from the pad. In the fraction of a second the shuttle emerges from the smoke and heads for the heavens. It is a beautiful site. All I could manage to say was wow — oh wow — the rubble and roar of liftoff starts at my toes. As the shuttle ascends I could feel the heat from the solid rocket boosters. It is everything I had hoped for and more. I watch until the vehicle is completely out of sight.  I return to the press site and watch the replay on the monitors — it was a perfect launch.

An hour post launch I am sitting in the cafeteria having a late lunch with coworkers — suddenly tears start to roll — it was dream come true. We laugh at my post launch syndrome. 

Stay tuned for photos…

A First-Time Launch: A Pre-Liftoff Tour

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Day 3: May 10, 2009

It is early Sunday morning and we are off on a bus tour of Kennedy Space Center. Our first stop is the shuttle launch pad 39A where final preparations are being made for the liftoff of Atlantis tomorrow afternoon.

It is almost surreal as the bus approaches the pad. I can’t seem to take it all in — there are so many things to think about and see.  I would like to ask the driver to make the loop around the pad again! 

Reed is totally taken by the launch escape system for the astronauts! These are lines (they look like zip lines — sure they are much more complicated) leading the crew away from the pad should they need to make an emergency escape from the pad. Reed wonders how many times the crew practices the escape. He would like to have a chance to practice the escape!

Our tour around the launch pad ends too quickly and we drive on to the next stop.

As the bus exits the launch pad area the guide points to the right at the launch crawler. The crawler moves the shuttle from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad. The crawler is a unique piece of equipment and has been in use for more than 40 years.

Launch Crawler
The bus tour took us to the Space Station Processing Facility where equipment is prepared for launch to space station. There is a lot of ongoing work in this building. The equipment rack that will hold Node 3 is being prepared for its arrival in a few weeks. A logistics module is being loaded with supplies to be transported to station. No photos are allowed in this facility, so unfortunately we do not have any photos to share!

A First-Time Launch: Meet the Press AND Ares I-X

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Day 2: May 9, 2009, Part 2

Press Site
As I am walking to the press building I notice several of the major networks and news agencies have their own buildings on site. 

The NASA press building is located beside the news agency buildings.  As I enter the building, I notice a counter to the right where NASA Public Affairs officers are seated, as well as various technical experts on the shuttle or hardware that is flying on mission that is about to launch.

To the left are several rows of desks where media are seated. 

Several times during the day briefings are given on upcoming missions and the Hubble repair focus of STS125.

In addition to the briefings the Public Affairs Office offers media tours. The tour offered in the afternoon featured the Ares I-X work.  I learned from one of the Kennedy Public Affairs officers that a part of the tour offered today would be in the Vehicle Assembly Building.  I quickly signed up for the tour!  Here is my chance to go inside this enormous facility!  On the way out of the press site for the tour I noticed the giant countdown clock and the location where I will view the launch on Monday. 

We board a bus to begin the Ares I-X tour and in the VAB.

Inside we learn stacking for Ares I-X is underway for preparation of the test flight to take place later in 2009. Portions of Ares I-X are being prepared for the test flight.

This section will be added to the stack next week:

This poster was on the wall in one of the elevators in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It illustrates the size of this incredible building as well as the magnatude of the external tank. The VAB is 525 feet tall and covers 8 acres. Quite an impressive sight!

Construction is underway on a mobile launch platform to be used with the Ares-I vehicle. Really brings home that the shuttle era is coming to an end. 

Today was a whirlwind of experiences and I continue to be impressed! There is nothing to compare with being here and seeing firsthand the processes behind launching a shuttle. My mind is about to explode with all I have seen and learned today. 

Tomorrow promises to be equally rewarding. Reed and I are scheduled for a bus tour of Kennedy Space Center — we will see the launch pads, space station processing facility and have a general orientation to key facilities. Can’t wait!


A First-Time Launch: Look at That VAB!

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May 9: Part One

It is a beautiful sunny day in Cocoa Beach. Had a good night of rest following a stressful late afternoon and evening.  As Reed mentioned to me yesterday – he really was not feeling well — enough said! However, he seems to be much improved this morning. Hopefully he will be ready to go on Sunday.

Drive to Kennedy Space Center
As for me, I am anxious to drive out to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and finally see the Shuttle on the launch pads, vehicle assembly building (VAB), and the press site.  The drive to Kennedy takes about 30 minutes from the hotel. I scrutinize the view out of the car for anything that could possibly be associated with NASA. There is a cruise ship docked in the harbor at Port Canaveral, and just beyond the horizon I think I see a large building — could it be the vehicle assembly building? I follow the signs for KSC and after several miles reach the security gate. I present my badge, the guard says have a good day — I am officially on KSC property. As I continue to drive I am trying to absorb that thought — I am really here — when I notice this huge building in the distance — it is the VAB. 

WOW! Yes, I said WOW out loud to myself!  Glad there is not much traffic because I am focused on the site in the distance — it is incredible! Shuttles are put together or stacked in preparation for moving out to the launch pad in this facility. I hope I can manage to get a look around inside. 

I force my attention to return to the map provided to direct me to the press site; time to make a few turns and I am in the parking lot for media.  Today the lot has plenty of room for parking, but that will change the closer to launch.  

Stay tuned for more about a very busy Day 2…

A First-Time Launch: Earth Travel is Complicated,Too

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Day 1: May 8, 2009

It is 3:17 a.m. and I am wide awake!!

Today I travel to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the shuttle launch on Monday, May 11th. I feel like a kid at Christmas – I really am finally going!

Did I mention, this is my first time to view a shuttle launch? For me, a North Alabama native this is a something I can mark off the proverbial bucket list! As long as I remember, I have followed NASA and its space flight programs. I vividly remember the moon landing in 1969 and Neil Armstrong’s first step. 

Also, I recall the following year, the difficulties experienced by Apollo13 and the Herculean effort to return the astronauts back to Earth safely. I just could not understand why the Apollo program ended, but recall when the shuttle was delivered to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama for testing. My friends and I thought the shuttle was really cool – we even discussed skipping school to have a look at this engineering marvel.   

Several years later my husband and I moved to Huntsville. My appreciation for space flight has increased, as I met people that worked in the space program. Perhaps this bit of background will enable you all to understand my enthusiasm.

Joining me to watch this launch is my 19-year-old son, Reed. Reed has just completed his first year of college and is looking for a break from studies before traveling to Ecuador for the summer. He will be sharing his experience as well, but first I have to get to the airport!

The adage if you are going to hell – you have to go through Atlanta in order to get there is true for my travel today too.  Reed will be meeting me in Atlanta and we will continue on to Orlando. 

I am anxious for Reed and me to meet at the airport. I hope after 9 months of college living he is able to complete all the airport security hoops!

Boarding for Flight to Orlando
Reed and I have been texting – he has made it through security. He wants to know why I am not in line to board the flight! 

Trip has been good – so far – Reed tells me he is not feeling too good. We stood in line for a rental car for 1 ½ hours – longer than our flight from Atlanta. Could not help but think about the You Tube video I saw last week – long line at the rental counter and one employee working. We considered hauling out the flip camera and updating the video!

Finally, it is my turn at the counter, I am told my car will be ready in 2 minutes – ended up being 20.  We walk over to the rental garage and the car I have been assigned is not there.  Another trip to the counter and finally we have transportation!! Wahoo! We are on our way again.

Cocoa Beach
Drive over from Orlando was good – the car seems to be in working order – but those tires need to be aligned!! Reed slept most of the way over.  Hope it is just exhaustion from final exams and moving.

Our hotel is nice and service is superb. The front desk tells me there will be a full moon tonight and it is nesting season for sea turtles – cool stuff.  However, think we will drive by Kennedy Space Center and look at the Shuttles on the launch pad. 

Stay tuned for photos and video as we share our launch experience.