BYP see a Space Shuttle Launch

May 25, 2009  

Space Shuttle Atlantis has just landed safely in California after a very successful 12 day mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope for the very last time. Furthermore, with this mission concluded, there are only eight more Shuttle missions planned, ever.

Four members of Backyard Productions – Darren, Edwin, Matthew and Luke – went to Florida to see the shuttle launch. We all had an incredible experience and enjoyed getting involved with an amazing event. We’re resisting the temptation to fly out to see Atlantis come back home to Florida on the back of a Boeing 747.

“Watching the shuttle launch was awesome. At first it silently rose from the launch pad. As it got higher and faster, the flame got unbelievably bright. Thirty seconds later the noise of the rocket boosters finally crossed the 6.5 mile gap and rumbled through my chest. The transition was surprisingly smooth – there was no ‘thump’ of power, but a mighty, cumulating, rumble.” – Matthew


Four lucky members of Backyard Productions took the opportunity to see Atlantis launch last week. We knew the Shuttle was nearing the end of its service and were looking for a chance to fly out to see a launch. We set about researching the remaining missions, looking for one that had low odds of being scrubbed – we didn’t want to fly 9 hours to Florida to be disappointed!

We were planning for the June or November launch, but when we discovered that this was the last time there’d be two shuttles sat out on the launch pads and a launch was planned the following week, we decided it was an opportunity not to miss.

The Tuesday before the launch we booked the trip. We wanted to be on the course-way, which is the closest spot the general public can be (6.5 miles over water). With only a total of 5000 tickets sold and less than a week until lift-off we were amazed when we found Grayline tours still selling tickets. With work put on hold for a week and everything booked, we were all set for our trip to America.


We had one full day before the launch, so we’d booked an ‘up close’ tour at Kennedy Space Center to get a good view of both shuttles – Atlantis and Endeavor. Everyone at KSC was excited about the imminent launch and mission to service Hubble. We started to realize the anticipation and importance of the mission.

We were concerned that with two shuttles on the launch pads we’d get no where near them, but we actually got pretty close. The danger wasn’t as high as we thought it might be because they didn’t start filling the liquid fuel tank until the evening. It was exiting to see both the shuttles sat ready to launch into space, and we got some good photos.

We also got a good look around the rest of KSC. We were particular amazed at the Apollo launch experience. That really whet our appetites. They showed us a video explaining the beginning of the Apollo missions and the initial difficulty they had. We were then shown into a room full of consoles, which turned out to be the actual consoles, as they were at the launch of the first manned mission to the Moon: Apollo 8. We then experienced a simulation of the launch from the perspective of the mission control room. It was extremely well put together and we experienced the entire 3 minutes prior to lift off. The countdown drew to zero and as the Saturn V rocket rose into the sky the ‘rumbling’ caused the windows to shake! It helped us appreciate how the space program has developed, and the anticipation of seeing the Shuttle launch was tremendous.

After the tour we enjoyed the latest simulator at KSC – a simulation of the launch from within a space shuttle. They claim the simulation is the most realistic built, and it was an exciting ride!

That was it! We were all hyped up and ready to experience a real launch with our own eyes!

The Main Event

The Grayline tickets we bought meant we were picked up from the hotel and looked after all day. With no driving to do we could relax and not worry about getting lost. We even enjoyed watching Enchanted on the way to KSC!

We spent the morning in the visitor complex and watched an IMAX movie about the experience of landing on the moon. Everybody there was there to see the launch, so it was good to chat to people. There were lots that had never seen a launch before, so we weren’t the only ‘newbies’.

We got to the course-way at noon, two hours before lift off. It was already quite busy, but we got there just in time – any later and we’d have been further down the course-way and had our view impaired by a honking great island in the way!

Edwin and Darren set straight to setting up their camera equipment. Luke and Matthew tried to keep cool and drink plenty.

Edwin had the biggest lens of anyone there, at least for a while. A pair of guys turned up that had been to lots of launches and had a very big lens, but they were still impressed with Edwin’s, so he was happy.

Darren’s big new HD video camera got lots of comments, so he was also happy. There was no one there that could compete with his camera.

Luke got very warm, but being such a cute little boy he made friends that had an umbrella, fans and water spray.

View of ShuttleThe shuttle was 6.5 miles away, so was very little through the naked eye. Luke had a telescope, which gave a really good view of the shuttle.

Shuttle through the telescopeThe two hours went by pretty quick. We chatted to others nearby and got all sorts of bits of information.

One guy knew quite a bit of technical information about the launch, and said one launch had been scrubbed 7 seconds before take off. When the main engine ignited the computer systems detected a problem and cancelled everything.

Another couple were there for the first time but had friends that had been many times. One had seen a shuttle launch just after sunset. As the shuttle rose it left the Earth’s shadow and the sunlight reflecting off the orbiter gave a spectacular view.

The crowd counted down the last 10 seconds and we all watched in amazement. The shuttle was engulfed by a cloud of white smoke, which rapidly spread to give a clear view as the countdown hit zero. A bright orange flame appeared under the shuttle as it steadily rose. The flame got longer and brighter, but so far the launch had been silent. The crowd was excited – someone even screamed “Oh my God! It’s so frickin’ cool!”. I thought that only happened in movies.

About half a minute after the shuttle took off we were swamped in the roar of its engines. It wasn’t a shock-wave of power, but a constant roaring that shook the ground.

It didn’t take long for the shuttle to pretty much disappear out of sight. It was difficult to see the separation of the SRBs with the naked eye, but we could see the white glow of the orbiter’s three main engines.

So! 90 seconds from start to finish. The experience we’d flown 9 hours to Florida for was over. It was totally worth it. Ed is planning his trip to see a night launch, which all the locals raved about.


One Response to “BYP see a Space Shuttle Launch”

  1. Bart on May 25th, 2009 5:14 pm

    Awesome! I was at the KSC about three years ago, but no shuttle launch at the time. It was close to one though, so we had a shuttle (hidden by the booster tanks unfortunately) on one of the launch pads. But being at a launch: wow! However good a camera you might have, I can’t imagine that can be captured well…

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