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February, 2011

Launch!

Wow. Just wow. Yesterday was so incredible, I don’t even really know where to start. My brain still hasn’t really processed everything from yesterday yet.

One thing I do know, though, is that yesterday was a very long and tiring. I applied sunscreen generously throughout the day, but I’ve still got some sunburns and that general muscle-achiness that tells me that I got way too much sun. But it was definitely worth it.

Ready for the show to begin

We didn’t have to be at the press site until noon, but our passes allowed us to enter the KSC starting at 10 a.m., so we arrived at approximately 10:01. Getting our there early allowed us to stake out a good spot for the cameras and commune with the area’s usual inhabitants.

NASA was kind enough to provide us with some bleachers to watch all the action from (and more importantly, a recharging station for all of our devices), but our little group decided to stick with the lawn chairs we had brought from the beach house. We sat up shop right next to the Fox News crew and actually had a fair amount of interaction with them throughout the day.

Liftoff!

We were surprised to our old friend Robonaut 2 with a new set of wheels. The mobility unit is a prototype design for a platform that carry a number of different tools (including R2) for planetary surface exploration. The R2 team referred to this new configuration has his “centaur mode.”

Soon, the press started showing up in droves, claiming their places on the hill and interviewing any old person they could find. They ranged the gamut from crusty old space veteran to 20-something talking heads who didn’t know the first thing about manned space flight. There was also a very strong contingent of Japanese media folks. Overall, a very interesting mix of people.

As I was walking over to the NASA Snack Mobile (which is worthy of a blog post all by itself) to get some more water, I stumbled upon my old friend Miles O’Brien doing a live webcast. And with him was none other than Bill Nye the Science Guy! I went back and told the others, we did some stalking outside the tent and managed to get our pictures taken with him. That was pretty cool.

One of our housemates invested in a GigaPan and brought it out to the launch. He got some pretty nifty shots with it.

Even though they said they didn’t have anything planned for us this time, NASA once again managed to do the impossible and get even more great speakers out to visit us. In addition to a demonstration of R2’s new wheels, we heard from Chief Technologist Bobby Braun, ISS and shuttle astronaut Shannon Walker and two-time shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin (who told us the greatest space story I’ve ever heard, but swore us all to secrecy on it).

Around 1 p.m., we all walked over to waive to Discovery’s crew as they drove out to the launch pad, which was pretty neat. And see that helicopter up there? Yeah, that guy hanging out of it was a sniper, just in case one of us tried to jump the rope or something. NASA doesn’t mess around on launch day.

As the launch grew closer, two things started appearing around the complex in droves – NASA helicopters and astronauts. In fact, our little field turned into an astronaut convention. They were everywhere. Very cool.

Go time

Finally, after a full day of waiting, we headed back to our tripods and waited for the last 20 minutes of the countdown. There was a big scare at the last minute (well, technically with five minutes left) with a safety range warning. We all thought the launch was going to be scrubbed, but suddenly a huge roar came up from the crowd behind us and we knew were once again a go for launch.

The last 90 seconds before liftoff were exciting, chaotic and tense. We were actually between the clock and the pad, so we couldn’t see that countdown and the last-minute delays threw off our internal sense of time. There’s no countdown over a loudspeaker or anything like that. We had someone listening to NASA radio, yelling out the time left at roughly 20-second intervals. It was beyond crazy. I felt like I was in a movie.

At 4:53 p.m. EST, with only two seconds left in its launch window, Discovery lifted off for the 39th and final time:

It was incredible. I don’t even know how to describe it. That video doesn’t come anywhere near close to giving you the same sense as being out there and feeling the waves of sound actually hit you, the tension during the lag between ignition and when the shuttle finally clears the tower or the amazing sense of seeing something impossibly huge shoot straight up into the heavens.

After party

NASA estimated that 40,000 people were at the KSC itself for the launch – and that doesn’t include the people just watching it on their own from Cocoa or Titusville. We were pretty much at the center of it all. So we were right in the middle of a traffic nightmare.

We stayed at the launch site for two hours, talking and relaxing. Then we hopped in our rental car and slowly crawled back to the beach house. It took us fifteen minutes to get to the press site in the morning. After the launch, we didn’t get back until four hours after blastoff. Eegh.

So what do you do after witnessing a shuttle launch? Take a shower, grab some food and then go shoot lasers out over the beach. Or at least that’s what we did.

I’ve shot a lot of video yesterday, but it’ll be a while before I get it all edited. In the interim, you can take a look at all the photos I took.

Finally…Discovery!

Well, this second trip out to Florida has already been more successful than the first.

After a long day of traveling, I arrived here mid-afternoon, which gave me just enough time to catch up with my housemates and grab some groceries for the next few days before heading out to the RSS retraction.

Discovery on the pad

Back in November, we attempted to view the retraction twice and both times they ended up not removing the giant structure which covers and protects the shuttle prior to liftoff. The evening before launch, the RSS is moved in a process that takes about half an hour. For a significantly faster look at it, check out this time-lapse video that one of my fellow Tweetuppers produced last night.

Once the structure swung away, our view of Discovery was fantastic. As we all waited out in the darkness (it was pretty windy and unexpectedly cold), a wave of oohs and aahs rang out when Discovery finally made her appearance. It was incredible to be standing just a few hundred feet away from this incredible piece of machinery.

Prior to heading out to the bus to see the shuttle, the 100 or so of us that returned for this second Tweetup had a mini-reunion out by the countdown clock. It was great to see all of my new friends again. When we left in November, a lot of people, there were a lot of tears out at the press site. Last night, there were some happily tearful reunions, too.

We also checked out Robonaut2’s new wheels (which we’re promised to get an demonstration of today), took some 3-D photos and watched as the weather created a phenomenal and eery view of the VAB.

Well, the clock is running and I’ve got about half an hour to shower, pack my gear and leave for the press site, so I’d better wrap this up. Everybody cross your fingers and hope that we finally get to see a lift-off today!

Wordless Wednesday: Waiting on Discovery

Discovery on the pad Read more →

The Return of the Modernish Father, Part XVII

I haven’t done a scientific study, but I’d guess that about 40% of all of my blog posts now are “hey, I’m gonna start blogging again” posts. Guess what kind this is going to be…

At the end of the year, I decided that I needed to take a sabbatical from blogging during the month of January to let me catch my breath, recharge my batteries and recenter my digital qi. Somehow, that month turned into… uh, all of January and most of February as well. Sorry about that. As always, I’ll issue a full refund to everyone who requests it.

The holidays were about the same as usual – plenty of traveling around, seeing family, eating too much food and watching the kids get way too many presents. The Girl loaded up on birthday presents, too.

For the second year in a row, January was pretty hectic too. Major life changes that didn’t come about and all that. I’m beginning to fear January and the boatload of stress it now seems to be intent upon delivering each year. But we survived for another orbit, I suppose.

Speaking of orbits (See how I did that? It’s called a segue, look it up.), I’ll be returning to Florida tomorrow in another attempt to see the space shuttle Discovery‘s final launch. As you probably remember, I went out there last November as part of a group invited by NASA for an up-close look at the launch of STS-133, but our journey ultimately ended in non-launchy failure. The incredible folks at NASA have been kind enough to invite us back for another stab at seeing history and I’m eschewing adulthood for another week and giving it a go.

This time though, I’ll be flying instead of driving, thanks to the generosity of a friend with a free flight voucher and the horribly bald tires on my increasingly old vehicle. Also, this time around one of my old bosses and a good friend will be out there as well, photographing the launch for a newspaper. And I’ll be bunking with the same folks plus a few extras, but in a different house (OMG, it’s so busy. Check out the photos.) So, it’s exactly the same as last time… but different.

So expect lots of obnoxious posts and tweets about it over the next week or so. I don’t care what you think – once in a lifetime, yo. Or twice.

In other old news

Oh, and one more thing

It’s not entirely true that I’ve stepped away from blogging since the year began. In fact, on January 1, I began a whole new project.

Year Four is my attempt to create a year-long photo blog of The Girl’s daily activities. Just one photo a day. No less, no more.

I picked The Girl over The Boy because, well, she does more that’s worth photographing on a daily basis. I still love the little guy, but let’s face it – he’s reached the age where a lot of his free time is spent in front of the Nintendo. And that would get old pretty quick.

So anyway, check it out before everyone catches on and it’s turned into some horrible movie starring Julia Roberts or Amy Adams.

Wordless Wednesday: Long way from home

Road trip!

Wordless Wednesday: Stalker

Watch out, brother. Someone is right behind you.

Watch out, brother. Someone is right behind you.

Watch out, brother. Someone is right behind you.

Wordless Wednesday: Sunset

Goodbye, Sun