(Editor’s Note: Ken Kremer is at the Kennedy Space Center for Universe Today covering the launch of Endeavour and SDO.)
Night literally turned to day as shuttle Endeavour roared off the pad early this morning Feb.8 at 4:14 AM beginning a 2 day chase to link up with the International Space Station and commence the STS 130 mission. It was like Endeavour had set the sky on fire !
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Endeavour and her brave crew will deliver two new rooms that will provide a spectacular view of the Earth and cosmos as a fitting legacy to rival the spectacular light show put on today by NASA. Believe me, You must be beyond brave to voluntarily sit on top of such a terrifying beast and lie just a few meters distant from the fuel tanks providing the source of the scorching flames shooting out from the rocket engine nozzles beneath you.
Well I can now testify that this oft spoken phrase of night turning into day is indeed true – and beyond words I can express ! What an astounding experience and rare privilege it has been to witness this magnificent light show today from a mere 3 miles away at the NASA Press center next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
For something like 30 seconds or so the 7 million pound thrust gigantic blowtorch that is shuttle Endeavour transformed darkness into daylight in a matter of just a few seconds for miles around – in the chilly pre dawn hours here at KSC in Florida. This was the second launch attempt following yesterday’s scrub due to cloudy weather.
I felt like the massively long flames emanating out the rear end of Endeavour were literally burning a hole in the sky and thereby allowing the blazing sun to piece through and overwhelm the night as the sparking sounds and crackling thunder rumbled over everyone and everything in the wake of its spreading and merciless path.
You cannot even begin to compare the experience of seeing and hearing a shuttle launch in person – to watching it on TV. But I do hope many of you did do the next best thing – and view this incredible event on live TV.
I have been very lucky and was overwhelmed by the chance to witness 3 daytime shuttle launches and now compare it to a night launch.
I watched the crew a few hours prior to launch from just a few meters away as they walked out from crew quarters to board the astrovan at about 12:24 AM for the journey to their sea side launch pad at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The crew of six waved to us, gleefully smiling and even spoke a few words in response to shout outs of well wishes from the large assembled crowd of NASA workers and media. Shuttle Commander George Zamka zestfully responded to us, “I think we’re gonna launch today ! ”
STS 130 was the last scheduled nighttime launch of a shuttle.
Like Nancy, I too followed the advice of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to witness and observe the blast off (and that is an understatement) directly with both my eye balls and not through the diminishing view of a camera lens – Thus leaving it to the professionals to photograph.
It is both thrilling and bittersweet to simultaneously contemplate the promise of science discoveries which lies ahead in space compared to the looming shutdown of the shuttle which means we will never again see a nighttime shuttle launch. This is combined with the sad realization that the US and mankind loses the tremendous operational capabilities in space which are uniquely provided by the shuttle program and will remain unmatched and unavailable for decades to come.
All this is especially true in light of the incredibly shortsighted decision by the Obama Administration to cancel Project Constellation and replace it with basically nothing in terms of human spaceflight beyond LEO, or Low Earth Orbit. I sat in the briefing room here at KSC as NASA officials expressed “shock” at the decision to completely cancel Project constellation. There is No definitive Beyond LEO vision, No Goals, No targets and No target dates in the future budget plan announced for NASA earlier this week by the Obama Admisistration. What’s really needed is a program that is both inspiring and on the cutting edge – to match this morning’s blast off to the High Frontier of Space.
Earlier STS 130/ISS articles by Ken Kremer