Off to Florida for the Shuttle Launch


It might surprise you to know that I’ve never been to a rocket launch. Even though I’ve been publishing Universe Today for over 11 years, and written thousands of articles about space and astronomy, covering every aspect of the space industry, I’ve never actually experienced it first hand.

It’s the blessing and the curse of the internet, I guess. I started Universe Today in my spare time, from my house in Vancouver because it was possible. With myself as the journalist (and publisher), I didn’t need anyone’s permission to just start reporting. Thanks to the internet, I could reach an audience of thousands, and eventually millions – for free. And somehow it turned into a career. I was able to bring in enough advertising revenue to cover my salary, and even bring on other writers. But I’ve always been so busy handling the business/webmastering side of Universe Today that I’ve never taken the time to go to Florida and report on a rocket launch for myself.

Well, that’s about to change. On April 29th, 2011, the space shuttle Endeavour is going to blast off for the last time, delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier to the International Space Station. And I’m going to be covering the story, live, from the Kennedy Space Center, together with Jason and Ken.

This mission has a personal angle as well. It was just over 30 years ago, on April 12th, 1981 when the space shuttle launched for the first time – STS-1. My father was always a fan of space exploration, and he woke me up early that morning so we could watch the launch of Columbia together on our tiny black-and-white television. I remember that day vividly, and it was one of the turning points of my life. I can trace my entire career in space journalism right back to that April morning.

I’ve always put off making the epic journey from Vancouver Island to Cape Canaveral, but I just couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to do this one personally. See you in Florida.

15 Replies to “Off to Florida for the Shuttle Launch”

  1. Like! Like! Like! I attended the University of Florida in 1972-73 and friends wanted to know whether I wanted to go to the Cape for a unique night launch of Apollo 17 ( Although my step-father disapproved of me leaving my preparations for finals, I gladly accepted!! So glad I did. The roar and rumble and light of the Saturn V rocket, like your morning experience, was unforgettable! My sister lives on Merritt Island and I tried to watch last years launches, but delays due to fueling problems, etc. meant I wasn’t able to watch any Shuttle launches (unless the planets align for a very last one this summer). So glad you’ll be able to witness this one. So many events will make this a very significant flight… and YOU were there! : ) By the way, I remember a few times getting up at 5 am to watch Mercury and Gemini launches on the B&W, myself! ; )

  2. Following on from what Aqua says – please also put said audio recording on your next AstronomyCast “weekly” podcast. That would be wonderful – especially for those of us here in the UK who don’t have the option of going to a shuttle launch. Thanks, and enjoy.

  3. Cool beans Bro! Please take a high fidelity audio recording of the lift off from as close as NASA will allow your microphone/recorder! I want to hear what the launch would sound like from less than a mile away!

    1. @ Aqua

      An admirable enterprise to undertake but you might be in for some disappointment.

      There are no single audio recorders nor digital media complete in itself capable (or available to the amateur space enthusiast) of the capture of sound pressure at the many frequencies of a rocket launch in high fidelity. It is possible, of course, to capture all this sonic data with a series of linked or banked recorders with specific frequency response and selected media for each portion of the frequency spectrum desired and to then mix down something which would reproduce (on your speaker set) some semblance of the ‘real thing’ but the rush of the sound flowing over you, pushing you back just can’t be reproduced with any of the equipment you might have in your house. Sorry but that is the reality of it. This must be a live event –it needs to be fully felt with the entire body.

      If we could reproduce on our home systems much of the presence of such an event then we would also be able to ride the speakers ’round the block, I think. I am all for realistic reproduction, I have two sub-woofers (one self powered 100w <100 htz and one to clean up the output to the normal stereo set 2 ch @ 75w <200 htz) to assist my imagination but that is what it would be, only my imagination I fear.

      The high frequency sounds are a lot easier to reproduce with home amps and sound sets but then there is the problem of attenuation at the ear. I know my hearing has suffered over the years but like the man said, if you can't hear it it doesn't mean you can't feel it on your face.

      Mike C

  4. Will you be speaking at any public venues while you are here? Ken Kremer spoke to my local astronomy group, CFAS, several years back about the Mars Rovers. Our little Planetarium at SCC was absolutely packed for his presentation. Ken was a Super Star hit with my group!
    Another local venue that may be somewhat larger is at the Brevard Community College Planetarium and Observatory. They have hosted scientists visiting launches of their projects in the past.
    Even better would be a talk with the three of you at UCF. Our astronomy program and faculty has grown from humble beginnings into a substantial Planetary Sciences Group. Plus our Robinson Observatory is a sight to see, complete with its 20″ RC Optical.

    Glenn T.

  5. HI Glenn

    Thanks for the kind words. I am around and am available to do talks on a number of topics – including my up close behind the scenes experiences with the shuttle – reported here at UT. feel free to contact me. No talks scheduled in FL at this moment. ken.

  6. I’m assuming you guys will be at the press site? I’m one of the very lucky that were picked to be a part of the Tweetup for the launch and would love to stop by and offer my thanks for the awesome work you guys do.

  7. What an excellent post. As a big fan of astronomy cast, and this site, it’s great to hear that your enthusiasm for space has led you to all of this! Congrats! Really wish I could be there, but I’m literally on the opposite side of the world (South Korea). Have fun!

  8. Saw Endevour at it’s last night launch, fantastic. But like viewing eclipses don’t waste it all trying to take pictures, everyone else is doing that, just enjoy it with your own eyes. (and ears!). Enjoy the launch.

  9. I’ll be down there with my daughter as well. We missed STS-133 due to the mechanical delays, but I got lucky and a cowoker has 2 extras for STS-134 viewing from the Visitors Center =-)

    Where are you going to observe from Fraser – where do the put the press, near the VIP’s???
    Going to be a zoo with the Obamas and Giffords both being there.
    Enjoy the show!!!

  10. whats with the dramatic PIC at the top. Looks like a pic from WWE smackdown rumble match.

  11. The experience of being at a Shuttle launch is one of a kind. Hearing the roar of the rockets is one thing. Feeling it is another. It takes about 20 seconds from ignition for the sound to hit you. I live just outside of the space coast and have been fortunate enough to witness many launches. I hear the traffic is expected to be especially bad at this launch with the added attention brought by Gabrielle Gifford and the Obama’s. I advise getting situated early. Also, if this is your only shuttle launch don’t waste time looking through a camera viewfinder or fiddling with equipment. You’ll want to witness this entirely with your eyes wide open. Sit back and soak it in, it will seem like it’s gone in an instant. For those visiting it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.They’ll be plenty of pictures and video after. Have fun and enjoy the launch.

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