On November 14, 2008 STS 126 launched from
pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The purpose of this fifteen day mission
is to rendevous with the International Space Station and to upgrade its
capability to accommodate six full time
residents. The Space Shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in
the next few years. With only nine more
shuttle flights left, STS 126 is the last ever night time shuttle launch.
I've always wanted to see a shuttle launch. With the limited number
of future possibilities, I decided it was about time.
This is me with Endeavor in the background one day before launch.
The day before launch, Susan and I also met and had lunch with NASA
astronaut Mark Lee.
Mark has flown on four previous shuttle missions: STS-30, STS-47, STS-64,
The day prior to launch, Susan and I visited Kennedy Space Center
to view the exhibits
and took the NASA "Up Close" tour.
Susan with the mock up shuttle Explorer.
Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and External Fuel Tank (EFT)
I'm excited to see the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).
This is where the shuttle is mated with the external fuel tank and
This building is one of the largest by volume in the world. If arranged
the VAB can hold 3 1/2 Empire State buildings. The roof is large enough
that you could
fit all of Yankee stadium up there with enough room left over for one
acre of parking!
Near the VAB are three storage buildings where the shuttle orbiters
In this photo you can see that the doors slide sideways. Notice the
additional high center door.
This allows the tail to enter building.
This is the "Demate Tower". If the shuttle can't return to Florida
because of weather constraints,
it will land in California. Since the shuttle is not powered like a
plane, it must be carried back to Florida on the back of
a specially built 747. This tower unloads the shuttle from the 747.
A flock of ibis over the shuttle landing strip. This 3 mile long runway
was built to actually follow
the curve of the Earth. This means that if two people stand at
either end of the runway,
they will NOT be able to see each other.
The "crawler" is what moves the launch vehicle to the pad.
Weighing 6 million lbs., this massive vehicle uses an amazing 125 gallons
of diesel per mile!
Alligator in the crawler tracks. Because Kennedy Space Center is part
the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge, launch crews would have
to wait for this gator
to move before they could proceed. Legally he cannot be ushered out
of the way.
Armored escape tanks. Every astronaut is trained to drive these in
case of a rapid escape.
A picture of me taking a picture of the launch pad.
Susan and Endeavor
Between launch pads 39A-B
29 hours to launch.
The nose cone being put into place for fueling.
The upper part of the external fuel tank holds liquid oxygen. In this
oxygen is VERY cold, which is why you often see ice falling from
Some of the liquid oxygen returns to a gaseous state. Because they
are highly explosive,
the nose cone pumps these vapors away and burns them off at a distant
STS 126 waiting on the pad. The large open area beneath the rockets
which will supress the concussion and sound that would break every
window in the vicinity.
When you see photos of a launch, most of the cloud that is coming out
around the shuttle
is this vaporized water.
Yeah it's launch day!
Of course our bus broke down on the way. Luckily we still had 9 hours
Luckily we came prepared.
Nothing like enjoying a Pepsi on the side of the interstate.
We had to wait in a very long line to to get on our bus to go to the
launch viewing site.
Getting camera equipment set up on the causeway. Me and about 5,000
The causeway at Kennedy is the closest the general public can get to
the launch about 6 miles with a direct view of the pad.
This is about as close as you can get without serious potential danger.
The five thousand tickets for causeway viewing were sold within 180
seconds of going on sale!
Just 41:25 left!
Susan spending her time waiting by studying for her plethora of upcoming
The moon came up over Cape Canaveral as we waited.
The moor rising next to the ULA (United Launch Alliance) building.
Inside is the Delta IV heavy rocket being prepared for launch.
The shuttle across the Banana River. You can see the flame to the right
burning off excess O2.
Zoomed WAY in.
T minus 3, 2, 1 . . . .
As soon as the shuttle passes by the tower, control of the launch vehicle
the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.
Nothing you read will prepare you for the magnitude of the event.
While an experience like this brings humankind together through our
it brings into stark constrast really how small we all are in the vast
scheme of things.
You see the launch a LONG time before you hear the sound. We didn't
hear anything until the shuttle
had traveled six miles.
The trail of fire is from the Solid Rocket Boosters which only fire
for two minutes and four seconds.
The SRB's consume 10,000 lbs of solid fuel every second!
Already far away.
We watched the shuttle become a little speck of light in the night
sky. By following some advice I found on the internet,
I fortunately brought with me a portable FM/Shortwave radio with me.
We were able to hear all of the communications
during the prep and launch sequence. Before the shuttle disappeared
we heard SRB separation and that the shuttle had traveled
far enough that if there was an abort, it would have to land in Spain
and not Florida. We could still see them and they were
more than half way to Europe!
Pad 39A the day after launch looks like nothing ever happened.
Susan and I wanted to get the most of our Space experience, so we spent
the following day seeing everything
we hadn't had a chance to during the previous two days. The highlight
was taking the Cape Canaveral Then and Now tour.
A common misconception (which I just recently learned) is that Kennedy
Space Center and Cape Canaveral are two separate areas.
KSC is run by Nasa and is located on Merrit Island. Cape Canaveral
is a military base located directly on the cape and is run by the USAF.
Many of the early space experiments and rocket launches occurred at
the Cape. Today military rockets still frequently fly from here.
Space shuttles have and will only fly from KSC. Cape Canaveral has
been home to programs like Mercury, Agena and the beginning of Apollo.
Cape Canaveral is important today for many reasons that the government
is never going to tell us about,
AKA "It's classified".
Here Susan stands with some of the control equipment used to launch
the Apollo moon missions.
Apollo 1 Launch site. This is where the first astronaut loss occurred
during flight operations.
A fire broke out on this pad taking the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White
and Roger Chaffe.
This gopher tortoise has dug a hole about 50 feet from the center of
the old launch pad.
Nature is slowly reclaiming some of the older launch sites.
The original Cape Canaveral lighthouse.
Cape Canaveral past and present.
In the foreground is the rocket nicknamed "honest John". In the background
a launch pad preparing a military rocket and spy sattelite for a new
Here you can see the USAF rocket inside the structure.
This building is where America's first astronauts entered the Mercury
rockets in the early 1960's.
All of the rockets launched from Complex 14.
These parking spaces are where the astronauts parked their Corvettes.
In the foreground are blast deflectors from the original Apollo launches.
In the background is the ULA building.
ULA building with the three Delta IV heavy rocket boosters readily
Closeup of Delta IV boosters.
Susan at the International Space Station (ISS) preparation complex.
A group of Japanese technicians preparing elements of the KIBO addition
to the ISS.
ISS components in the high bay.
The numbered doors are covering windows which will give the astronauts
a three dimensional view of space.
Saturn 1B Rocket. The first stage engines produce more than 12 million
Me with an actual Saturn V rocket. This is still to date the most powerful
machine man has ever created.