Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sight of a Lifetime

The Indian River, 27.98870 -80.54546

Well, as you all know already, Discovery launched last night. Boy are we glad that we stayed for the sight. We waited a long time. We arrived in the vicinity of the space center a week ago today.

We motored to a place near the eastern shore of the Indian River, and north of the Addison Bridge. We were about at close as one can get to the launch site without being guests of NASA. At first we were alone, but after dark a number of motor boats came and anchored near us.

The weather became perfect. The winds slowed down to 6 knots and the sky was clear and moonless. We could see numerous patrol airplanes and helicopters circling the perimeter of the prohibited zone. The launch pad, about five miles from us, was brightly lit. There were also powerful searchlights pointing up into the sky from the launch pad at an angle of thirty degrees. Those made a big V in the sky with the apex of the V at the launch pad.

I almost missed seeing liftoff because I was listening to the countdown on satellite radio, which has a 15 second delay. I heard them say "20 seconds" and I reached for my camera. When I looked up, liftoff was just occurring.

The sight was spectacular. At first it looked like a half fireball. Then, as the rocket lifted off the ground, the shape of the flame changed to a torch-like pencil. The flame extended for perhaps 300 feet. It lit up the whole sky. The rocket lifted away from the launch pad much faster than I expected. I guess I've seen too many slow motion movies of rocket launches. It didn't get very high at all before it tilted from the vertical and headed off in a northeast direction. All this time it was totally silent.

About the time the turn was complete, the sound washed over us. It was the kind of sound that you feel as much as hear. We did not see ripples in the water.

The flame continued to diminish in size as the vehicle got farther away. We could see the separation of the solid fuel boosters, and for 10 seconds after separation I could see a red spot marking one of the boosters falling away.

We continued to watch the dimming spot of light for 5 minutes. We finally lost sight because it passed behind the smoke drifting in the wind away from the launch pad. About the time we lost sight, I could hear them on the radio talking about Spain. Could it be possible that we could still see it as far away as Spain?

After it was gone, I looked up in the sky again. Now it was clear and moonless but with one very big cloud. The cloud was smoke left from the exhaust of the solid fuel boosters. At least I think so. The main rocket engines burn hydrogen and oxygen. They might make steam but not smoke. The solid boosters though burn something else.

It was a great experience. I'll post some pictures when we have a chance. Not many pictures came out. At night my digital camera wants to use time exposures. They don't turn out good when the boat is rocking in the waves.

Today, we soared down the Indian River at 6.5-7 knots in a strong easterly wind. It is not very often that we can sail so well on the ICW. Our only stop was in Eau Gallie. There I met up with Dave Hackett. We have been using Dave's house as a mail drop so he had several packages for us. Thank you very much Dave. It was good to see you albeit briefly. Next time, we hope to see Johnnie Hackett too.

We are anchored tonight only about three miles from my brother Ed's house. However, Ed and his family are busy today so we wont be able to visit today. We saw them last week in Titusville, and we may see them again this week in Fort Pierce.

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