Got up Wednesday and headed down to Kennedy Space Center with my wife and daughter for the shuttle launch. Steve Geis, Operations Director at the center, had invited some members of the Florida Attractions Association down for VIP viewing. This was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss since there are only a few more launches prior to retiring the shuttle program. The security guard at the first checkpoint waved us through to the Visitor’s Center. We parked at the administration building and got checked in, recieved our passes, and relaxed in their conference room while viewing the astronauts being strapped into thier seats on NASA TV. A short time later we boarded busses and were taken to the Saturn V building conference room and enjoyed a great buffet and cold drinks. From the balcony of the room we were as close as you can get to view the launch, a distance of three miles (read on for more pictures of the launch).
VAB – Vehicle Assembly Building where the shuttle is mated to the external tank and the solid rocket boosters.

Steve had to stay back at the Visitor’s Center, but his two sidekicks Billy Specht and Tiffany Fairley took great care of us.
Conditions for the launch were pretty hazy and the temp remained around 97 most of the day. We were grateful for the air conditioning in the conference room. At T minus 2 minutes I pulled out my trusty Nikon Coolpix S50 and started shooting. Most of the following shots were done at full digital zoom while holding the camera at arms length over everyone’s head. The shots came out remarkably well considering the conditions.
Shuttle Endeavour lifts off from launch pad 39A. At this point there was no sound due to the distance.
By now the gound starts to rumble and we begin hearing the noise from the engines.
I zoomed out for this one so you can see what it looked like to the naked eye from our vantage point. By now we can feel our internal organs shaking and the distinct crackle from the solid rocket boosters is roaring in our ears. As Steve said, “You can watch it on TV but you have to be here to really appreciate it.” It is incredible to think that seven people are on top of what is basically a really big bomb being thrown into space.
I zoomed in again for this shot and then quit taking pictures so I could enjoy the rest of the experience with my own eyes. The roar from the boosters continues even when it is difficult to see the vehicle on top of the stack of fire. I just made out the solid rocket separation before loosing site of the shuttle altogether, and then they were gone.
It was an amazing day. When it was over we went back to the Visitor’s Center and took my daughter on the Shuttle Launch Experience. She had not done it before and it really capped the experience for us, trying to imagine that we were with the crew up there.
Just last week I helped with Astronomy Summer Camp at the lighthouse. Unfortunately, the night we were to look at the stars, the sky was clouded in. Instead of star gazing, we decided to do a night climb to the top of the tower where we enjoyed a beautiful sea breeze coming in off the ocean. We talked about telescopes and stars and the space program. “Even though we can’t see them,” I told them, “there are people up there working in the International Space Station right now.” What an amazing time we live in and what a wonderful future for our young people.
No one wanted to go down but an off-shore thunderstorm was coming in so we had to leave. I reminded the kids that the same stars that guide our astronauts also guided our early explorers across the vast seas to new worlds. And Florida’s east coast was the first place they landed in North America… what a great place to have our space program… and our lighthouse!
Godspeed Endeavour!