Published: February 23rd 2009January 17th 2009
Rocket Launch 5
Credit: Christopher Miller, www.spaceflightnow.com
Day 13 - Friday, January 16th - Kennedy Space Center, FL
What a great day in spite of the chill in the air. We toured the Kennedy Space Center facility and then caught the bus to take the tour of the LC 39 Observation Gantry, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center, and the International Space Center. In the end, we only did the LC39 Observation Gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The wind blew away our interest after the first two stops. Jerry was quite chilled and there was so much yet to see at the Space Center area.
We recommend the bus tour to anyone going and further recommend you leave plenty of time - a few hours at least - in order to thoroughly appreciate the various information points at the three areas. It is very enlightening. If it's a breezy day, it will be even breezier at the bus stop views so dress accordingly. We were able to see the rocket area where a launch was supposed to have already occurred this week. From the bus, we viewed the massive Vehicle Assembly Buildings and a gigantic Crawler Transporter that takes the shuttle or missile from its assembly
building to its launch site. We didn't see the Crawler Transporter in action but understood it took virtually all day to move down the road for less than 10 miles. Tours include video or other displays at each of the stops. It is well worth the time.
Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Center has lots of educational opportunity mixed with fun and deserves plenty of time aside from the bus tour. There is the full--sized NASA Space Shuttle replica (Explorer) that provides gobs of information on how astronauts live and work along with launch data. The history of NASA is provided via video and displays. We stood in a mock-up of the Launch Status Center and assisted in a team-structured space station save - making repairs via computer. Too hard to explain but so very interesting. There is also a Shuttle Launch Experience attraction. The line was long enough for us to re-think Jerry's comfort in such an attraction. In the end, we left it to the younger folks.
There is an IMAX theater with two movies showing, the rocket garden, the Astronaut Memorial, and the chance to walk through a "real" shuttle. It's an awesome set of displays
Cocoa Beach Hotel view
The land in the distance is Cape Canaveral
and attractions to keep any age person active and intrigued. Be sure to have your walking shoes on though. The Visitor Center itself is multiple buildings and displays across a very, very large area. Jerry got quite a work-out even with his scooter.
From the Kennedy Space Center, we headed to the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. It is just down the road and worth the extra time. There's a walk-through history of each astronaut, remarkable displays, exhibits, and tributes to fallen astronaut heroes. It is presented as a celebration of the US space ventures. We decided we did not have enough nerve to try the G-Force Trainer that allows you to feel the pressure of four time the force of gravity, or the space shuttle landing simulator that looked like it shook and twisted too much for Jerry to handle. Both looked very popular to the teenage school groups that were there. Oh...to be young again
The day went so fast and as we left the premises, we noted how mentally exhausted we were. It was almost information overload. However, we would do it again in a hearbeat. We looked forward to seeing the missile launch
from our room tonight. We stopped to eat at a restaurant that came highly recommended and were actually quite disappointed.
After getting back to our hotel, we kept watch for launch updates. Then, our neighbor, also out on his balcony next door, let us know that the launch was scratched yet again. He actually worked at NASA!! What a treat to meet someone who had been there actually working...and then the disappointment that we would miss the launch. Add insult to injury, he said we had the best seats to see the launch right from our room.
Day 14 - Saturday, January 17th - Cocoa Beach, FL
Jerry had a rough night and thus, a rough start to the day. The launch was rescheduled to tonight. Those two factors combined with bad weather predicted for our route home and having a day or two flexibility, we made the decision to stay another night. Luckily, the hotel had no problem with that. Jerry rested in the hotel most of the day and Rita tried to catch some sun in spite of the very cool breeze. We felt redeemed for dinner as we took the hotel's recommendation for crab
and shrimp and had a wonderful, wonderful meal. Then, it was back to the hotel to see the launch. The Launch
The thought of actually seeing the launch of the Delta 4-Heavy rocket carrying a classified reconnaissance satellite was absolutely exciting. We were cautious in our excitement as the launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday. It was scratched to repair damaged insulation on the rocket. The reschedule for Wednesday, Jan. 14th was also scrubbed due to a gaseous nitrogen valve problem. We then thought it would be Thursday but as mentioned earlier, that was not possible either. Friday's weather was not predicted to be good so they rescheduled for Saturday and here we sat, anxiously waiting to see if it would launch tonight, Saturday, the 17th.
We knew the launch was scheduled for 7:33pm EST. We had dined early enough to get us back to the hotel in plenty of time. We monitored launch status at http://spaceflightnow.com, a site we will visit in the future for the most up-to-date public launch status information possible. This site is so great, we were actually able to keep some of the folks who were trying to watch from the pool area
Kennedy Space Center 1
Visitor Center entrance
or the beach up to date with status changes. Here's a flavor of the site's postings for this evening: 0013 GMT (7:13 p.m. EST Sat.)
T-minus 5 minutes and holding. The countdown has just entered a planned hold point. Clocks will remain here for 15 minutes to give the launch team members a chance to finish any work running behind schedule and mission officials to conduct final readiness checks. Liftoff is still targeted for 7:33 p.m. EST. 0009 GMT (7:09 p.m. EST Sat.)
United Launch Alliance says all systems remain "go" for an ontime liftoff. 0003 GMT (7:03 p.m. EST Sat.)
T-minus 15 minutes. The countdown clocks will be going into a planned hold at the T-minus 5 minute mark. Liftoff remains targeted for 7:33 p.m. EST.
So, that's what we watched online, real-time, feeling like we were right there as part of the count-down. At 7:18, T-minus 5 minutes, a technical issue put things on hold. It was rescheduled for 8:13pm EST. We watched as readiness checks of the launch tem were underway, the pre-flight poll confirming all systems "ready" and at six minutes from launch, the launch director giving final approval to resume countdown
as planned. 8:07pm - launch pad swing arm retraction system pins were pulled - was it really going launch? T-minus 5 minutes and counting for 8:13 liftoff. T-minus 4 minutes, minus 3 minutes, minus 2 minutes, 10 seconds, minus 1 minute, 45 seconds, T-minus 90 seconds and counting with all systems "go" and then T-minus 70 seconds and then, oh no...........
Kennedy Space Center 2
Entrance - Jerry's already snapping pictures!
0112 GMT (8:12 p.m. EST Sat.)
HOLD! The countdown has been halted by a problem
Yikes - we were so close. We're certain that our disappointment is nothing compared to those actually on site at Cape Canaveral. We sat, watching the posts to see what was going to happen. There is always a four-hour window for launch. They still had a couple of hours to pull it off. Finally, a new launch time for 9:13pm EST. So, we wait.
0207 GMT (9:07 p.m. EST Sat.)
And now the launch director has given the final OK to start counting. Liftoff is six minutes away.
T-minus 5 minutes and counting; T-minus 4 minutes, 30 seconds; T-minus....oh wait...no, not again. Arrrgghh, yes again. There is a hold in the countdown. Everything stops. There is still a couple of hours to the launch window. It seems to be taking some time to determine another launch or total reschedule. We wait, our expectations for seeing the launch wilting. Then, it comes across the posts...
0232 GMT (9:32 p.m. EST Sat.)
NEW LAUNCH TIME. Launch is rescheduled for 9:47 p.m. EST.
Will we see it? Will it go this time? Only time will tell. At 9:37pm, the launch team is polled again. At 9:40, the mission director has given his "go" to proceed for 9:47. At 9:42, T-minus 5 minutes and counting! T-minus 4 minutes, 30 seconds, T-minus 4 minutes, T-minus 3 minutes, T-minus 2 minutes, 30 seconds, T-minutes 2 minutes and counting; will it go this time? T-minus 1 minute, 45 seconds; Then T-minus 90 seconds and counting with all systems "go." T-minus 70 seconds..oh my gosh...is it really, really going to go? We are on the edge of our seats on the balcony, Rita quickly running back and forth from the laptop to be sure it continues to count down...T-minus 60 seconds, 40 seconds, 30 seconds, then...
0247 GMT (9:47 p.m. EST Sat.)
T-minus 10, 9, 8, sequencer now controlling, T-minus 6,
5, 4, 3, 2, engine ignition, 0, launcher release and LIFTOFF! Liftoff of America's heavy-lift rocket carrying a classified intelligence-gathering satellite for the nation. And the vehicle has cleared the tower!
We watch in absolute awe. The skyline where we saw the missile area through binoculars lights up like a gigantic firework pinned to the ground. Higher and broader the bright yellow light of takeoff, the smoke, the intense focus of the night on this one spot, it is absolutely breathtaking. Suddenly, the large light and clouds begin to move. Up, up, up, it is beyond description. We have no words to share, both of us totally fixated on the illumination before us. It looks so light, in slow-motion on its ascent to a world most of us only dream about. Slowly, it climbs, the launch site dimming but filled with the rocket launch smoke. It isn't a shuttle with live people on it but nonetheless, it is a spectacular event. We stand stunned at what we are witnessing, amazed as the light seems to explode but then just diminishes in size. It continues to climb and we continue to watch through binoculars we are thankful we
brought along. We finally speak as the missile becomes like a star. We can still pick it out from the hundreds of stars we see but it gets more and more challenging to see. We monitor the spaceflight now site to view the T-plus time reports.
Kennedy Space Center 5
On the bus to stop 1. This is the rocket that was supposed to have launched earlier in the week.
0254 GMT (9:54 p.m. EST Sat.)
T+plus 7 minutes, 40 seconds. The 65-foot-long, tri-sector nose cone that has enclosed the classified National Reconnaissance Office satellite during ascent through the atmosphere was just jettisoned. 0254 GMT (9:54 p.m. EST Sat.)
T+plus 7 minutes. The upper stage did ignite, ULA now confirms. 0252 GMT (9:52 p.m. EST Sat.)
T+plus 5 minutes, 42 seconds. Main engine cutoff! The center booster's RS-68 engine has finished firing and shut down. 0251 GMT (9:51 p.m. EST Sat.)
T+plus 4 minutes, 8 seconds. Engine cutoff! Standing by for booster separation
We continue to strain our eyes, even through the binoculars, to track the rocket visually. Then...
0256 GMT (9:56 p.m. EST Sat.)
The Delta 4-Heavy rocket has flown into a news blackout. The veil of secrecy surrounding the launch of this classified satellite means no further information about the progress of the upper stage engine
Kennedy Space Center 6
Information display at Observation 39
firings and release of the payload will be announced in real-time. The ultimate outcome of the launch will remain a mystery, as far as the public is concerned.
We sit in utter amazement. It all went so quickly, it could have just been a dream. We know we have witnessed something unique - not everyone who comes to the Cape Canaveral area have witnessed a launch. We feel blessed and remain awed by the experience. We are sure we will re-live the experience by telling many folks about it. Awesome...absolutely awesome.
We finally relax enough to hit the sack. We definitely need to head out of Cocoa Beach tomorrow to start our journey home. We will hopefully be able to skim through the two weather fronts that could cause us some trouble getting home if our timing is not perfect.
Post Note: All notations set off by times were taken from www.spaceflightnow.com, public information. Highly recommend anyone interested in launches to monitor this on launch days. It is updated more quickly than any television station we had on and it has historical information as well as real-time.
There are more photos below