As we think back to the very first launch of the Columbia piloted by Robert Crippen & John Young on this date back in 1981, we will always remember a special time when we actually witnessed the final launch of Discovery.
We have had an invitation from the Kennedy Space Visitors Center to witness a space shuttle launch for several years. You have to be very flexible and patient with these plans because the space shuttles are incredibly complicated and delays are common. When you add in that it takes us about 18 hours to drive there, and trying to change airline tickets that are sometimes inflexible, we were beginning to feel the pressure. We have attempted to see launches before, and also some landings, but we were either on the wrong coast, or technical difficulties prevented our being at the right place at the right time.
When you are at the Kennedy Space Center, even when the launch doesn’t happen, there are many other things to do. We have included some pictures from various activities we did on some of our other visits. On this day Scott got real close to the launch clock because it wasn’t turned on since the launch had been scrubbed. They have wonderful tours available to see some of the inner workings of the space program.
The shuttle is assembled in this building, left over from the Saturn 5 era. Once the launch stack is complete, the shuttled is loaded onto a crawler and transported to the pad. On the bus tour, the one of the stops is about halfway between the assembly building and launch pad 39A. The rollout process took almost 8 hours for the 3.2 mile trip.
Before the external fuel tank was filled, a hawk keeps a watchful eye on the preparations. The gantry swings toward you before launch when you can see traditional picture of the launch stack with the solid rocket boosters attached.
Once everything is fired up, the smoke hides everything on the ground. As it lifts off, it appears above the trees surrounding the Kennedy Space Visitors Center. Shortly after it came into view, you could feel the earth vibrating beneath you. It keeps going higher and faster and the flame is incredibly brilliant.
A big thank you from both of us to Andrea, for reminding us that at some point during the launch, “You need to just put your camera down and truly experience the launch.” We did, and we were pretty awestruck. During that time we could actually see the solid rocket booster separation.
And to provide some closure to the career of Discovery, here it touches down for the last time. Discovery began its career on August 30, 1984 at 8:41:50 Am with mission STS41D. It flew 39 missions and is the oldest surviving space orbiter. It traveled 148 million miles and circled the Earth about 5750 times, spending an accumulated year in space. It is destined for the National Air & Space Museum Annex at Dulles Airport.
Many thanks to Andrea Farmer, of the Kennedy Space Visitors center, and to the many other helpful people who answered all of our questions throughout our multiple visits, we really appreciate your help. There is so much to see and do there that we will have to go back. We will see you in line at the Space Shuttle Simulator attraction, it never gets old.
Special thanks to the folks at NASA (photos 9, 10,18,19 & 20) & Robert Johnson (photos 11 & 12)