Last Thursday February 24th 2011 I had the rare opportunity to attend the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-133. I witnessed the launch or experienced it which is more accurate from only 2.9 miles away at the press site in the Kennedy Space Center. I was part of the NASATweetup event where 150 people from around the world were invited by NASA to attend the launch and some special events.
The launch, delayed several times since last year for technical issues was filled with tense drama as it was counting down for its final flight. The countdown clock stopped at T-5 minutes for an electrical issue. Many of us walked out to the countdown clock staring as the clock held at T-5, then when it started counting down again there were people running to their spots to watch the launch. I have to say that had to be the fastest 5 minutes I have ever experienced. This launch was a sensory overload for an engineering and technology geek like myself.
The launch was amazing… It is hard to communicate the feeling of being there with the sensation of the heat on the face and the sound as Space Shuttle Discovery launched into the air leaving a trail of exhaust then the crowd response. I was speechless and sat there in silence after the experience even physically shaking a bit from the adrenaline spike, or perhaps all the coffee and lack of sleep. There was also the feeling of emotional closure after attending the prior launch attempts, and now the launch of STS-133 was over. All those friends in the NASATweetup and NASA would be departing their separate ways after so many times together.
The launch really makes you proud of what humans in engineering, science, and technology can accomplish.
Some of my photos from my Flickr Photostream.
This was the first big event I did not have a digital SLR camera and 20 pounds of lenses at, and instead took a small compact camera. The one thing I realized is watching with your own eyes is much more rich than viewing through the viewfinder. At least I did not video the launch like the guy recording this Space Shuttle Launch in 2008. Prepare to laugh at this Video.
Some of the highlights beyond the shuttle launch were:
- A discussion complete with Q&A with the recently returned Astronaut Shannon Walker who launched and returned on the Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station “ISS”.
- Waving to the Astronauts as they departed for Launch Pad 39A in their astrovan.
- NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun, @Bobby_Braun.
Bobby Braun spoke about the several technologies and plans of NASA to encourage innovation in not only space flight but also science and engineering and highlighting several technologies that were born from the space program.
- Robonaut demonstration. This was Robonaut X2 and X1 was launching on the Space Shuttle STS-133 and is even on Twitter at @AstroRobonaut. As the Space Shuttle launched, Robonaut waved goodbye to his sibling Robonaut 1 who was bound for the ISS International Space Station.
Robonaut is the Chuck Norris of robots! We can only hope Robonaut and IBM's Watson do not get together as not only would it beat you at Jeopardy, but also be able to beat you up.
- A talk from Astronaut Leland Melvin, associate administrator for Education, @Astro_Flow. Leland spoke about his education paths and being drafted into NFL football but detouring to further study material science and becoming an Astronaut flying on the Space Shuttle. Leland was an enthusiastic and entertaining speaker and had some very great stories. When asked about how to encourage more young people into science and engineering, he mentioned the FIRST Robotics competitions among several others. Autodesk has been a sponsor of FIRST Robotics.
- I was spotted on several live broadcasts and very clearly seen and a wave on Fox News. They mentioned the NASATweetup in their launch coverage: http://bit.ly/efSlKG
- We also got to visit Launch Pad 39A the night prior to launch and watch the RSS Retraction.
NASA went out of their way to accommodate everyone, and make the experience a lifetime memory fitting for the final Space Shuttle Discovery launch. At the end of the launch day there was a real sad feeling with the end of the Space Shuttle Program nearing an end. There were several with tears in their eyes as the sun began to set and the crowds left. It was the largest crowd for a Space Shuttle Launch in history and I would expect STS_134 and STS-135 to be even bigger. Discovery has a special place in everyone's heart as the oldest and most traveled of the space shuttle orbiters.
The next launch of Space Shuttle Discovery is expected to be in a museum after it returns from the current mission.
Now it is time for me to start making a dent in my email inbox and get back to work.