My first shuttle launch: What a blast! (video of Discovery launch)

After two scrubbed launch attempts earlier in the week and the crew on the International Space Station wanting for an operational toilet, I felt the odds for a successful flight were pretty darn good.  Off to Facebook where I asked my friends if anyone was interested in a jaunt to the other coast.  Lo and behold, Chris & Marta, a great couple with a comfortable ride and room to spare, were doing just that.  All of us being photographers, we overpacked our photo gear and headed east around 6:30 with hopes of beating traffic and securing a good vantage point for the scheduled 11:59 PM liftoff.

I have to say I was shocked by the lack of traffic getting to the Cape.  Especially considering that this would be the last nighttime shuttle launch in the program.

Chris was fortunate enough to secure a VIP pass for the observation area from a friend.  After dropping him off at the visitors' center, Marta and I learned that one of the best views of the launch would be from a causeway over the Banana River, just about 5 miles west of the launch pad.

Because this was my first launch, I wanted to soak it in, but I also wanted to capture it for posterity.  I set up my DSLR on a tripod for a long exposure (30 seconds) so that I could hit the shutter and then enjoy the show.  Well... sort of.  I figured since I had one of those pocket video recorders, why not record the sights and sounds, as well.


It was truly incredible....  Not just the awesome spectacle of the fiery behemoth trying to break free of Earth's gravity, but the idea that the men and women of our space program are somehow able to mesh math, science and engineering into a vehicle that can put people into space.  Not just today, but for the last 40 years.  To think, someone else stood and watched John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth or witnessed the Apollo missions as they embarked for the moon from the very same place I was standing.

We didn't arrive back in St. Pete until after 4 a.m., but we all agreed it was well worth the drive.  While there are no other night launches remaining, I highly recommend getting over there for one of the six remaining shuttle missions.

Oh... can I bum a ride?

I've lived in Florida for most of my life and aside from killer sunsets or the splendor of seeing dolphins frolic in the bay, being able to actually witness the launch of the Space Shuttle — the fire of the engines and the vapor trail, from nearly any corner of the state — has always been one my favorite things.

Ever since I took residence in the Sunshine State way back in 1987, I've always wanted to witness a launch from the Kennedy Space Center, but could never seem to make it happen.  Whether it be... well, the weather, my schedule or an unwillingness to wager a three-hour drive for a 60% liftoff probability, I just couldn't find my way over there.

Well, that all changed this past Friday. (Video after the break.)

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