|NASA Tweetup tent|
While waiting in Denver for my delayed flight to Florida I met Mike Petrone, a former Phantom pilot who took his wife and grandson to see the launch. In the early 1970s, Mike went through preliminary astronaut training including, among other things, parabolic flights. Suffice to say that the nick-name Vomit-Comet given to airplanes performing parabolic flights seems more apt than before. He eventually didn't make it into the astronaut core but his interest in space remained.
|"1 Days to Launch" sign|
|Back to the Moon?|
|In the air with Atlantis|
The next day was of course the day of the launch. Unlike the day before, the press site was now buzzing with TV and online reporters, among them Miles O'Brien and the SpaceVidCast crew, all covering the event, interviewing astronauts and other NASA people. All the while, TV screens in the tent and the press center showed the preparations - astronauts being strapped in, closing of the hatch, the planned pause at 9 minutes, and the count down from that.
|Chris Meinert, closeout crew|
Throughout the day before the launch I found myself walking around, getting pictures of newscasters, the famous clock, the press center and having a hard time sitting down and relaxing. The scene and the location, with all the media, all the people and all the known space monuments (count-down clock, VAB, launch pad three miles away) were simply electrifying.
|With the count-down clock and Atlantis 3 miles away||Astro David Wolf, Miles O'Brien and Astro Leroy Chiao|
At about ten minutes before the launch, I took my spot, right next to the Miles O'Brien tent, where I was looking at the famous count-down clock and right above it the shuttle, waiting to be launched. As this was the first time I saw a launch, I decided to take video and pictures in a way that would only minimally take time from watching the launch with my own eyes rather than through camera screens and lenses, a hard decision for a photo-nut such as myself.
|STS-132 Atlantis launch|
Viewing the launch was a unique experience. Unlike watching it on TV, the launch starts with the silence of the clock reaching -2 seconds and smoke starting to come from the shuttle main engines. 2 seconds later, at 0, still at silence, more smoke, this time on the other side, as the SRBs start going and lift-off is accomplished. It takes about 15 seconds for the sound to reach the press site. And when it does, the visuals of the shuttle get complimented with the vibrations and roar, unlike anything that gets recorded through a microphone and comes out of speakers - straight from the shuttle soaring up to me with nothing in between. It is definitely a unique experience.
|Optical illusion - Atlantis is curving its trajectory towards orbit, 2 minutes into the launch|
|NASA Tweetup tent and tweeps|
In two launches, all signs point to the shuttle becoming a piece of history. What will the future bring? If it were up to me - warp drive, replicators and transporters. The more likely (down to Earth?) dream of inhabiting other planets and using space resources such as asteroids lives on, and it will be built on whatever the scientists at NASA and private space will come up with in the upcoming years.