Monday, February 15, 2010

Shuttle launch lights up sky 115 miles away

A brilliant shot. Photo credit: James Vernacotola

An enterprising photographer captured this wonderful time-lapse photo of the final nighttime space shuttle launch.
The photo was taken at about 4:14 a.m. on Feb. 8 from atop the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Ponte Vedra.
Temperature: A brisk 34 degrees.
Closer to the scene, here's how George Leopold of the EE Times described the launch:
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The sun came out early down here on Monday morning.

The final nighttime launch of the Space Shuttle program lit up the Cape Canaveral area for several minutes. The locals down in Cocoa Beach about 10 miles south from here said they also heard Shuttle Endeavour roar into orbit at 4:14 a.m.

For first-timers like me, the sun-like affect of a pre-down launch was astounding. There's a good reason: NASA says the combustion gases of the Shuttle's solid rocket motors are about two-thirds the temperature of the surface of the sun (6,100 degrees F).

Then there is the sound -- a wall of sound, actually. We were told at the NASA press center about 2.5 miles from Pad 39A to brace for the sonic wave generated by the Shuttle's three main engines. It hits a couple of seconds after liftoff. First there is the blinding flash of light, then the thrust billowing up on all sides and finally the sound wave (despite the literal damping of sound by a Sound Suppression Water System on the pad) .

I swear it made the cuffs on my pants flap.

Once the Shuttle commences its roll program maneuver and throttles up to reach orbit, things gradually begin to quiet down. The observer, mouth agape, next hears all the car alarms going off in the visitors' parking lot.

Nothing like has been seen or heard around here since the heyday of Apollo in the late 1960s.