Checkin’ out a Space Shuttle launch

Back a few years ago a friend (Bruce) and I started talking about the idea of going to see a Space Shuttle launch.  We’re both fairly interested in aviation and space, and it seemed like a logical road trip to make.  However, like all grand plans, time got in the way…and before we knew it the Space Shuttle program had been axed (you did know that right?) and we were down to the last three shuttle launches.  So we finally put action to thoughts and got on with the planning.

Thankfully, with his plane, it makes the whole trip relatively simple.  Early Thursday evening we went ahead and took off under grey sky’s from the DC area and headed south.


Luckily though, as soon as we broke through the cloud layer things were quite nice and sunny.


Soon the sun started to set, though still peaking occasionally out from behind clouds on the horizon.


The flight from DC to Florida would be about 4-4.5 hours, so in lieu of doing it as one big flight, we broke it up by overnighting in Charleston.  Which meant as we landed the light was waning a bit, making for a cool final approach.


The next morning we took off super-early and headed south for the remainder of the journey. I played around a bit with the new Garmin Forerunner 110 on the flight down, and it kept track of the journey pretty well.  Though, it doesn’t handle water so well…


About two hours later we landed into Orlando Executive Airport, which is just down the road from the big Orlando International Airport that normal commercial flights arrive into.


From there we got in a rental car and headed towards the coast, about an hour drive away.  Along the way we’d see all sorts of things…like…gator jerky.


Turns out Gator Jerky really isn’t terribly different than normal jerky.  Just a bit of a different texture, which you can see even before eating.  But otherwise, pretty good actually.


A short bit after that we made it about as far as we were allowed, which is across a body of water.  The place was basically a zoo.  Like going to a sporting event, except on a long skinny road next to the water.


After we found our spot, I went out for a short run – not too far, just about 40 minutes nice and easy.  Beyond the first mile things loosened up and I felt quite good, no pain.  Woot!


Between my run and The Girl’s slightly longer run, by time we were done we only had about 45 minutes until launch – perfect time passing execution!  From there we setup shop and prepared to watch the liftoff.


I should point out that we’re a fair distance away – about 11 miles, as you can see from the running map picture a few photos above.  Which means I needed a big-ass-lens in order to make the space shuttle more than just a dot on the horizon.  So I rented one from, which I’ve done in the past.  Way better than plunking down the cash for something I’d rarely use.  Anyway, from there I pointed it across the bay and waited.


And, with a brief 10 second countdown, at 2:20PM, Mr. Shuttle decided to leave the earth.  Sorry about the boat in the photo, I had no real control over it’s placement.


First off, it’s amazing how much smoke it makes.  It’s like a microwave popcorn bag that’s gone wild.  And after a bit of time, you start to hear and feel the rumble as it sweeps over you – yup, even 11 miles away.


Of course, it picks up speed pretty fast, and is soon rotating over on its back and arching across the sky.



A bit later as it’s cruising along at 146,000 feet, the shuttle jettisons its Solid Rocket Boosters into the Atlantic, which eventually get picked up by a boat.  You can just barely make it out on one of my last photos.


Once that happens, the show’s basically over.  At which point, another predictable activity occurs: Traffic.  Lots of it.


It would take another two hours to get back to Orlando, before we could get in the plane.  We’d make a brief diversionary stop at another airport (which I’ll talk about tomorrow), before heading back to Charleston for the night.  Sunset was quite impressive!


And, a bit further uprange, the city of Jacksonville was also rather sparkly.  It was funny flying back over Jacksonville, as it’s been the first time I’ve been in the area since about six years back when I did some work there for about 9 months, flying back and forth between Seattle and Jacksonville every week on Monday and Friday.


Of course, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what mystery event occurred along the way back…but I promise…it’s pretty dang cool. :)


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  1. I remember seeing a launch when I was a little kid… Rates up on the list of cool things I’ve seen. Back then, you could get a bit closer.. Also had a tour of the space center through someone who knew someone.

    Saw the pictures about whats up next – Let me know if you want to go round 2 sometime. One of my FAVORITE things in life.

  2. Amy

    OMG! I grew up in Titusville and live just a few miles south, so I know exactly where you were. I work at Kennedy Space Center and was just across the river from you watching the launch as well.

    I love that you flew down for one of our last launches. I’ve seen nearly every launch and they’re always amazing. So sad that they’re nearly over. Great images!

  3. Nice trip and great photos, Ray!
    I’m hoping to catch a launch before they retire the shuttle – still haven’t seen one – time to go pull the schedule off Nasa’s site… :)

    Cheers, Jeff

  4. Wow… what a neat experience! My mom would be jelous of you!

  5. Rainmaker – maybe in your next mailbag you’ll fill us in on how you find time to sleep and maintain full time employment along with all your adventures.

  6. Ray,

    Those pictures were AWESOME. I like how you use your blog to delve into interesting topics that aren’t always related to triathlon. Keep up the good work!

  7. AMAZING pictures. And already disappointed at FR110.

  8. Very cool! Have plane will travel!

  9. Great trip and great pictures!
    FYI: My collegue (from the Netherlands!) went there as well…

    As a runner and biker (and working in aviation at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines) I do visit your blog on a regular basis.
    Compliments! Roberto

  10. You are very fortunate to have been able to witness a part of history. Not many people can say that they have seen a shuttle launch.

    P.S. I would eat gator jerky. It sounds yummy.

  11. Hey, we switched places this weekend! While you were in Titusville, I flew into IAD to go to Delaware.

    Glad you had a chance to see the shuttle launch. I think I actually saw more from your blog post than the time I saw it in person (had no binocs or camera).

  12. Glad you could see it before they finished.

    We got to watch from NASA Parkway on Canaveral AS back in the late ’90s. At four miles away, the ground was shaking like you wouldn’t believe. Great experience.

    Glad to know that lensrentals is working out for you. I’ve been curious about them, but doubt they’d mail to Germany.

  13. Hi,

    Wanted to make an observation about one of your comments. Actually, that is steam and not smoke coming from the engines on lift-off.

    At 7 seconds before ignition, 300,000 gallons of water begin pouring out a 290-foot-high tank from 16 nozzles mounted on the MLP. In 41-seconds the tank is emptied. This is part of their Sound Suppression System. Sounds of this magnitude create acoustical shock waves, which create energy. Once the sound waves reach resonance, the damage to the shuttle, payload and mobile launch pad would be enormous. (Think of it this way: ever been walking across a swinging foot bridge, and noticed that the more steps you take, the higher it bounces, but walking slower makes it bounce even higher? Your steps create waves in the bridge that go up and down–this is a frequency. The amount of displacement between the highest peak and the lowest peak in that frequency is the amplitude. Once that amplitude is at its maximum, resonance is reached and maximum damage occurs. Skyscrapers that get destroyed in earthquakes end up that way because the shaking ground created a frequency which eventually reached and matched the natural resonance of the building. This happened all the time before engineers finally got the idea to install a mass dampening system, which serves to absorb the majority of this energy and deflect potential damage. All matter has a natural frequency and particular resonance, even the human body. This idea of resonance is also how radios work.)

    Sound Suppression Systems are used to absorb this acoustical energy and keep damage to a minimum. The water is used to absorb the acoustical energy that’s reflected from the mobile launch pad. NASA states that it installed this system because reflected energy from the top of the MLP was creating sound pressure that eventually damaged the thermal curtains on the solid rocket boosters, which created wing damage.

    Upon installation, the sound pressure has been reduced by half.