2 weeks ago, when we came to Kennedy Space Center, we heard about the Atlas V rocket launch that was happening on February 3. I always wanted to watch a rocket launch in person. And if you read my previous post, you know that I tear up during every rocket launch I watch on TV or movies. So we sprinted our way back north from the Florida Keys all the way up to Cape Canaveral. Luckily, they delayed the launch date to February 5, and we had more time to drive north.
Atlas V rocket was set to launch from Launch Pad 41 at 8:37 AM, to deliver a GPS system for the US Air Force. NASA sells tickets to watch the launch about 2 miles away, but it was gonna cost $20 plus admission to the Space Center (again), which was $50. Kinda sucks. The beach was 4.8 miles away, and free. We took the free route.
The beach opens at 6 AM. So we spent the night at a Walmart 20 minutes away, woke up at 5 AM, packed up, and left. We weren’t sure if there were gonna be a ton of people, or not at all. We wanted to play it safe.
The gate was closed when we arrived at 5:30 AM, and there were 3 cars in front of us. I knocked on the car in front of us to make sure we were in the right place. The driver was napping with a pillow positioned against his side window when I knocked. There were also kids in the back. A family affair, it was very cute. He was from Colombia, and it seems like we were in the right place. We’re all here to watch the rocket launch.
At 6 AM, the gates opened and we were able to get a solid parking space. 4th vehicle to enter the park, and the sun hasn’t even risen yet. We cooked a nice breakfast in the RV with beans and eggs, and made our way down the beach to the southmost point to get as close as we can to the launch pad.
The sunrise was beautiful to look at despite the cold cold weather. A big change from 3 days ago when we were in Key West with our swimsuits on by the beach. Yeah it was early morning and we were tired when we woke up, but being on the beach during sunrise made it all worth it.
We got to the border of the beach where the fence was, and set up the tripod on a wooden ramp that gave us a pretty good view. Talked to a British couple who actually purchased the tickets for the launch 2 days ago. Apparently they don’t give you a refund or get you free tickets when the launch gets delayed. Seemed pretty unfair.
As we waited, the crowd grew from the 4 of us to… I don’t know, maybe 100? You see the pictures. It was a pretty decent crowd. We were glad we woke up early. NASA had a live webcast that was gonna broadcast the launch, so Haejung put it on her phone. There was about 30% favorable weather for the launch. Not good news. But we waited, and waited… and the chance increased to 60%, then we heard the launch status check go through all the departments. Booster, Go, Retro, Go, Guidance, Go, Procedures, Go… and so on… And we were go for launch!!
We listened to the webcast and we had T-1 minute! I announced to the crowd with excitement, “1 minute and counting!!” People cheered. I had my Sony a7s set up, my iPhone, and I was ready to start shooting continuously at about 20 seconds out. Then someone shouted “hey, there’s smoke!” “Huh?” I looked towards the launch pad and saw the big cloud of smoke spreading from the launch pad and the Atlas V rocket slowly ascending into the sky. What the? the webcast had about a 30 second delay!!
I began to snap away, making sure to actually watch the launch with my own eyes than through the viewfinder of my camera. The rocket as big as the width of my pinky slowly rose and rose and all the way up until it disappeared into the blue sky, leaving a trail of smoke before it vanished. There was a faint boom that arrived where we were about 5 or 10 seconds after the launch. The smoke was pretty contained, and you didn’t see a big explosion like what you see during a shuttle launch.
I guess the reason the rocket launch was pretty contained was because the payload for the rocket was very small in comparison to the shuttle launch. It’s an entirely different force needed to get a GPS satellite into the sky, then a Space Shuttle vehicle. I haven’t confirmed this or anything, but that seems to make sense to me.
So all in all, the rocket launch itself? Was…. not as sensational as I thought it’d be. Probably the first launch I watched and I didn’t shed a single tear… and I watched it live. But waking up early to watch the beautiful sunrise, to be on the beach with all the people to watch this thing… was for some reason fun, and worth it. But next time, I’m probably gonna pony up and buy the tickets to get closer. Also, I hope they put something bigger into the sky.