Everyone who works for NASA gets to see a shuttle launch right? Ever since working for NASA, I learned quickly that you have to try to go to a launch yourself. Many of my coworkers, who were nearing retirement, still had not been to one. With news of the shuttle program ending in the next few years, I knew it was now or never.
Kennedy Space Center – Visitor’s Center
I had worked a few times with our Associate Center Director on events hosted by our Developing Professional’s Club (DPC), so I figured it never hurts to ask right? I emailed him, and he hooked me up with VIP tickets to view STS-128 night launch to the International Space Station (ISS).
We decided to drive down to the launch to increase our chances of seeing it since delays are common. We did not make our vacation a true road trip. We did stay the first night of our drive at my cousin’s house in Blacksburg, Virginia before continuing on to Cocoa Beach, FL.
The VIP tickets gave us free admittance into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center. Where we reported for a quick briefing on how the tickets worked. We returned back in the middle of the night to the Visitor’s Center to board the buses that would take us to Banana Creek.
We set up our tripods and were ready for pictures. T-11, the launch was scrubbed. We were SO close.
STS-128 Launch Pad – The night it was scrubbed. (Photo by: Andy Crampton)
We then started to plan the rest of our trip. We headed to Tampa Bay for a night to visit my freshmen roommate from college after learning we had a couple of days until the next launch could happen. On our drive across Florida, we stopped at Viera Wetlands to take pictures.
Andy has always wanted to get his pilot’s license. I re-connected with a friend, Alex, from high school that lived near Orlando. We visited him, and I surprised Andy with the news that Alex was a flight instructor. He took us up in a Cessna 172. The boys sat in the navigation area, while I sat in the back. This was my first time in a plane this small. Alex even let Andy control the plane!
Finally, the launch was scheduled to depart at roughly 4 am on Friday, August 28th. We went through our routine of getting to the viewing area, setting up our tripods and camera, and waited. Finally, Discovery launched! I was able to capture Discovery’s path with a long exposure.
Lift Off – STS-128
The Unofficial Countdown Clock
We drove back to Pennsylvania in one straight, 13-hour drive from Florida.