Thursday, April 20, 2023

Remembering a Shuttle Launch in the 90's

Space Shuttle Lauch.  Light in distance with People on a Beach
With the SpaceX launch today, and its unfortunate blow-up shortly after, it reminded me of having the opportunity to watch a space shuttle launch.

It was a few years ago when we were on holiday in Florida. It was just a typical fly-drive Florida holiday where we started out in Orlando and were just playing it by ear, booking a hotel each night in a new spot. 

We ended up on the east near Cocoa Beach. We were turned down by a few hotels saying they were full. Surprised, we were eventually told that there was a shuttle launch overnight, and lots of people were in town for the launch. 

After finding out more details and logistics, we eventually found a room for the night. I believe the launch was at 3 am, and we would be able to see it from the beach. We went to bed and set an alarm for 2 am. On waking, we jumped into the car and took a short drive, parked at the beach. It was busy. Lots of people turned up for the launch. 

It was almost pitch black apart from the occasional torch. My memory thinks there were campfires, but I think I’m imagining that. There was a radio broadcasting the live launch so we could hear what was happening. We were told to keep an eye out across the bay to the launch site. You wouldn’t hear it, but you could see it. 

Gradually, time counted down till we got to T minus 60. It was surreal standing on a Florida beach surrounded by hundreds of people in the dark at 3 am. We got down to 10 seconds and counted down, watching into the distance. In the distance, the sky lit up. Rather slowly, we could see the shuttle bust against gravity and make its way into the air. It wasn’t fast and was silent. Gradually, it gained altitude, and rather than quickly disappearing, we could see it gradually getting higher and higher and going into an arc.

One person standing on a beach at night with Shuttle launch in the distance
It then slowly got smaller and smaller. Wow, that was a shuttle launch, and all was successful. I think there was also cheering on the beach, and we got caught up in the moment. People started leaving, so we headed back to the car, the hotel, and back to bed. The next morning was a sunny, warm Florida day, and we headed to Ro Jon’s surf shop. We had seen a shuttle launch.

We were back in Florida a few years later and went to the Kennedy Space Center for a look around. They had a decommissioned shuttle you could go on board. I was actually amazed you could walk under it, and I noticed that the switch to tell the control system the undercarriage was closed was just a twin-wire microswitch. Much like you would get in a fridge. I would have thought that there was some special multi-failsafe, gold-plated switch. But no, just a simple microswitch.