Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The no-shuttle-launch blues

The moon, after rising over the Atlantic off Cocoa Beach on a night that was supposed to feature a shuttle launch. There's a man smoking a cigarette - or something - at the end of the walkway. I saw 99 percent of the moon and 0 percent of the shuttle.

I'm really not in the mood for words right now. I get enough of them at work. And today? Well, it's a furlough day, or unpaid leave, or a pay cut. And today, I'm not supposed to have anything to do with work.

That's why a shuttle launch would have been a good thing to keep my mind of words, those things that define my existence. It was supposed to be a visual spectacular. I readied my digital SLR, my film camera and my high-definition video camera. I was even poised to buy a third tripod for the 9:20 p.m. launch.

moon_palm_0073But no. NASA couldn't properly fuel the external tank for shuttle Discovery. A valve sprang a leak 20 minutes before the tank was full. I got word - via text message, from co-workers - that the launch had been scrubbed, just before I was about to leave for a front-row seat in Titusville.

The mission's start was delayed until at least Sunday, when it'll lift off - if all goes well - at 7:43 p.m., which is 12 minutes after sunset. At that time, the conditions won't be dark enough for a timed exposure, which bummed me out. It was to be my second try at a nighttime shot of a shuttle, the first being exactly one year ago when I failed miserably trying to capture Atlantis on March 11, 2008.

Discovery's streaking arch in a timed exposure could have been either ruined or made more interesting by a nearly full moon. I took my camera out to the beach, despite there being no launch, and watched the reddish satellite rise over the Atlantic Ocean. The photos of its rise were miserable, but I snapped a few after it had been hanging in the air for a while. They were still bad, but not quite as bad.

As for Discovery, NASA wants to shoot it up Sunday, allowing for the fullest mission as possible. But I don't have Sunday off from work. How do I describe that? There are no words.

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