Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This might be the closest I will ever get to a space shuttle

Shuttle Atlantis rides on a 747 as the cargo transport flies along the Space Coast, giving spectators one heck of a view. This is the photo as it was taken, uncropped.

Unlike yesterday - when I went to Merritt Island expecting to see lots of wildlife and was severely disappointed - I did see what I was looking for during today's adventure.

And then some.

Ironically, when the shuttle lands in California, people along the Space Coast sometimes get a better view of the spaceship when it finally does come home to Florida. That's why I was secretly hoping last week that the weather over Kennedy Space Center would send Atlantis to Edwards Air Force Base in California. Alas, the clouds came through, and NASA was forced to land the space shuttle on the West Coast.

girl_foreground_0023My wish was granted - but at taxpayers' expense, of course. A ferry flight for a shuttle atop a gutted Boeing 747 costs NASA $1.8 million, but the view of the piggybacked orbiter as it flies along the coast of Brevard County is priceless for people like me.

The weather had to cooperate again today for NASA to send the 747 parallel to the coast. The route is actually unnecessary and only makes for a good public relations show, benefiting the U.S. space program. Thick clouds or an intense breeze could have resulted in a decision for a more direct approach to KSC.

Besides a few clouds around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the sky was quite blue. For coastline regions during a Florida summer afternoon, that's not necessarily a common sight. I, and the more than 100 people who joined me, were fortunate.

We crowded the beach on the south end of Patrick Air Force Base. After a patient wait on the sand, I finally spotted the shuttle and its carrier aircraft as they neared the coast. The plane and its cargo made a left-hand turn as they flew over Satellite Beach - several miles south of me - and moved offshore.

For a few miles after it crossed the beach, the plane flew far offshore. But it kept turning. And turning. It was headed straight for me!

The last time I saw this sight, the 747 had already straightened out and was paralleling the beach when it passed me. This time, it was still nearing the shoreline when it crossed my position. The landing gear also came down right before my eyes. That made for a more impressive photo opportunity than expected - one that I, of course, did not waste.

Oh, and as for those wildlife photos from Merritt Island: I will get to them when I get to them.

The shuttle and its carrier fly over the beachside complexes in Satellite Beach, starting its turn.

no gear_0079
Landing gear is still up. This image is tightly cropped, showing the plane as it banked left toward me.

The two close in on my position as the landing gear comes down.

This might be the closest I'll ever get to the shuttle.

You can almost inspect the heat shield.

The gear appears to be straight and ready for landing.

The 747 straightens out and starts paralleling the coast.


In this cropped-in image, the aircraft appears to head farther out to sea as it follows the curvature of Cape Canaveral. The two landed safely.


Joe said...

This is one of my favorite posts of all-time on The Offlede. The photos are spectacular!

Rockledge said...

i think I saw you there at the beach. you were the one with the huge lens? nice pics.