Thursday, July 16, 2009

Launch of space shuttle Endeavour | Well, that was lame

A streaking space shuttle Endeavour is barely visible at this magnification, so click on the above image to see the full-size version, which will give you an idea of the poor conditions for viewing the liftoff from far to the south of Kennedy Space Center.

The bottoms of the shuttle's two solid rocket boosters are faintly lit. The vehicle itself is so shrouded in clouds and haze.

After Endeavour had been delayed three times in the past week, NASA finally got a window with acceptable weather to launch the space shuttle Wednesday. Ironically, though, the cloud cover was more widespread than it was on any of those three previous days. The difference this time was that the lightning and thick, low-level clouds had already moved away.

Able to take only a short break from work, I was relegated to watching the liftoff from Palm Shores, about 30 miles south of Kennedy Space Center, as the crow flies. Thick hot-weather haze and those darn clouds typical of summer afternoons in Central Florida greatly reduced the visibility from my viewing location on the Pineda Causeway. I had pondered a trip to the beach, but the boats on the Indian River, I thought, would make for better foreground than the ocean surf.

Perhaps that was the wrong tactic, though. The engine flames were visible for less than a minute, and I managed only a wind gauge as foreground in one shot and a few boats with the faint contrail in another. The vertical shot below is the center image of the panorama on the top of this post. It was the second straight launch in which the clouds obstructed my view of the separation of the solid rocket boosters.

Even with that pitiful Atlas V rocket launch last month, I was able to crop in tightly, allowing the spacecraft to be visible in a photo. With Endeavour, when I zoomed in on the shuttle in the above vertical photo, I could faintly see the shuttle's orange external fuel tank. Nothing more. This is why I like to watch launches on my days off - so I can get closer.

As they say, there's always a next time. But with the program expected to be hung on a shelf next year, there are only seven next times left.

Discovery is next in line, though. And even if the launch is delayed by a few days, there is a good chance that it will happen at night. That would be spectacular. And what's even better? It's scheduled for Aug. 18, a Tuesday, which I will have off from work.

My fingers, toes, eyes, ears - everything - are all crossed.

Earlier this year: See, a clear-sky shuttle launch, when viewed from quite a distance, still can be beautiful. Just go here.

If Wednesday were a clear winter day, the contrail would contrast magnificently against a clear-blue sky. A fog that developed on my lens when I removed my equipment from my air-conditioned car probably didn't help these shots, either.

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