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Day 10, Friday, 14 November

Today we are going to attend the launch of Endeavour STS-126, we also came for this and it’s going to be a realy great moment. There are three solutions to attend the launch of a shuttle, you can buy your tickets from the KSC Visitor, but they are sold in 30 minutes maximum, or you can use a tour operator, or finally you go on the cost in Titusville. We chose to use a tour operator, but the departure is from Orlando. The leaving point is not far from our hotel. In the bus there are people of any nationalities, Australians, Scottish people, Americans and off course French people, us! The Shuttle launch is planned for 7:55 pm, and we have to stay all day long in the KSC Visitor. The problem is that we had already visited everything during the week. The day is going to be long, and the enormous crowd is not going to easy things.


We go to Imax,the building which shelters the cinema contains a very attractive painting galery, or make a bus tour but we can only go to the Saturn V center, tanks of the shuttle are going to fill up so the public can’t go closer than the VAB.

Painting Painting Painting

Shuttle launch experience Tank

At 5:00 pm we go inside our bus which is going to bring us to the Nasa Causeway. It is the closest observation site for the public. On the spot we are approximately five thousands, the bus stops on the other side of the bridge in the south-east. Once get outside we rush to an observation spot. In this zone the sight towards the launch pad is hampered by islands, but I had noticed a hole in the seen line. Arrived on the spot we are the first ones with another couple. There is still two hours to wait. People is arriving, we were alone when we arrived and now we are in the middle of a crowd. People came with their flexible chairs, blankets and prepare to attend the takeoff. During this time Didier makes the last preparations and tunings of his cameras, which are not easy because of the night. A couple of professional photographer settle in near us, I discuss little with them and they allow me to look at the shuttle in the objective, because we don’t see it so much at naked eye. A little farther are installed stands to buy food or goodies, they will be take appart the next day.

Arrival of the bus Hamburgers Setting up material

Speakers are installed along the Causeway and let us know how are the preparations for the launch. At t-20 min we learn that there is a problem with an service arm. But fortunately the procedure goes on some minutes later.

Then the voice announces 20 – 19 – 18; people keep silent; 10 – 9 – 7 Main engine ignition; suddenly the launch pad seems to burn itself; 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 Boosters ignition; the smoke spread on both sides from deflectors and soon the Shuttle disappears; and TAKEOFF; she is moving, slowly she’s lifting off, on the causeway people shout and applaud, then the Shuttle goes out from the vapor cloud, the crowd shouts louder, the monster going softly, the light of the engines is blinding I cannot see anything else, the shuttle is already 200 m away but the flames still licks the launch pad. After some tens of seconds we do not distinguish the shuttle. After two minutes of flight boosters are released (the most dangerous phase of the flight is over), the crowd was again applauded. Eight minutes after the takeoff the main engines are stopped, the shuttle is now in orbit around the Earth at the speed of 28 000 kph. People applaud once again and compliment themselfs. We can see joy on the faces of the people.

STS-126 lift off STS-126 trajectory

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The show is over it is necessary to pack up all the equipment and to return to the bus. The return to Orlando will be long, more than two hours of highway for 85 km. But it’s not important the launch was magnificent.

This journey was really different from the one we had to Baikonur.

In the first place there is a forraine festive atmosphere in the KSC Visitor, many of the installations are made for the children or at least for the family, what in a sense is good because it brings money (the KSC visitor is fully financed by the tickets and the shops) and to make the spatial activities known by the public. But on the other side it removes the wondrous and gave us the impression to be more in an amusement park than in a space center.

For the Shuttle launch we were more than five thousand people on the NASA Causeway while for Baikonur we were about twenty, it contrasts between these two cultures and their manners to apprehend spatial for public. In the KSC it is impossible to approach less five hundred metres from the launch pad and by bus, the observation point of the launch for the public is situated at six miles that is ten kilometers, while a little more than a kilometer to Baikonur.

On the other hand it is easier to meet astronauts notably with the Astronaut Encounter or in various conventions which are organized and it greatly compensates for the negative points.

This kind of experience is something unforgettable and I go back in France with lots of pictures in my head.

Next step Kourou ?

Some additional pictures:

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Comment from Olivier Sanguy
Time: 2008-12-20, 2.31

Bravo pour ce compte-rendu très vivant. C’est du véritable tourisme spatial, bien plus abordable qu’un voyage vers l’ISS ou le futur SpaceShipTwo, mais tout de même fertile en émotion !

Comment from Stephane
Time: 2008-12-20, 7.53

Résumé magnifique… Je te l’avais bien dis que cela serait inoubliable

Comment from Cathy
Time: 2009-01-19, 11.50

Great post!
Glad you had a nice time.

I am headed down to my home state of FL in Feb. for the next launch. My sister got me access to the VIP bleachers for launch.
I have been to many launches before, but never in the bleachers.
I’m SO excited!

Comment from pascal guinet
Time: 2009-03-05, 11.15

bravo pour le reportage que vous avez fait je me revoi au KSC et oui moi aussi je suis allee il y a 10 dejat .comme c’est bisar les photos que vous publier son a quelque chose comme ceut que que j’ai pris ont sent prent plein la tête c’est tellement geant et superbe a la fois que même 10 ans apres ont na rien perdu dse qu’on a vecu au KSC.bravo.

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