Space Shuttle Columbia Launch – January 2003

Barenakedfamily left Nashville, TN and headed to Florida. We hadn’t been to Florida yet and decided in Nashville that we would start in Jacksonville. On the way there we learned that the Shuttle would be launching so we changed our plans to see our first ever shuttle launch. We found a great campground in Titusville, FL and got there just a few days before launch. We learned of the historic significance of the launch once there – the first Israeli in space. The security was tight. This has been a difficult page to get started on because of the tragedy. We have all been deeply affected and saddened by the loss.

God bless the astronauts, their families, and NASA.

The morning of the launch people were lined on the road to the causeway. We found our spot some two hours before launch and still had difficulty squeezing in.

So we parked the car on Timon to save space!

About 10 miles beyond that boat to the left is the launch pad. Following are pictures from our digital camera and video captures from our camcorder.

The above picture is a zoom captured from the camcorder. We were listening to the launch info on AM radio and nothing happens on the pad until six seconds before launch. Then you see the smoke blowing out the right side – no sounds from the launch yet.

Then to the left of the launch pad starts blowing smoke. Still no sound where we are.

36:12 – This is the time stamp from the digital camera – minutes:seconds. One of our major problems on the road is determining the correct time and date where we are. Our clocks never seem to be correct…

These are zooms captured from the camcorder.

36:16 – another time stamp from the digital camera. Four seconds from previous.

That’s a LOT of energy! We learned at the Kennedy Space Center that the shuttle is 90% fuel and only 10% vehicle. Cars are the complete opposite.

36:45 – 33 seconds from the first picture time stamped. This is about the time the first sounds hit us. The rumbling was intense but not real ‘loud’. It does shake you.

36:51 – six seconds from the previous picture without the zoom. Gives you an idea of our viewpoint.

38:09 – A little more than two minutes after launch. This is about the point where the eyes can no longer see the flame of the rockets.

38:50 – The flames of the rocket have left behind the smoke trail. The boosters have not yet come off.

Camcorder zoom capture from when the rocket flames leave the smoke behind.

Here’s the cam zoom when the boosters separate from the orbiter moving about 3200 miles per hour! You can see three objects the brightest being the orbiter with the astronauts. The right booster is more visible here.

The bright spot is the orbiter’s rockets – the huge orange fuel tank is still attached at this point. You can see the two boosters falling off slightly above the main glow.

These next two pictures were captured from the camcorder and show the right booster reflecting the sun, the left one is barely visible above, and the orbiter’s rocket glow is clear.

Now the left booster is reflecting the sun and the right booster is barely visible.

Four minutes after launch the orbiter is traveling at 5000 miles per hour!

More informative is that we learned the ‘Shuttle’ is not what we all think. The ‘Orbiter’ is the vehicle the astronauts are in. The ‘boosters’ are the two large white rockets. The ‘fuel tank’ is the big orange thing that the shuttle is attached to. All four components make up the ‘Space Shuttle’.

After the launch the smoke trail was beautiful. It reflected the early sun in the blue sky brilliantly.

The crowd had already been packing up at this time and the shuttle was long gone, noises and all. The launch cloud and trail is what was left dissipating.

Sunny had a great seat for the launch.

This is a close up of the cloud left behind from the launch site.

Launch cloud behind these people long after the launch.

Who knew?

Greg and Jenn got to see the Space Shuttle re-entry over Waco, TX (from Austin, TX) back around 1995 at around 3am. It was one of the most memorable events of our life. We heard about it on the news and waited in our alleyway looking North about 30 degrees up for what was described as a ‘shooting star’. It was SO Much More than a shooting star. The TV and newspaper pictures of the recent re-entry and breakup of the Columbia do not provide an appropriate vision of what is seen in person.

As we remember – an enormous ‘fireball’ from the western horizon to the eastern horizon in less than a minute!! The width of the fireball and contrail was easily up to 10 times that of a Jet in the sky and lost no intensity throughout. It illuminated the night sky for several minutes after passing from horizon to horizon and we heard the sonic boom greater than 10 minutes after the event. It then landed in Florida about 20 minutes later!

The re-entry looks nothing like a shooting star. Nothing like an airliner slowly moving out of site. Nothing like the contrail of a jet plane. Nothing like what the media can capture and present. Nothing like the launch. The re-entry is an event like no other.

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