Launch of Shuttle Discovery lights up night sky!

Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
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Trip End May 26, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Florida
Friday, December 8, 2006

STS-116 Schedule
Launch Day - Thursday, Dec. 7
11:43 a.m. - Tanking commences
3:30 p.m. - Live launch commentary begins
Launch Day Crew Activities:
11:45 a.m. -- Crew wakes up
3:50 p.m. -- Crew photo opportunity
5:05 p.m. -- Weather briefing
5:30 p.m. -- Astronauts don flight suits
5:45 p.m. -- Depart for launch pad
6:15 p.m. -- Arrive at white room and begin ingress
7:30 p.m. -- Close crew hatch
9:35 p.m. – Launch

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
That was the best thing I have ever seen!  
Night turned into day. It was the biggest flame ever, and LOUD, VERY LOUD!  
Oh wow. At the 5 minute hold when they announced it was GO for launch, the crowd went wild; people were dancing, and cheering and hugging. It was like a New Years countdown, but MUCH MUCH BETTER!  
A hush came over the crowd, and the final 4 minutes were DEAD SILENT. NOT EVEN A WHISPER AMONG HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. We counted down the last 5 seconds then it was on.
The sparks started and then ... BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!  
The night sky was as bright as day. It was like a sunrise happened in a split second.
Then it lifted off the launch pad and you heard this huge thunderous roar and saw the massive flames shooting out the back of the thing. woooooooooow spectacular.
I watched as it climbed and turned from this huge orange flame into a tiny dot the size of a star. When the Solid Rockets separated, the crowd cheered and it was done.
Space Shuttle Discovery disappeared into space, chasing down the International Space Station, and I saw it!
  Oh yeah!
I waited around, listening to the live audio as Discovery reached orbit and then we filed back onto the buses before the 'acid rain clouds' from the SRB's reached us.


Shuttle Discovery Launch and Kennedy Space Centre

I arrived at the Kennedy Space centre at around midday on launch day, after loads of hassle with crowded buses and the whole world descending on this spot to watch the launch. I was not alone. I arrived late to an overcrowded, launch hungry crowd, I didn't have much time to see the exhibitions, but just being there on launch day was amazing. I spent my time at the Space Center wandering around the Rocket Garden, checking out the Mars Museum and seeing one of the many IMAX movies. Being at Kennedy Space Center on a launch day is a huge thing. There were thousands of space nerds to talk to, even NASA techs and test pilots. Big screens were setup with live audio and video to watch the launch. In the areas where we couldn't see the screens, there was live audio from mission control.

There were special presentations setup in the various conference rooms where there were talks from ex Astronauts and the NASA techs and test pilots. Bob Crippen was there too. He was the first ever Space Shuttle pilot, and stood on stage telling us all about life in space and answering many questions.

The best thing of the day was the 'Status Room'. This room was setup specifically for the launch, with live video from Mission control, live audio, live shuttle pictures and a presenter. Who talked us through every detail of the Shuttles preparation, launch, orbit, docking to the Space Station, the re-entry, landing, and final inspections. He answered a billion questions that came shooting from the audience and we were constantly updated on the current status. Such as, 'in 2 minutes, the main tank will be pressurized', then 'in 5 minutes, the astronauts will begin putting on their suits', etc. I learned more about space and the shuttle in the time I had in this room than I had learned in my entire life leading up to this day.

At 5pm we were herded onto the buses (after massive security checks) and shuttled out to the viewing area to watch the launch. We were taken to a place called Banana river and put right on the shores of the main waterway which separates the launch pads from the mainland. We were right on the waterfront. It's a superb spot to watch the launch and the closest possible spot to watch it from. Its 6 miles from Launch pad 39B, where Discovery was sitting, waiting, glowing in bright spotlights with liquid oxygen and hydrogen fumes spilling from the fully fueled tanks filling the chilly air, creating an awesome effect in the distance. The vehicle assembly building was close by - the 3rd largest building in the world.

The minimum distance to observe the launch is from 6 miles. This is for a few reasons, mainly, the thing is a ticking time bomb. If it blew up on the launch pad, we'd be in big trouble, even at 6 miles. The other reason is that it’s so damn loud! Any closer, and you would blow your ear drums. Also, the exhaust from the SRB's - Solid Rocket Boosters is toxic and the acid cloud produced can cause some health issues apparently, so 6 miles was fine by me. I would singe my eyebrows if I were any closer anyway.

A grandstand was setup and we had live NASA audio pumping out the speakers. It was a super cold night and with every minute the wind was picking up strength and the clouds were building while we anxiously awaited the launch.

The day started with a 70% chance of a 'GO for launch’, earlier in the week it was 80% but with every day it dropped. 70% was still sounding OK. But the forecast wasn't looking promising. Later into the day, thick clouds were expected to come over with a cold front, presenting a risk for the launch. Throughout the day, as I wandered around the Rocket Garden and Kennedy Space center grounds, the probability of launch went up and down, and nobody really knew what was going to happen until it actually happened. After the Columbia disaster, the new mission parameters state that they need a cloud ceiling of 4000 meters to launch. This allows them to video the shuttle and look for any foam falling off and damaging the orbiters heat shields. It also gives time for the long distance radar to lock in and track the trajectory.

So we were at the shores of the Banana River, sitting, standing, pacing, anxiously staring at Discovery, and willing it to get a ‘GO’ for launch. The people were tense, everyone was staring at this massive rocket in the distance, silent, listening to the NASA audio and praying for the thickening clouds to somehow magically disappear and give them a chance to launch in the 5 minute launch window at 2136pm.

The countdown went down to 9 minutes, where they have a 10 minute built in hold to evaluate the conditions. Everything technically was good with the Shuttle. A few minor issues discovered in the lead up days were fixed and now we were just waiting for the weather to be in our favour.  As we waited, a T-38 Trainer jet, which simulates the shuttle and tests the launch conditions, was circling overhead, testing the winds, the clouds, the weather, and this Jet, tonight, would be the one with all the power. All these thousands of technicians on the ground had done their job; it was in ‘god’s hands’ now, as they told us many times over the night. Each time the T-38 roared overhead, we clapped and yelled out "GO GO GO GO", hoping that it would hear and give the shuttle a ‘GO’ for launch. Every few minutes, the live audio would go to the test pilot and he would report in on his findings. Each time he said the cloud ceiling was too low for a launch. But the weather can change in a second, so they weren't going to jump to conclusions. They could cancel this thing in the last 2 seconds if need be.

The launch was now the decision of the T-38.

The countdown timer held for 10 minutes and was given a ‘GO’ to continue the countdown towards 0. We cheered and clapped. This means that the launch technically is still a possibility and they haven't ruled it out...yet.

We were now at 9 minutes, counting down. Every minute, the audio from mission control technicians was put through and they all said "GO FOR LAUNCH". Until the weather guy came in, who said "currently evaluating weather conditions, standby".

The crowd hushed and we waited for what we already knew would happen.

At 4 minutes to go, the weather guys came on with their decision and gave the shuttle a "NO GO"

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The crowd booed and hissed as we listened to the details of the weather.

The cloud ceiling as I said earlier needs to be at least 4000 feet to launch, giving the cameras time to capture anything is falling from the shuttle. Tonight the cloud ceiling was something like 2000 feet - not high enough, so the launch was canceled.

We made our way back to the bus in the cold wind, cursing under our breath, and out loud while we listened to the live NASA radio. The techs were going through the shutdown procedures. This delay had just cost NASA $USD 500,000!

We got back on the bus and joined the insane traffic jam and headed back to our hostel, where we arrived at 2am.

They didn't even attempt to launch the next day (on the 8th) due to bad weather (strong wind and low clouds). The next launch opportunity would be on Saturday the 9th.

On Friday, I returned to the Space Center, to see the millions of things I missed last time. First up was the guided tour and I glad I didn't miss this thing. First stop was The Observation deck where we saw the fully fuelled and ready Space Shuttle Discovery.

We passed the Vehicle Assembly building, the third biggest building in the world. It’s difficult to grasp the size of the thing. There are no buildings around it to compare to so it’s a little tricky. But if you take a look at the huge double doors at the bottom, they look they could be used by an ant to get inside. It gives a good indication that this building is monstrous. We made our way to the Observation Deck and were so lucky to see the shuttle sitting on the launch pad. This was closed yesterday, as the shuttle was fully fueled, but today, we were able to climb the 6 stories and get an incredible view of Discovery, sitting and waiting on the launch pad.

The wind was extremely strong and cold up the top of the observation duck, and we knew why they didn't want to launch today. The next stop was the Saturn 5 center. The Saturn 5 was the rocket used to propel the Apollo Spacecraft into orbit. It’s as big as 2.5 space shuttles. As heavy as Seven 747 Jumbo Jets and just frigging huge. Five Saturn 5 Rockers were made, but they only needed 2 to get to the moon, way back in 1969, so they have a few to put on display. The one they had here was complete with the Apollo spacecraft and the Luna Lander. I knew the Saturn 5 was a big enough rocket but had no idea they would be this big. It’s incredible they were able to get them off the ground.

In the Saturn 5 Centre there was a piece of moon rock on display, I was able to touch it. They also had the original mission control room (the ‘firing room’) from the Apollo mission on display - with the original computers and desks and all the gear used for Apollo 11.

The tour finished with a visit to the Space Station Center. I was pretty excited about this place. It’s the actual clean room, where the components for the International Space Station are assembled. Looking through a thick glass window, the huge warehouse floor is covered in high tech pieces, that very soon, will be loaded into the Space Shuttles and taken up to orbit and attached to the International Space Station.

After the tour, I visited the Astronaut hall of fame. This is where they have all the interactive displays. First up was the best ride I’ve ever been on: ‘The G-Force Simulator’. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the short wait was well worth it. You sit in a small capsule, that from the outside, just spins round and round, then tips up and looks insanely dizzy. But inside that capsule, it’s a whole other story. Simulating around 3.5 G's you take on the role of a fighter pilot in an F-16 Jet. The spinning motion creates a G force, that, when you’re sitting in this capsule, staring at a video screen, from a camera in the cockpit of an f-16, gives you the sensation that you are actually there. The Jet flies through canyons and does some insane, stomach churning maneuvers and almost crashes a few times, before an exciting landing. I came out, almost unable to walk. It was better than any roller coaster I’d ever been on.

The next day - LAUNCH DAY

I returned, once again to the Space Center with an American couple and an Aussie guy. We were praying for clear weather. Once again, reports were up and down throughout the day and the launch possibilities were everything from 20% to 70%. Once again, we were herded onto the buses to be taken to the launch viewing area.

Just like two days earlier, the grandstands were there, but this time, the crowd was a little smaller. The clock ticked down but this time, instead of canceling when the timer reached 5 minutes, the Shuttle was given a ‘GO for launch’. A huge cheer went up and the next 5 minutes were tense. It was a clear night, stars were shining, no wind, and it was all good to go.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
 That was the best thing I have ever seen!  
Night turned into day. It was the biggest flame ever, and LOUD, VERY LOUD!  
Oh wow. At the 5 minute hold when they announced it was GO for launch, the crowd went wild, people were dancing, and cheering and hugging. It was like a New Years countdown, but MUCH MUCH BETTER!  
A hush came over the crowd, and the final 4 minutes were DEAD SILENT. NOT EVEN A WHISPER AMONG HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. We counted down the last 5 seconds then it was on.  
The sparks started and then ... BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!  
The night sky was as bright as day. It was like a sunrise happened in a split second.
Then it lifted off the launch pad and you heard this huge thunderous roar and saw the massive flames shooting out the back of the thing. woooooooooow spectacular.
I watched as it climbed and turned from this huge orange flame into a tiny dot the size of a star. When the Solid Rockets separated, the crowd cheered and it was done.
Space Shuttle Discovery disappeared into space, chasing down the International Space Station, and I saw it!
  Oh yeah!
I waited around, listening to the live audio as Discovery reached orbit and then we filed back onto the buses before the 'acid rain clouds' from the SRB's reached us.


The latest from NASA:

7th December : Launch day has dawned at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Space Shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven astronauts are undergoing final preparations for the STS-116 mission to the International Space Station.

All systems onboard the space shuttle are functioning normally this morning, but there's a 60 percent chance of weather prohibiting a liftoff at 9:35 p.m. EST. A cold front moving through the area is expected to bring with it a lingering blanket of clouds and isolated light rain. The team will press on with the countdown for now, in case the weather cooperates after all.

Starting shortly after 9:00 a.m., Discovery's orange external tank will begin loading 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This process, called "tanking," takes about three hours to complete. The propellant levels in the tank will be continuously "topped off" until the final minutes of the countdown.

Across the space center, in the Operations and Checkout Building's crew quarters, the astronauts are scheduled to wake up just as tanking is getting under way. After breakfast, a weather briefing and suiting up, they'll board the silver Astrovan and leave for the launch pad amid the cheers of Kennedy employees.

The STS-116 mission is the 33rd for Discovery and the 117th space shuttle flight. During the 12-day mission, the crew will continue construction on the International Space Station, rewiring the orbiting laboratory and adding a segment to its integrated truss structure.

Uncooperative Weather Forces Launch Postponement to Saturday

8th December: The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery was scrubbed Thursday after poor weather conditions spoiled the attempt at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Earlier in the day a cold front moved in over the spaceport, bringing clouds and winds into the area. The cloud ceiling proved to be too low for a safe launch, prompting NASA to postpone Discovery's flight.


NASA officials have set the next launch attempt for 8:47 p.m. EST on Dec. 9. Shuttle weather forecasters expect the cold front to still be over Florida for Saturday's launch, limiting chances for liftoff to 30 percent.

The STS-116 mission is the 33rd for Discovery and the 117th space shuttle flight. During the 12-day mission, the crew will continue construction on the International Space Station, rewiring the orbiting laboratory and adding a segment to its integrated truss structure

Weather favorable for Thursday shuttle launch
2:58 p.m. EST, December 5, 2006


•: Forecasters reduce the chances of favorable weather to 70 percent
• Liftoff will be Thursday at 9:35 p.m. EST -- the first night launch in four years
• Crew will bring up an $11 million addition to the international space station


The weather forecast for the planned liftoff of Discovery was downgraded slightly Tuesday but still remained favorable for the first night space shuttle launch in more than four years.

Concerns about clouds over the Kennedy Space Center at the launch time of 9:35 p.m. EST Thursday caused forecasters to reduce the chances of favorable weather to 70 percent from 80 percent. Strong wind was expected on Friday and Saturday, diminishing the chances of good launch weather for those days to 40 percent.

"The first day is the best day weatherwise," said Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer.

Weather will improve early next week.

NASA has four launch opportunities over five days, if need be, to start the 12-day mission.

The space agency likely won't attempt to launch past December 17 since flight controllers want Discovery on the ground before the new year. Shuttle computers aren't designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight. A potential solution to the problem hasn't been thoroughly tested.

However, NASA officials haven't ruled out going past December 17 if they run out of launch opportunities.

"It's not a show stopper," NASA test director Steven Payne said. "It can be done."

Technicians on Tuesday checked out Discovery's flight systems and planned to fuel power cells aboard the shuttle.

"We have no issues of consequence," Payne said.

The launch countdown clock was started late Monday.

NASA hopes to dock Discovery with the international space station. In order to help that procedure, Russian flight controllers boosted the space station's orbit by firing the engine on a supply vehicle docked to the space lab for 23 minutes Monday. An effort to do that last week was aborted after only three minutes because of a software problem.

"It was a flawless firing," said NASA spokeswoman Lynnette Madison.

In Houston, NASA worked on a software problem that had caused a breaker to open on a circuit to the motor that rotates the space station's giant solar arrays in the direction of the sun. The solar arrays will generate power for the space station after Discovery's mission.

NASA planned to test the software fix on Tuesday.

During their 12-day mission, Discovery's seven astronauts planned to rewire the space station, deliver a 2-ton addition and replace one of the space station's three crew members.

This is the first planned night launch in four years. NASA required daylight liftoffs for the three flights after the 2003 Columbia accident to make sure the agency could get good photos of the external fuel tank. Foam breaking off the tank at liftoff caused the damage that killed Columbia's seven astronauts.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida

Preparations are on schedule for NASA's first nighttime space shuttle launch in four years as the space agency readies Discovery for a mission to the international space station, managers said Wednesday.

NASA plans to launch Discovery at 9:35 p.m. EST on December 7 for the third shuttle flight of the year and the fourth since the Columbia disaster killed seven astronauts in 2003.

The agency required the three launches after the Columbia accident to be in daylight so clear images could be taken of the shuttle's external fuel tank in case foam falls off. Foam breaking off the tank and striking Columbia's wing at liftoff caused the damage that led to the disaster.

"There were really no dissenting opinions on the night launch," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator.

The space agency needs to start launching shuttles at night to take advantage of more launch opportunities and finish space station construction by 2010, when the shuttle program ends.

The external tanks had acceptable levels of foam loss during the last two liftoffs, officials said.

During the launch, NASA managers believe radar will be sufficient to spot any pieces falling from Discovery's tank and that two in-flight inspections would detect any damage.

NASA engineers feel they have learned so much about the foam that the space agency has reduced the risk of the external tank from "catastrophic probable" to a "strong hazard," said Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager.

"It's not nearly as bad as we thought it was because we now know more -- through the use of cameras and the other sensors we have flown -- about how foam comes off or doesn't come off the tank," Hale said.

In Houston, engineers evaluated a potential problem with a unit that controls power to an enormous joint that rotates solar arrays at the space station. A circuit breaker opened this week during a software test on the device, which ensures that the panels follow the sun to provide electricity.

During Discovery's visit to the space station, half of the outpost's U.S. segment will be powered down for two spacewalks while shuttle astronauts rewire it. NASA officials want to make sure the rotary joint's two power sources are working at that time.

Asked if the problem could delay the launch, Gerstenmaier said: "I don't know ... There are lots of things that need to be analyzed."

Another problem popped up Wednesday when a thruster used to boost the space station to a higher altitude so it can more easily dock with the shuttle stopped working after two minutes. Another attempt to boost the space station will be made Friday.

If the launch does not happen on December 7, NASA can keep trying through December 17.

After that, the agency will re-evaluate its options and may call it quits until mid-January.

NASA wants Discovery back from its 12-day mission by New Year's Eve because shuttle computers are not designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight.

The space agency has figured out a solution for the New Year's problem, but managers are reluctant to try it since it has not been thoroughly tested.

If the space shuttle is not back on the ground during the change into the new year, NASA officials want it docked to the space station and not flying.


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