Once they are up ....

The crack of dawn (actually a few minutes before) found me sprawled on a blanket on the grass at Cape Canaveral watching as the space shuttle, Discovery, launch on one of its final missions. Said vertical departure was scheduled for 6:21 am and due to a cunning plan that saw us with a NASA employee in our car (the fact she was on crutches was not our doing), we bagged VIP spots inside the Kennedy Space Center about six miles away from the shuttle. This is almost as close as you can get, since greater proximity results in death from fumes, noise or pissed off alligators; largely to be avoided.

At 6:10 am, the International Space Station (the shuttle's destination) could be seen as a bright, fast moving speck crossing the moon. This was the indication that the narrow window for launch was now open and with no problems to forestall it, the engines fired and Discovery vanished in a white burning mass that lit up the night. It had risen well into the sky by the time the noise and vibration reached us, and we followed the reverse shooting star until the speck finally vanished, leaving an artistic cloud design that was dyed different colours as the sun rose.

My photos are still on my camera, so I am going to cheat and steal one of Alison's:

I've seen a couple of launches before, but always in the day time. Technically, this was not a night launch, but the experience cannot have been terribly different since the only hint of dawn was a slight lightening on the horizon. On one of my previous times I also had VIP tickets, allowing a close viewing spot, and was able to see the shuttle physically turn over as it ascends (the fuel tank is bright orange which gives away the orientation if you can make it out). In the dark, this was impossible since the shuttle was completely obscured by its burning fuel but you were able to follow its path for considerably longer.

Escaping the Space Center was rather less fun and we succeeded in moving 2 miles in an hour. I declare this speed suboptimal. Still, four hours later found us eating a large breakfast .... or was it lunch or dinner? .... with eggs, soar bread toast and sausage \o/

I also discovered Starburst jelly beans. As a result, I still feel fractionally unwell.