I experienced the most amazing 5 seconds of my entire life on Friday July 8th when I had the privledge of being able to watch the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from Space View Park in Titusville Florida. This was such a historic moment: the ending of an era and hopefully the beginning of a new one. Ever since I was a little kid, I've wanted to go into space, to be an astronaut and to explore the vast starry expanse thats outside the pull of Earth's gravity. An event like this wasn't quite like the moon landing in historical significance, but it marks an important chapter in the history of our journey as a civilization pushing to reach further into the unknown. NASA is putting the Space Shuttle program (which was always designed to stay within the bounds of Earth's orbit) aside to fund new ventures deeper into space, which it hopes to have ready within 5 years. In addition, companies like Space-X and Virgin Galactic are moving quickly to make commerical spaceflight a reality sometime in the next few years. I just hope I can live long enough to see the next "one step for [a] man, one leap for mankind".
I wish I had been able to get closer, but unfortunately I was not one of the lucky few to get a ticket to view it from NASA's causeway (Over 6000 people applied to get tickets: 150 were handed out). Space View Park is the next best place to be, with a view clear down the river that leads to the launchpad. Unfotunately the park is about 10 miles away, and due to foggy/windy conditions that could have scrubbed the launch, it makes it difficult to get great photographs. I was fortunate to have access to a very long lens (600mm), thanks to my friend Moshe, and was able to get photos that would have otherwise been impossible.
There was quite a crowd at Space View Park when I arrived at around 11:45PM on Thursday (the night before the launch. Even arriving nearly 12 hours before the launch, I was barely able to grab one of the last parking spots at the actual park, the tens of thousands of people to show up over the next 11 hours would have to park all over the city and make the long hike to grab a spot. I took about a 2hour power nap in the back seat of my rental car before hauling my gear down to the pier area of the park. The pier itself had been roped off due to a planned short film being shot there the morning of the launch (more on that later) and also for VIP's to watch from (the mayor of Titusville, former NASA/Military employees, ect) so I setup my tripod and bazooka of a lens about 6 feet away from the roped-off pier next to some families that had been camped out for more than a day! A few hours later around 3:30/4AM, the local news crews of WESH2 (NBC affiliate) and FOX35 setup right next to me, and the three of us pretty much were in the long haul for the next 7 hours.
By 6AM, the crowd had really started to pack in and the police were making regular trips back and forth to clear an aisle of people so people could more easily access the restrooms and get back to the cars and tent setup towards the entrance of the park, while the two news anchors who had joined us were interviewing members of the crowd. It was so foggy and windy at night that it made photography of the shuttle and launch pad pretty much a futile affair. As the sun came out, the fog slowly started to creep away making daytime photos better, but there was still quite a bit of fog preventing from great clear images. Around 7AM a film crew rolled by onto the pier, and I assumed they were shooting something as part of a NASA documentary (one of the guys had a NASA IMAX shirt on and was hauling big rolls of film and Arri film camera), but as it turns out, a short film, starring Jason Ritter (John Ritters son) was being shot there. The short film is about two people that meet at a shuttle launch and fall in love. It'll be interesting to see how close to reality it will be or how much artistic twist they'll apply. If it were realisticly filmed, they'll both be bundled up in towels and jackets in beach chairs and baseball caps...as I saw most of what they filmed...it won't be realistic, but I still look forward to seeing it.
Updatae: they posted a trailer of the movie they were shooting, you can see it here
The rest of the morning was very much a hurry up and wait sort of event, with crowds getting tighter and tighter as the morning sped by, up until the final 30 minutes when everyone seemed to squeeze in like sardines (including a local news videographer who got there 5 minutes before the launch as squeezed in between myself and the WESH2 news team to my right, doing pilates moves to try to stay standing without getting into our shots.). Everyone held their breath as the countdown clock blared through the speakers setup throughout the park, which was fairly muffled due to the chatter of the throngs of people everywhere you looked, including the long bridge to the north. There were several boats out in the water, but nothing blocking anyone view up until about 3 minutes before the launch, when a large yacht type ship decided to park itself in the view of a huge mass of people on the right side of the dock (I was on the left). The crowds shouting in unison "MOVE, MOVE!!" some shouting obscenitys too, and the ships captain heeded the call to move...in the wrong direction, right into my view! STS-135 launched just as the idiotic/inconsiderate ship owner shifted his vessle into the line of sight of hundreds of thousands of people who had camped out for hours, some even days. Fortunately the ship didn't block my view completely as the shuttle lifted of the pad just in the knick of time. Needless to say, if you know who the ship belongs to...let me know so I can them a piece of my mind!
I'll let the photos say the rest, feel free to leave comments, ask questions, ect: