We found a quaint little place to watch, contacted the owners, and made arrangements to visit. They were great: in exchange for a donation to the American Cancer Society, they invited people to park in their yard, watch from their yard, AND provided coffee, donuts, and bathroom! What more could a space nut want? They were well prepared for the crowds and the kindest folks I've met. A real pleasure.
Katie made for a great traveler, too. We took a few rest stops but stopped only for one meal on the way down, and we arrived at 12:30 A.M. Monday in preparation for the 6:20 A.M. launch. We parked beside a camper and behind a van. We slept in the Honda CRV SUV. Katie loved that she got to sleep in the "trunk," all wrapped up in her sleeping bag. I just reclined the driver's seat and did the best I could. It took about half an hour to get Katie settled to where she could stop talking, but once asleep, she slept very soundly.
By morning, many more cars had arrived. Occasionally they were so close together we couldn't fit between them - there were many tightly-packed cars in this yard. Despite the number of people, the yard was perfectly arranged so everyone had a great view. People sat in lawn chairs and the topography was just like a theater, so it worked out perfectly.
College buddies Jeff Jackowski and Mike Lewis came up from Jupiter and Melbourne, respectively, to see the launch from the same place. Steve Mustaikis flew in to another launch viewing place, but we didn't get to meet up with him or his son Rigel who is about Katie's age because of logistics woes.
We all got together about 5:00 A.M. and started catching up as friends do when they haven't seen each other for years. Jeff took the above picture a few seconds before launch. It's a long exposure, so things didn't look that bright.
I got Katie up at 5:30 and she got to meet Mike and Jeff. Katie needed to go out with her sandals before she decided it was truly cold enough for her socks and shoes. We also put on her sweater, and she already had her pajama pants on from the night's sleep.
NASA had a camera in the right spot for the photo above, which came next in the story-telling sequence. At 6:20am the Shuttle lit up the night sky.
I took this picture of Katie entirely by Shuttle light. It was plenty bright where we were, 12.3 miles from the pad. This picture was before the sound got to us about 58 seconds after ignition. The sound was fantastic as usual, pretty much just like in IMAX movies, with rumbling and crackling and all. Katie was amazed by the sound, saying, "Daddy, it makes my heart beat." The rumble in her chest was a fantastic experience for her.
The Shuttle appeared to carry the light of the sun with it as it rose into the sky because twilight turned to dawn fairly quickly at the same time as launch. This NASA picture gives a sense of that. Launch was 6:20 and sunrise was 7:30. I was amazed by twilight when I could actually see the horizon instead of having trees or something else obstructing the view. My first assessment of this launch time and daylight was that is was pre-dawn, so it would, in my mind, be a "night launch," though technically it wasn't. In fact, those different sorts of twilight, astronomical and civil, are observable when you can see the horizon! Just before launch time, the sky was mostly black, with a thin strip of purple and blue on the horizon.
I have never seen such colorful smoke formations as from this launch. Jeff captured this picture of a fire-breathing dragon.
After the launch, our car was hemmed in pretty well, and there were rumors of a bad traffic jam on the streets (what with the throngs leaving the coast and going back to wherever they would spend their day). We opted to hang out at the site a little longer.
No visit to Florida would be complete without the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament experience. Katie took a fascination with this one which was stashed sans legs on the tall greenery at the base of the tree there.
Katie played around Jeff's tripod, and we played hide-and-seek, but by Katie's rules. Katie has some funny rules for that game. In particular, she will tell you to count (counting is very important) and hide, leaving large portions of her body visible to the seeker. Then you switch roles, and she will probably tell you where to hide, quite likely to be where she just hid.