Friday, May 14, 2010

STS-132 Launch Review

Space Shuttle Atlantis took off today with no significant delays or problems. I picked a different viewing angle this time. For STS-130, the last night launch, I went to Space View Stormwater Park in Titusville. I pored over Google Earth last Monday and decided I liked the angle of view from Mosquito Lagoon. It's about 13 miles from the launch pad, same as Space View Park, but due north of the launch pad. I'll post a map and stuff when I get home to a real internet connection. Google hates this wifi where I am. I am glad I set Spaceflight Now's Twitter feed to go to text on my phone on Thursday because that's the only way I knew what was going on today.

I left Melbourne about 10:30, got on I-95 heading for Stuckaway Rd. Of course none of the signs say that on them, and with my dyscalculia the numbered roads might as well be Japanese characters. But I saw a sign for Stuckey's and that seemed connected, so I exited there. Good call. This exit looks familiar to me. Craig, is this where we went to race go-karts back in the day?

I stopped at the various boat ramps when I got into the Merrit Island NWR just to scope it out for future visits. I'll put reports on those on the map when I prepare it.

I got a parking space in the power line right of way near the drawbridge over Haulover Canal, collected my gear, and set off on foot. My study of the aerial photos was effective and everything looked right. Right where the roads dead ended at the water there were about 4 other groups there already 2 hours before launch, so I pressed on. There was a place where a hurricane had washed over the jetty and left a sort of bayou that I'd seen on the aerial. I knew this was the main hazard in my plan. This turned out to be a valid concern. There was no beach to speak of, just very mucky salt marsh, so I went out into the water about knee deep, shuffling my feet through the detached sea grass. I was feeling a little full of myself as I left all those locals and their cigarettes behind when I stepped in a booger hole and went in up to my waist. I stumbled a few times trying to get my foot out of the hole and had to put my hand down that was holding the monopod and the microphone stand. I managed to levitate myself out and assess the damage. My Sony branded $6 Walmart camera bag went in over the zipper. Oh noes! I unzipped it and whipped the camera out. Just a little water on the bottom. Whew. Lens cap kept water from going in the telescoping lens. Turned on. All good. After that little stinking (literally. It smelled like the sulphur-sprinkled ass end of an African rat mole.) bayou bullshit it was a nice sandy border of the jetty to wade on. I was all excited when I got to the end of the jetty and found a nice little shady spot to rest in all by myself, in a grove of invasive exotic Australian pines. I hung all my dunked gear on a stob and unfolded my chair and got ready to wait 2 hours for the launch.

It wasn't long before the rabble showed up. Pontoon boats arrived and anchored in the canal and walked across the jetty to the clear view of the launch platform. Grandparents and three generations, the youngest in color coordinated PFDs came streaming across the jetty. People with little dogs, and a couple of retirees who put their chairs and an umbrella in about a foot of water and settled down. About 15 minutes before launch a flotilla of kayaks from A Day Away outfitters came out of the canal, banging their paddles on the hulls, and settled into the little bay next to me. Whenever one would stray more than 20 feet from shore the Coast Guard would blow their air horn at them. That is the limit alright! I wonder if you paddled north though, could you go all the way across the lagoon and find seclusion? There was a stiff headwind to paddle against. You'd have to start early to make it work.

The AM radio frequencies I got off the internet for launch control rebroadcast were wrong. I got some talking head ranting about something infuriating. I overheard somebody say it was on 1300 AM, so I got my radio out again and got a snippet of launch control before they started taking callers. I hate when they take callers, so I turned it off. And whenever I'd get a Twitter update saying something was happening I'd turn it on again. I waded out in the water with all the other people about 5 minutes ahead of launch. The AM radio station picked up the countdown at 4 seconds. I took pictures freehand until the sound got to me, then I switched to video. I don't know if I got any audio though. It was windy and the Casio EX-FH20 can't deal with wind.

I brought my sound pressure level meter along, but I didn't bring it out into the water with me. I decided I had enough to do with the camera, it wasn't really important how loud it was. I'll estimate it was less than 70dB. Not that loud, just real low frequency and necessarily cool.

The view from the north of the launch pad lets you see the shuttle cross a whole plane of the sky. It's way better than having it just head directly away from you. I liked it.

After the contrail stopped you could still follow the shuttle past engine separation. A few people whipped out binoculars and could still see it, but I lost it in the haze. I went ahead and packed up my stuff and started wading back to my car.

This is a nice spot to watch a launch. The angle is more interesting than from Space View Park. The traffic back-up to get back to the interstate afterwards is significant however. Next time I will plan to entertain myself out on the water for a few hours before going back to my car.

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