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Gene Kranz
STS-59
AC-73

Atlas Centaur 73


Here is a sequence of video frames from a video that I recorded with my video camera at the Atlas Centaur launch.  Photo Credits: Mine
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 0
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 1
Atlas Centaur Ignition
Changing Colors As The Thrust Builds
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 2
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 3
Colors Change Even More
Atlas Centaur Liftoff And The Tower Is Clear
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 4
Atlas Centaur Liftoff Video Frame 5
Atlas Centaur Into The Cloud Bank
Atlas Centaur Prior To Staging
Atlas Centuar Liftoff Video Frame 6

Atlas Centaur Staging
April 13, 1994

Atlas Centaur 73 was supposed to launch at around 2:00 AM on Wednesday April 13.  The payload for this launch was the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite (GOES-8).   The launch vehicle type was an Atlas I.

Because of this early morning launch time we finished the meal off with a round of coffee to keep us awake on Tuesday night.

I had read that Jetty Park is the place to watch unmanned launches from.  My impression was that the park closed at 9:00 PM. so I did not think it would be open.  Sometime after this trip was over, I found out that the park is open for late night launches.

My strategy for viewing this launch was to drive to the Patrick Air Force Base gate on the south side of the space center and ask for their viewing recommendation.  When we got to the gate we saw that there was a parking lot on the side of the road for just such occasions and the security officer said that we could park there.  We arrived about one hour prior to the opening of the launch window.

There were a few other cars, but not too many people were interested enough or crazy enough to take the trouble to try and view an unmanned launch at this time of the day.

Even my family was suspected of plotting a mutiny behind my back.  From our vantage point we could not see the actual launch pad.  However you could tell where the action was.  You knew this because of all of the spotlights focused on the pad beyond the trees.

The
bad news about an unmanned launch is that there was no public address system.  So we had no idea what the status of the launch preparations was.

With a launch window of one and one half hours this meant we could be waiting here until 3:30 AM and never see a thing.

Fifteen minutes prior to the opening of the launch window, I sent my son, Toby, to get my wife Mary, and daughter Marian out of the car.  The opening of the window came and went.

Like a pirate captain who forgot where the X on his map was, I detected a sense of mutiny in the air.
  At about four minutes into the launch window there was a flicker of light beyond the trees.  Then the sun came up.  Well it was bright enough for the sun but it rose in the North instead of the East.  The Atlas Centaur launch occurred at 2:04:02 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

The perceived color of the light began as red, and then quickly switched to green, followed by yellow, followed by orange.

In the series of video frames shown on this page, you can actually see some of the change in colors. as the launch progressed.  The colors and brightness however were much more intense than the video captured.
 
You will also note that during the early phase of the launch, the exhaust plume from the rocket appears as a round blob of light.  The flame was so intense that it overwhelmed the recording sensors and auto-focus mechanism of the video camera.

 With the bright light from the rocket illuminating the sky you see that there was a low cloud layer above the launch site.

It did not take long for the rocket to intercept the cloud layer.  The rocket proceeded through and on to the other side.  Once it got past the could we had a fairly clear view of the launch vehicle.

I heard the "Oohs" and "Ah's" from my family members and I knew the threat of mutiny was over.  The meager Atlas rocket light up the sky as if it were daylight.   The shuttle was impressive, but in its own way the Atlas at night could certainly hold its own for any viewing spectacle.

Mary's comment was that "Fireworks would never be the same."  There were some thin high-level clouds that the Atlas illuminated brilliantly.  Again after quite a delay the sound reached us.  It sounded very much like the shuttle did.


We were able to watch the staging of the Atlas as the first stage engines dropped away.  In the next to last video frame that I present here you can see the vehicle exhaust plume bloom in size just prior to staging.  After staging in the last video frame you can see the plume returns  to normal size just after staging. After staging note that there are two distinct points of light.

 
I was excited to be able to see an Atlas launch.  I imagined what it must have been like when John Glenn was launched into orbit with an Atlas launch vehicle just a little over 32 years ago it was an Atlas that carried John Glenn into orbit.

It was time to return to our hotel room base of operations.   Everyone was tired, but I don't think anyone would have missed that view for the world.


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UPDATED : January 7, 2007
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