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ASF EXP 1 A
ASF EXP 1 B
ASF EXP 1 C
Cocoa Beach
121 Scrub #1
121 Scrub #2
STS-121
ASF EXP 2 A
ASF EXP 2 B
ASF EXP 2 C
ASF EXP 2 D
ASF EXP 2 E
STS-116

STS-116

 "Lighting up the night-time sky" This sequence of photographs was recorded by me on a digital camera at the launch of STS-116.
Photo Credits: Mine
Wayland and Lexie return to the beach
Wayland and Lexie return to Cocoa Beach
Mary, Wayland, and Lexie in the VIP grandstands. Jerry at the Banana Creek viewing site.
Mary, Wayland, and Lexie at the STS-116 Scrub
Jerry at the STS-116 Scrub
Ghostly lights on LC 39B
Ghostly lights on Launch Complex 39B the night of the STS-116 scrub.
Lexie and Wayland with the Big Cheese and pals
Lexie and Wayland with the Big Cheese and pals at Epcot
Astronaut Scholarship Foudation Guests at the Launch of STS-116
Guests of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation before the launch of STS-116
Liftoff of Discovery on STS-116
Liftoff of Discovery on STS-116

Liftoff of STS-116.
Discovery and the STS-116 crew are on their way
Discovery has cleared the tower.
Darkness recedes over the Florida coast
Lighting up the night-time sky.
Discovery lights up the night-time sky
Discovery ascends higher and higher
Shock diamonds are visible in Discovery's SSME exhaust
STS-116 reflects off of Banana Creek
STS-116 reflects off of Banana Creek
Cirrus clouds.
Discovery Comes  illuminates cirrus clouds.
STS-116 was originally scheduled to launch on December 7, 2006.  This would be the first launch attempt  in 4 years.  My family and I were once again launch guests of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

We got into Orlando fairly late on Wednesday night.   It would have been nice to have taken an earlier flight, but we did not want to take Lexie out of school any longer than necessary.  One of Lexie’s teachers gave her a really hard time for the last time we took her on a space adventure.  Because of that response, we had to be sensitive to how long we had her out of class.

After we secured our rental car we drove over to the Oceanfront Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach.  By the time we got there it was nearly 10:00 PM.  We had to hustle to get to the hotel’s restaurant before it closed.  The restaurant was deserted when we got there.  We were the only patrons.  The food was not great, but it was a step above fast food.

Linn called us during our meal.  She was in the area and stopped over to say hello and have a drink with us.  After dinner we moved out into the hallway so that they could close up the restaurant.  There was a seating area in the hallway and just outside of the bar. We thought we would continue our conversation there for a while.

Before long they were closing up the bar.  Not only did they close the bar they told us we could not stay seated where we were in the hallway.  It’s pretty bad when you get thrown out of the outside of a bar.  I thought it was kind of rude by the hotel staff, but I guess it was their policy.

The next day, Wayland and Lexie wanted to go down to the beach.  They had fun, but it was really too chilly to stay in the water for very long.  We went back to the room to get ready for lunch.  For lunch we drove over to Rusty’s at Port Canaveral.  This restaurant is a regular hangout of ours when we are in the area for a launch.  This time the menu selection was pretty disappointing.  We were sure if it was just a slimmed down lunch menu or if the food quality at Rusty’s had really gone down.

One of the neat things that we saw as we ate lunch was the ship Liberty Star pass through the ship channel on its way out to sea.  This is one of the two vessels that NASA employs to recover the solid rocket boosters after a launch.   After lunch we headed back to the hotel room to rest up before the launch attempt that night.

The weather did not look promising.  There were way too many clouds.  I watched NASA TV in the motel room for some indication of whether or not they were going to scrub the attempt.  If a scrub was imminent it did not make sense to go all the way out to the KSC Visitor Complex only to have to turn around.

The countdown kept proceeding.  Finally at about 4:30 I decided that we would have to go out to the Visitor Complex.  There was not any indication of a scrub coming anytime soon.  So we got dressed and headed over to the complex.  From our experience with the STS-121 launch we knew where we needed to go, so the drive to the complex went smoothly.

We assumed our now familiar spot in Dan’s office seating.  In a little while, space collector Larry McGlynn and his wife came in.  They were also guests for the launch attempt.  We had a nice talk with them while we waited.

In a little bit Al Worden came in. to the room.  It was great to see him again.  Wayland was excited and made sure that I pointed him out to Al.  Al asked me when we were going to go scuba diving again.  I told him I was ready any time.  That was a lot of fun.

A little while later Linn came in with a couple of other patrons of the Astronaut Scholarship foundation. There names were Mike and Sam Domgard.  This was their first launch.  With them was Bob Crippen, the pilot of the very first space shuttle launch.  Linn introduced us to the Domgards and to Crippen.  Crippen told us to just call him “Crip.”  He was very friendly.  Also attending this launch was former shuttle astronaut Jon McBride and his son.  We never really had a chance to talk to them.

I thought the launch would be scrubbed before it was time to board the buses.  That did not happen though.  We boarded the buses and headed over to the Banana Creek viewing site next to the Saturn V building.  On the way out to the viewing site, Al Worden and Bob Crippen said a few words.

They parked the bus, and we headed over to the grandstands.  I had hoped to set my camera up on a tripod close to the fence for photographing the launch.  I was surprised to see that there was no space available near the fence.  All of the prime locations for setting up a camera tripod were taken.

I might have been able to squeeze in, but it would have been awkward for Mary, Lexie, and especially little Wayland.  I gave up on the idea of using the tripod.  We looked for a spot to sit down in the grandstands and had difficulty even finding a place to sit there.  The Banana Creek site was packed.

The good news about being guests of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and being on the Delaware North buses was that we did not have to wait out in the cold for a long time before the opening of the launch window.  We were only about 15 minutes away.  The bad news about this just in time arrival was that it was hard to find a seat.  I guess in retrospect it was better not to be exposed to the chilly Florida night.  We did after all find a decent seat in the grandstand.

The launch team pressed on, hoping to make it until the window closed.  NASA launch director Michael Leinbach made the announcement to STS-116 Commander Mark Polansky.  He said “Okay Roman, we gave it the best shot.  We are going to have to declare a scrub at this time.”  Polansky responded, “Mike, we understand, thanks to the team for all the hard work.”

So we were disappointed, but once again not surprised.  Weather in Florida can be very fickle when it comes to launches.  The problem with the scrub was that the weather was only predicted to get worse.  In fact NASA made the decision to not even attempt a launch on Friday.  The next attempt would be left for Saturday.

Saturday would be our very last hope for seeing the STS-116 launch.  We had to fly back home on Sunday, so that we could get Lexie back in school for Monday.  After the scrub, my confidence level of seeing the launch was pretty low.  I thought we had finally met our match with shuttle viewing.  NASA had a tight launch window, but so did we.

Friday, we headed over to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  It was very cold and windy day.  Wayland and I had jackets, but the sweatshirts that Mary and Lexie brought along would not be enough protection.   One of the first orders of business at Epcot was purchasing and extra sweatshirt for Mary and Lexie.  Although it was a blustery day, was still had a good time at Disney.  By lunch time it had warmed up so that it did not feel too bad being outside.

Friday night we told Linn that we would come over to her house for a small party.  It was a hectic schedule for us to fit it in with our Disney excursion, but we thought we could fit it in.  We got to their house and had a somewhat easier time this time in locating it than we did last time.

The size of the party was a lot smaller now than in July.  Mike and Sam were there and we got to know them a lot better.  I was amazed that it turned that Mike and Sam were originally from Nebraska.  That is also where I grew up, so we shared something in common.

Lexie went off to play with Tiffany and Wayland was glad to see his play buddy Joey.  They had a lot of fun together.  It was good to see Lexie enjoying herself.  She seemed a little intimidated by the party back in July.

They even got Lexie to sing a karaoke song this time.  That really surprised me.  She chose to sing a song about soldiers by the Dixie Chicks.  I had never heard the song before, but hearing Lexie sing it brought tears to my eyes.

I went outside and found Mary talking with Linn’s friend Dee on the patio.  I joined them at the table.  Mary got up to go back into the house to check on Wayland.  The household cat was nearby and Mary gave us instructions not to let the cat drink her wine.

I did not think too much of it when Mary said that.  Imagine the surprise that Dee and I had when the cat started licking the wine.  Who would have ever thought that a cat of all things would have a taste for Chardonnay?  We retrieved the glass from the cat as soon as we could, before it could get too buzzed.  Mary could not believe it either when we told her that the cat actually did go after her wine.  Needless to say, Mary wound up getting a new glass.

It was getting a little late, so we decided that we should leave the party and head back to the hotel.  Lexie told us that Tiffany invited her to spend the night.  That was Okay with us, so Mary, Wayland, and I made our way back to the hotel.

The next day, we went back over to Linn’s to retrieve Lexie.  Everyone was a little tired.  Lexie and Tiffany wound up playing Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning.

We noticed that Linn’s cat was lying on the couch next to her.  Linn commented that all that the cat wanted to do was sleep that day.  She did not know what was going on with it.  Well we certainly did not have the heart to tell her that the cat might have gotten a little carried away at the party

Tiffany wanted Lexie to go to the beach with her.  We had to decline that offer. It was gating late and we needed to get something to eat for lunch.  It also gave Lexie a chance to rest up for the evening’s launch attempt.

We had lunch at the Sunset Waterfront Bar and Grill.  This was the first time that we had ever been there.   Parking for this restaurant seemed rather limited.  I was not sure what to do and there was a policeman parked in a car nearby.  I wanted to make sure that we parked in a legal spot, so I had Mary ask the policeman if it would be Okay to park behind him.  He told Mary that would be fine.

There were not a lot of people at the restaurant when we got there.  It was late to be having lunch. That may have had something to do with the number of people there.  The view of the water from this restaurant was pretty nice.  On the walls of the restaurant where some photos autographed by shuttle astronauts.  It must not be too bad of place if the astronauts hang out there.

Our food was adequate. Coupled with the great view, I think it is worth going back there in the future.  While we were seated there, I noticed that the sky was getting fairly clear.  I began to get a sense that the launch would actually happen that night.  Maybe it is from having been to several launches in the past, but when things are right, it seems like you can feel it.

Once again we were on the road to the KSC Visitor Complex.   Traffic was not too bad.  We arrived at the administration building and checked in.  We met up with Mike and Sam again as well as with the McGlynns.   The McGlynns told us about their scuba diving experience at the Epcot Living Seas exhibit. 

Lexie went off with Tiffany over to the Visitors Complex.  They were having a lot of fun hanging around together.    I was a little concerned that they might not get back to the administration building in time for boarding the buses, but they did fine. Before long it was time to board the buses.  Things were looking very well.

When we got to the Banana Creek viewing site I was surprised by how many people who saw Thursday night’s scrub did not return for Saturday.  I would have thought that most of the people would have stuck around for the weekend.

Notable absences from our group were the astronauts.  None of the trio of Worden, Crippen, nor McBride was able to make it back for the Saturday attempt.  Wayland missed his buddy Al.  Lexie and Tiffany went off with Joey.  Mary, Wayland and me joined the rest of our Astronaut Scholarship Foundation contingent in the grandstand.

It was still kind of chilly in Florida even though the weather was better.  Lexie came back Tiffany and Joey.  Wayland’s comment when he saw Joey was, “Joey, you’re blue!”  Well it was cold out there, but I don’t think it was quite that cold.  It must have had something to do with the artificial lighting at the grandstands.

This time I did not even bother bringing my tripod.  I assumed that the fence would be as crowded as it was on Thursday.  The smaller crowd would have left plenty of room for me to have set up the tripod.  Without it, I would have to hold my camera during the launch and hope for the best.  I did not have a lot of confidence in getting a good launch photo since this was a night launch.  I had done some research ahead of time and a tripod was definitely recommended.

An announcement was made regarding the possibility of acid droplets from the SRB exhaust possibly impacting the Banana Creek viewing site shortly after the launch.  From previous experience we knew that this warning was worth heeding.

At 8:34 PM, launch director Mike Leinbach informed Commander Polansky and the STS-116 crew that everything was “GO”.   Commander Polansky responded, “We’re looking forward to lighting up the night sky and rewiring the ISS.”

The PAO announced the end of the hold at T-9 minutes.  When the clock resumed counting down a collective cheer was issued throughout the crowd.  With just a few minutes before the launch the crowd was asked to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

The PAO counted down, “Ten… nine… eight... we have a go for main engine start.”  We saw a flicker of orange flame appear at the base of the launch pad.  It got noticeably brighter at the launch pad and the steam clouds started billowing away from the pad.  The PAO continued, “five… four… three… two… one… booster ignition and liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery, lighting up the night-time sky as we continue building the International Space Station.”  The SRBs were ignited and there was no question that Discovery was on her way.

Night became day.  As the STS-116 vehicle cleared the tower it was as if the sun was rising for a second time that day.  Mary was holding Wayland up and pointing to the rocket so that Wayland would not miss it.  Wayland slapped her hand away.  He knew where the rocket was and he did not need anyone to point it out to him.

A short while after our eyes had witnessed the liftoff our ears were treated to the sound.  The sound builds in volume and reaches a crescendo of vibration pounding on your chest.  People are awestruck by the beauty and power that has enveloped them.

As the vehicle gained altitude it illuminated some high altitude cirrus clouds.  This was a spectacular light show.  The contrail from the vehicle was a dark silhouette against the artificially lighted sky.  It resembled a black serpent ominously hovering in the sky.  The black serpent made me think of the Harry Potter movie “Goblet of Fire”.

The crowd began to file out of the grandstands shortly after SRB separation. We made our way back to our bus.  When we got on the bus, Wayland was concerned.  He said, “But where is Al?”  I think he thought that Al Worden was supposed to fly on the rocket that he just saw depart and he thought that Al missed it.

Everyone was excited by the spectacle that they had just witnessed.  It was the first time that I had seen two shuttle launches in a single year.  It was also the first night launch for Wayland and certainly the first night launch that Lexie would remember.

While we were waiting on the bus, I got a little tickle in my throat.  It was not bad, but I’m sure it must have been a reaction to the acid droplets generated by the SRB exhaust.  I was glad that we did not dawdle at the viewing site and that we proceeded to the buses as we were directed.

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UPDATED : June 11, 2008
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