|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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Scholarship Foundation and being on the Delaware North buses was that
not have to wait out in the cold for a long time before the opening of
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
went off to play with Tiffany and Wayland was glad to see his play
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.
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.
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.
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
was getting a little late, so we decided that we should leave the party
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
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.
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
little carried away at the party
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.
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
him. He told Mary that would be fine.
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.
food was adequate. Coupled with the great view, I think it is worth
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
seems like you can feel it.
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
went off with Tiffany over to the Visitors Complex.
They were having a lot of fun hanging around
was a little concerned that they might not
get back to the administration building in time for boarding the buses,
they did fine. Before long it was time to board the buses.
Things were looking very well.
we got to the Banana Creek viewing site I was surprised by how many
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.
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
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.
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.
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
warning was worth heeding.
8:34 PM, launch director Mike Leinbach informed Commander Polansky and
STS-116 crew that everything was “GO”. Commander
Polansky responded, “We’re looking forward
to lighting up the
night sky and rewiring the ISS.”
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.
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
Space Shuttle Discovery, lighting up the night-time sky as we continue
the International Space Station.” The
SRBs were ignited and there was no question that Discovery was on her
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
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
short while after our eyes had witnessed the liftoff our ears were
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.
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”.
crowd began to file out of the grandstands shortly after SRB
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
saw depart and he thought that Al missed it.
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
launch that Lexie would remember.
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.