My name is
Jerry and space exploration has always been my passion in
life. Since I grew up on a farm in the David City area,
it was with great enthusiasm that I watched the launch of Nebraska's
first astronaut. Clayton Anderson and his fellow STS-117 crew
on a spectacular show.
Mary, my twelve year old granddaughter Lexie, and my four year old
grandson Wayland and I were in Florida on June 8th
to watch the launch in person. Our view was extra special. We were
to watch it from the VIP viewing site at the Kennedy Space Center.
location was from a balcony off of a private conference
room in the building that houses the historical Saturn V rocket at
KSC. The Saturn V as some people are aware is the type of rocket
we used when we flew to the moon back in the late 60s and early 70s.
private conference room were approximately 60 very important
guests. Coincident with the launch was an autograph show where 20
astronauts from the early days of the space program were
appearing. These legendary astronauts and their families joined us
near to me was Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, Apollo 17
Commander Gene Cernan who was also the last man to walk on the Moon,
and Skylab III commander Jerry Carr. Standing next to Mary and our
grand children was our friend Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al
Worden. Behind Mary was the second man to walk on the Moon, Apollo
Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. Like Mary and I, Astronaut Aldrin
had brought his
grandson to watch this launch.
imagine the exhilaration for me to have the opportunity to
not only watch the space shuttle launch but to be rubbing elbows with
these astronaut legends? It was an incredible experience for me!
As much as I
like space exploration, my experience was greatly
enhanced by being able to share this with my grand
them with opportunities for inspiration is what it's all about for
me. I hope that they draw inspiration from this launch experience
did watching the Moon landings when I was growing up. These
Gemini, and Apollo astronauts with provided me with the inspiration to
obtain my electrical engineering degree from the University of
Nebraska. I am very grateful for that inspiration and motivation.
that we were on is approximately 4 miles away from
launch pad 39-A from where Atlantis was set to leave. That is
close as any non-NASA personnel are able to get to a launch. From
vantage point you have a tremendous view. This launch was the
time that NASA did not have this balcony and conference room reserved
for Senators and Congressmen.
Prior to the
launch the astronauts and we were treated to a
wonderful buffet dinner. The food was great, but I found myself
very interested in it. Apprehension about the upcoming launch
any hunger pains that I had. I've seen launches in person before so my
apprehension was nothing unusual. It is normal for me to feel
apprehension and anxiety just before a launch.
clock in front of our viewing location started
counting down from the T-9 minute hold. That was a good sign and
assembled guests let out a cheer. As we approached the T-30 second
mark, the astronauts were discussing among themselves what would happen
next. My granddaughter Lexie got into a friendly debate with
Astronaut Worden about the holds during the countdown. Astronaut
Jerry Carr told us that when he saw the launch of Apollo
8, he could actually see shock waves on the water as they approached
his viewing site. He was going to be watching for those shock
clock broke through the T-30 second mark another cheer
erupted. It is not unprecedented, but there is little that would
the countdown from this point. The first indication that you have
something is occurring at the launch pad is the tell tale steam
cloud. This cloud of steam is generated from the space shuttle's
engines interacting with the sound suppression water that is dumped on
the launch pad. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 and liftoff of Nebraska's first
with mouths agape as Atlantis emerged from behind the
launch pad structure. With the lighting conditions at 7:38 PM it
beautiful site. The first few seconds of a launch are somewhat
surreal. You see the launch happening but you don't hear
it. Four miles
away from the launch pad, it takes about 20 seconds for the sound from
the rocket to reach you.
sound does arrive it is impressive. This was the loudest
launch that I have ever heard. I think that was affected by the
that we were on the balcony with a small overhanging roof. I think
structure tended to collect and amplify the sound. I looked at the
metal covered pillar standing next to me and the walls of the post were
violently shaking in and out from the wave of sound.
have seen launches on television. What you don't know
though is that the television image cannot do the event
brightness of the solid rocket booster plumes is incredible. They
too bright to be captured by the television cameras. The color of
rocket plumes is also not accurately portrayed on
television. There is
a lot more color and intensity there than the cameras and
capture. The color is more
of a tangerine than pure bright white or yellow.
in amazement as Atlantis thundered towards orbit. It was
interesting to hear the astronaut's comments about the
were men who flew to the Moon and some of them who walked on the
Moon. They were exclaiming how beautiful and powerful the launch
was. The launch of STS-117 was a moving event for these astronaut
legends. They were as giddy as I was.
space shuttle Challenger on mission 51-L, SRB separation is an event
everyone holds their breath for at a space shuttle launch. It is a
relief when the solid rocket boosters are released and fall away from
the vehicle. The astronauts were saying “Watch for it, watch for
here it comes…” Then with the SRB separation happened and another
is let out by the crowd.
We were able
to watch the shuttle for a long time. After SRB
separation it is like a star visible in the daylight that recedes from
you a good rate of speed. Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan could
believe how long the vehicle was visible.
all good things must come to an end. With launches it
seems like they come to an end too quickly. Elated but sad that it
over we filed out of the conference room and proceeded to our VIP bus.
There was one more spectacular view that STS-117 had in
us. As we were driving away from the space center we noticed the
clouds. The wispy and multicolored clouds looked like cotton candy
swirling in circles in the sky. It was a cloud formation unlike any
that we had ever seen. These were not ordinary clouds. They were
the byproduct of the exhaust from the rocket
launch. It was a picture postcard close to a perfect day.
During the autograph show banquet, we met a couple from
Canada who were visiting KSC for the very first time. Their names were
Chantell and Martin Cayer. We enjoyed talking with them during
the course of the banquet. It was their very first launch and they told
me about the photos that they got of the post launch cloud.
Chantell and Martin were kind enough to share those photos with us and
gave me permission to share them on this web site. I am truly grateful
for their willingness to share their fantastic photos. In my
history of watching launches, I have never seen anything as mystical or
awe inspiring as that post launch cloud.