|Friday January 19, 1996
This was a very
special day. It was
the day when my first grandchild
turned one year old. Coincidentally it also was the day when NASA
fire the orbital maneuvering engines to bring the space shuttle
after a successful mission in space on STS-72.
January 20, 1996, during the wee hours of
the morning, my family and I were witness to a most amazing sight. It is difficult to convey in words the
emotions felt and describe the view that we had during this experience. I will however attempt to convey at least a
glimmer of what we felt.
in that week, I had read a posting on the internet
by NASA engineer Jim Oberg which indicated that the re-entry of STS-72
visible throughout central Texas. I was determined to not let this
slip by without trying to see this.
only did I want to see it, but I wanted to see it from
the best possible vantage point. To me it made the most sense to be
the ground track of the re-entry in order to get the best view. By studying a chart that Mr. Oberg has
posted, a friend of mine and I determined that the Endeavour would pass
directly overhead at a point near Buffalo, Texas. It
was time for a road trip.
plan was set. Its execution, however, was somewhat
precarious. My family and I would go
out to dinner in Addison, Texas, on Friday evening to celebrate my
granddaughter's birthday. I would then
my family into our van and drive them to Buffalo, Texas in the middle
night. That part was simple enough.
precarious aspect involved the timing of our
journey. We had to be in our viewing
position before 1:26 AM on January 20. It
would take us around two hours to drive from Dallas, Texas to
Buffalo, Texas down Interstate 45. That
meant that we would be leaving Dallas before the deorbit burn of the
Further more we would be on the road before the shuttle was committed
loaded up the entire family into our van and set out from
Dallas at about 11:15 PM. Our entourage
included my wife, two daughters, one son, one granddaughter, and one
sister-in-law. The most amazing thing
to note about this assembly was that mutiny was never threatened.
precise viewing location was selected on the fly.
Buffalo was our goal, but when the time
approached 1:05 and we still weren't there I was getting a little
was time to take the next exit and find a safe place to park away from
streetlights. We stopped the van at
about 1:15 AM so we had about 11 minutes to wait.
viewing location was from just South of Fairfield Texas
on a country road West of I-45 and South of Highway 179.
The best place to describe this location is
that we were out in the middle of nowhere. There
were no buildings or lights anywhere close to where
weather was brisk with a temperature around 30 degrees
Fahrenheit. By now adrenaline was in
full swing, so the temperature didn't matter.
The winter sky was perfectly clear.
you haven't been away from city lights in a while to look
at the stars, you really need to try it. The
universe itself provided an awesome view. While
waiting for the
shuttle to fly over, we were treated to a couple of meteors also called
stars. It was obvious that these
weren't Endeavour because they were flying the wrong direction.
waited with some apprehension. The first
issue was, did the deorbit burn ever happen or did they
wave it off. Not having a portable
satellite dish we were waiting in the dark literally and figuratively.
second point of apprehension was how fast was this thing
going to be? Were we talking of
something like a shooting star so that if you blinked you missed it? I had never seen a space shuttle re-entry
before, yet alone one re-entering at night. With
this lack of experience I really had no idea of what
wife was the first of our group to sight the object of
our quest. On the South Western horizon
we saw what looked like the trail of fire from an extremely large 4th
rocket. The difference now was that
this trail of fire kept climbing.
majestically and graceful it rose. The speed of the pass
seemed to be similar viewing an orbital pass of the shuttle. It went
straight overhead of us, perhaps 5 or 10 degrees off vertical. The two-hour drive had hit pay dirt.
Endeavour and the crew of STS-72 put on a most spectacular show.
ionization trail left behind by the vehicle stayed
illuminated in the sky for some time. It was like a huge neon tube from
to horizon by the time the pass was over. I
thought the color was orange. Of course my night vision
disrupted by looking in the viewfinder on the video camera.
wife and my son thought the color was green and white
while it was overhead. One daughter also thought it was orange. My sister-in-law thought it was cream
colored. The other daughter did not
comment on the color since she watched from inside the van with her
was a slight breeze, so not a lot of sound was able to
be heard from the passing fireball. At
times it seemed like you could hear something caused by the passing,
not sure how to describe it.
describing the reentering vehicle as a fireball is a
misnomer I think. The shuttle was glowing. It appeared white-hot trailing an orange
contrail. I really don't think I could
make out the shape of the shuttle as it seemed amorphous and didn't
a specific shape.
As it passed
overhead you could see the contrail coming off
in a broken pattern similar to smoke. Endeavour
was shedding bits of plasma as it flew through
Before you knew
it, this spectacle was gone. Time passes
so quickly when a sight such as
this entrances you. I didn't measure the time how long it was visible,
duration was more than adequate.
next event to wait for was the sonic boom left behind by
this supersonic fly over. We waited and waited for what seemed like an
after the shuttle had disappeared beyond the horizon.
In reality it was probably only about 3 or 4 minutes.
the sonic boom came. It wasn't the loudest of booms
that I have ever heard, but there was no mistake of what it was and
party was over, but it was well worth the effort.
As I mentioned previously, January 19th,
was my granddaughter's first birthday. What
a candle, Endeavour provided in celebration!
family is sort of getting used to my crazy
expeditions. Back in April of 1994 we
were in Florida for the launch of STS-59. On
that trip, I also dragged them out in the middle of the
watch an unmanned Atlas launch from Patrick Air Force Base.
for me, the Atlas delivered in April of 1994 and
the STS-72 crew of Endeavour delivered in January of 1996. Otherwise I
still be tied up to a tree out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near