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STS-72
STS-76
Delta GPS-7

STS-76
February 29 - March 27, 1996 The first image is a photograph taken with a film camera.  The remaining images are frames from a video that I recorded of the launch as seen from the causeway.  The departing SRBs can be seen in the last image recorded after SRB separation.
Photo Credits: Mine
Launch Of STS-76
Ignition Of STS-76
Liftoff Of Atlantis On STS-76
Ignition of Atlantis
STS-76 Has Cleared The Tower
STS-76 Is On Her Way
Atlantis Has Cleared The Tower Atlantis On Her Way To Orbit
Atlantis Nearing SRB Seperation
SRB Seperation
Atlantis Nearing SRB Separation
SRB Separation
February 29, 1996

We received our launch viewing package for the STS-76 mission in the mail yesterday from NASA.  As we did for the STS-59 launch, we will again be watching the launch from the causeway viewing site.  This is about 6 miles away from the launch pad.

Since we have young children in our viewing group., it is difficult to have access to any of the viewing sites that would be closer.  It is my hope that someday I will be able to watch a launch either from the VIP viewing site or from the Press Site.

The STS-76 launch should be really spectacular.  The current schedule has the launch window opening up at 3:30 AM.  At that hour it should really put on a spectacular show.

March 12, 1996

I noticed on the World Wide Web yesterday that there is another rocket launch scheduled during the time that we are planning on being in Florida.

This rocket is an unmanned Delta rocket.  The payload will be a Global Positioning System satellite designated GPS-7.  It will be launched by the United States Air Force.  The launch is scheduled for March 27 between 8 PM and 10 PM from Patrick Air Force Base.

During our trip for the STS-59 launch we got to see an Atlas launch in the dark.  Now we may get to see a Delta launch either at dusk or again in the Dark.  The chance for two night launches during one trip.  This time I know where the best place to watch the unmanned launch from is.  We will be at Jetty Park for that one.

I have never seen a Delta rocket launch before.  It really boosts the odds of actually seeing a launch of some sort on the trip when you have more than one possibility.

With the space shuttle you never know if it will be able to fly due to weather concerns around the globe or due to electromechanical failures.  Here is a toast to on time launches and landings for the rest of March.


Yesterday the Chinese satellite Jian Bing 93 re-entered over the Pacific Ocean.  It was a Chinese spy satellite that went out of control shortly after it was launched in 1993.

It had a recoverable pod on it that included a diamond-studded pin of Chairman Mao and a bar of gold.  I was hoping for a soft landing of the recovery pod in my back yard last night. I really wanted to add that pin to my flown space artifact collection. ;-)

March 20, 1996

For this trip to Florida, my entourage included several members of my family.  The members in attendance were: my wife, our son, one of our daughters and our granddaughter.  Our granddaughter turned one year and two months old on yesterday.

We arrived in Florida today.  Tonight or rather in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow, we were hoping to watch the launch of STS-76.  This is another space mission for our friend Astronaut Linda Godwin.  It will be her third trip into space.

At 6:45 PM the NASA launch team decided to postpone the launch attempt for 24 hours.  The weather forecast for the targeted time of launch was not good.  There was a less than 20% chance of having acceptable weather.

It was a disappointing delay, but we are well versed on launch delays due to weather.  We had  similar experience at the launch of STS-59.  Thankfully this time the launch was scrubbed before we had driven all the way out to the causeway viewing site.

That early scrub meant that we could enjoy a nice dinner and then go back to our motel to rest up for the next days activities.  Our motel again on this trip was the Titusville Ramada Inn.  We've found that this motel is very convenient for accessing the Kennedy Space Center.

March 21, 1996

Today is launch day once again.  Being familiar with the routine of viewing launches from the causeway-viewing site at KSC, we knew when it was the correct time to leave the motel.

We left the motel at about 4 hours before the opening of the launch window.  The 10 minute drive to the KSC security checkpoint meant that it would be open by the time that we got there.

We arrived at the causeway and parked our car.   The next item on the agenda was to unload our equipment and supplies from the trunk and claim our personal viewing area.  We did this by spreading out a blanket and setting up the camera tripods.

This was Florida, so one might have had the impression that the weather would be warm.  That was a nice thought, but it was far from reality.  The temperature was a chilly 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  There was a fair amount of wind and the sky was clear.  It was a pretty brisk evening, to put it mildly.

My family retreated to the protected confines of our rental car.  I stayed with our claim, just to make sure that there were not any claim jumpers.  I laid down on the blanket and gazed at the heavens.  To my surprise and delight, I noticed that the comet Hyakutake was visible from this site.

This was actually only the second comet that I have ever seen in my life.  The first comet that I saw was the comet Kohoutek back in 1973.  I totally missed out on Halley's Comet when it returned in 1986.


As I lay on the blanket, I could turn my head and see the space shuttle Atlantis brilliantly illuminated by the xenon spotlights on launch pad 39-B.   A comet an the shuttle, now that was a nice view.  I had to interrupt my family's slumber to share the experience with them.

I was probably more impressed with the view then they were.  After a brief viewing, the returned to the comfort of the rental car.

I resumed my sky gazing.  Against the darkened heavens, I know spotted a satellite making a transit across the sky.  A little while later I saw two shooting stars.  So I had the shuttle, the comet, a satellite, and two meteors.  What a cosmic experience this was turning out to be!  What would come next ET or the mother ship from "Close Encounters"?

As I contemplated the universe, I could hear the waves lapping up on the banks of the causeway.  This sound, the time of the night, and the cold conditions, brought to mind a memory of fishing on the Platte River with my father and brother in Nebraska.  Often our fishing expeditions were conducted under similar conditions.


After the customary hold in the countdown at T-9 minutes the countdown resumed. It was now time to once again retrieve my family from the warmth of the car.  At this point the excitement and adrenaline should be all that they needed to stay warm.

My personal feelings at this launch were not as intense as they had been for STS-59.  I was still concerned for Linda's safety and the safety of the crew.   However I did not have tears in my eyes this time.  At the launch of STS-59, I had completed my quest of viewing a launch.  This time I had previous experience and had some idea of what to expect.

The clock counted down and after the main engines of the shuttle were brought up to thrust, the SRBs ignited.  It was now, no longer dark at the viewing site.  The night had become day. Blackness gave way to a brilliant orange.

They were on their way Houston!  Each launch is different.  Each experience is different. One thing that is constant in this whole equation is that you never can get enough of the view.  You are left in awe and longing to see more.  Hours, actually months, of anticipation culminated by mere minutes of viewing ecstasy.

Since it was a clear night, you could follow the vehicle for a good long time.  Even after the SRBs dropped away, the shuttle main engines (SSMEs) were visible for a good portion of its ascent to orbit.  The SSMEs do not provide as good of show as the SRBs but there is no mistake what that rapidly receding star is.

From the perspective of sound, I think that there was more of it for this launch.  I think a lot of what you experience has to do with which way the wind is blowing during the launch.  The sound will never rival what I imagined that a Saturn V could produce, but it was still a visceral experience.

We retreated back to the motel.  We were too excited to sleep and too exhausted not to try. Later that morning we up with some friends of mine, Tom and Sumio.  Sumio had actually traveled all the way from Japan just to see this launch.  My friends were fortunate as they were able to secure press passes and viewed the launch from that vantage point.  Someday, just maybe, I will be able to share in that experience.

March 23-26, 1996

Over the course of the next four days, my family and I toured the Universal Studios and Disney Theme Parks.


March 27, 1996

We drove over to the Cape Canaveral National Seashore.  This area is closed during shuttle launches, but opens up shortly after the launch has occurred. We walked along the beach and introduced our granddaughter to her first ocean.  She now had set foot in the Atlantic Ocean.

All too soon, it was time for our son, daughter, and granddaughter to head back home.  I thought it was a bad feeling after the STS-59 launch when I remained behind alone to watch the landing.  This time, even though my wife stayed with me, the feeling was not any better.

There was such a profound sense of loneliness when the children left.  I imagine that must be how my parents feel when I leave them to go home after a long visit with them in Nebraska.

To try and ease our sense of loneliness we stopped at the Universal Studios gift shop in the airport and bought my now missing granddaughter a stuff figure of the cartoon character Bullwinkle.

After my wife and I left the airport we drove back over to Merritt Island.  We took the scenic drive that the National Park Service has set up there.  On this drive, we saw many different species of birds that inhabit this reserve.

That evening was the time when the unmanned Delta rocket was scheduled to take the global positioning satellite into orbit.  This launch was also scheduled after dark, so the prospects were good for another fabulous show.

To read my observations of this launch, please follow the Delta link.


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UPDATED : January 10, 2007
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