Dr.Sky Joins Media For Launch Of STS-135/ Shuttle Atlantis
Written by Steve Kates (aka Dr. Sky)
Dr.Sky was given the high honor of being a part of the last space shuttle launch (STS-135), attending as part of the media. This was the first time that I have seen a live launch and memory of the event, will last a lifetime!
I had arrived in Florida on July 7th, with poor weather prospects predicted for the Friday morning launch; (11:26AM EDT). Heavy rain was all around us for a good portion of Thursday, July 7th, with local forecasters predicting ONLY a 30% chance of a GO for launch! We drove to KSC, from Orlando and made the 45 mile drive to the media center, to get our badges,etc. I noticed that the road to the launch site was covered with heavy car traffic along with an estimated 1 million space fans, who gathered along the causeway and the shores of the Indian River.
The large crowds were there to celebrate the last manned launch of Space Shuttle and reflect on the fact that America does NOT have an active manned space program after this! As we got our badges and other material, we drove a few miles to the north, to the Saturn Causeway and the NASA Media Center.
The media center had teams of journalists from all over the world, as well as many VIP’s that had been invited to this grand event. With three hours to launch…I got to meet many professional media types, as well as NASA employees. Many are workers from the grand old days of the space program, from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era. There are many people that will loose the jobs that they have and are not sure what lies ahead for them.
Dr.Sky is part of the team that will always promote the good fortune and values of a manned space program and help others to learn about the many great achievements that have come from the US Manned Space program! As the launch excitement continued, with some 45 minutes to zero hour, we saw well over 5,000 people gathered near the famous NASA launch clock.
I was invited to set up our camera and video gear next to the site for ABC Network Radio and Vic Ratner. It was a pleasure to meet Vic and get to be a part of the last manned Shuttle mission. I also got to say hello to veteran space reporter Jay Barbree, the retired NBC correspondent, who has covered every US manned mission, since Alan Shepard’s launch in 1961! He has seen ALL 166 US manned missions.
Our location near the launch clock afforded us another unique and memorable experience; being seen LIVE on NASA TV. I was also there to go live on the “McMahon Group” TV show, here in Phoenix and report on the mission!
With the clock at the 4 minute hold mark, excitement was building for my first live launch. I was here, back in 1970 with my father, when I was young boy of 13 years old, to see the Apollo 13 launch. We arrived at KSC, during the week of March 7th 1970, to witness a total solar eclipse. The sight of the Apollo 13 on the launch pad, was intense! Apollo 13 launched towards the moon on April 10th, 1970. It’s crew, never made it to the surface of the moon, but I am here, once again, some 41 years later, to witness the end of the American manned space program.
The count continues…………. We now get down to the one minute mark and all the eyes of the world are now focused on Atlantis, some 3.5 miles away from the Press Site. I get my camera and video camera ready to roll and get set to go on TV to report on this amazing launch of a Space Shuttle, a literal controlled explosion with people on board!
35….34….33…32..and then the clock stops at 31 seconds!
All of our effort to get here and all the traffic, weather etc.; what could be going on? Media members say that there is a problem and the launch might be scrubbed! At the time of the launch, there was a large clearing that seemed to hover over the launch site. All around us, we could see the NASA Gulfstream jet flying around to check on the weather, in the event that the Shuttle needs to return to the special 18,000 runway at KSC.I could see an F-15 high up over KSC and looking at the weather too!
After what seemed like an eternity, the count continued…
WOW….here we go…10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…0……………………..
From this site, you see the bright flame of the SRB’s and the Shuttle is moving…no sound yet, just the flames of the rocket motors! Then as the Shuttle clears the launch tower, you hear the roar and witness the brightest red orange colored flame from these powerful rockets….so bright in fact, I had to look away for a moment, sending these four space pioneers on an 8.5 minute ride to space!
The skies opened up and the chance of a lifetime….seeing the last of the Shuttle’s to launch was now a reality. After some 45 seconds, Atlantis punched thru the clouds and it was off into space….God Speed Atlantis!
I reported on the event on TV and got some of the best video and still images that I could have ever dreamed of….but there was more in store for us a few days later at KSC!
Many of these images and videos, will be posted on www.drsky.com, as well as, www.photorecon.net; for all to enjoy! My partner, Sue Kilp, got some amazing shots of the launch, with a 500mm telephoto lens on her Nikon D7000 and these will be posted also!
Later in the week we were invited to be guests of a great aerospace/flight team known as STARFIGHTERS. They have some amazing F-104 fighter aircraft that are being restored into an amazing flight demo team!
The STARFIGHTERS share a hangar at the KSC facility, right near the main Shuttle runway. We were hosted by Mike Robinson and he was great at giving us a top to bottom tour of the F-104 facility and then on to some of the most sacred of the KSC launch locations of days gone by.
We toured the sacred ground of the Apollo1 launch facility, where US astronauts, Grissom, Chaffee and White, perished in a tragic fire, back on January 27th 1967. After that , we ventured on to the launch pads of Mercury and Gemini long forgotten by some, but not to us!
A special thanks to Mike and all those that helped make our trip to witness the launch of America’s last Space Shuttle, STS-135/Atlantis.
Apollo One fire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1
Project Gemini- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gemini
Space Shuttle Program- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_program
Future Planned Manned Missions- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constellation_program
Russian Soyuz Spacecraft- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_(spacecraft)
Boeing X-37 Spacecraft- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37