Florida 2011: Day 2: Final Shuttle launch
STS-135, final flight of the Space Shuttle program and of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, headed to the International Space Station to deliver a final load of supplies and a final spacewalk from the Shuttle astronauts.
After not sleeping the night before, we hauled straight in to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex with only a quick stop at Walmart for camp chairs and snacks. We perfectly timed our ~4:30am departure and made our 7:00am arrival almost on the dot, only to find that some people must've made it there before 6am, judging from the crowds on the lawn!!
Weather was cloudy and humid, but as a result only moderately hot, which was good for us spectators. A break in the clouds opened over the pad in time for an almost on-time liftoff, and along with a million other people in the area, we witnessed a bit of history. **sniff**
The actual launch itself was almost underwhelming. The media area is 3 miles from the pad, the closest area the public is allowed is 6.5 miles at the NASA Causeway, and our tickets were at the second closest area, KSC Visitor Complex (7.4 miles). You can't see the pad from the Visitor Complex, but you are still close enough to feel the launch. The Shuttle takes off, then slowly climbs into view, then was in view for a good 30 seconds or so til it was swallowed up by the clouds. You see a tower of orange flame and many seconds later, you hear and feel it as well.
Then it vanishes into the clouds.
Anticlimatic tho it may seem, it is still awesome.
The KSC Rocket Garden, Saturn V experience complete with moon rocks, Astronaut memorial, and whatnot are all neat, but the real reason to come out is for the launch. If you're a space fan, it's worth every second and every penny.