STS-99 Launch Viewing
or, once again a VIP
January 31 - February 1
January 2000, I was fortunate enough to get a VIP invitation for the STS-99
shuttle launch viewing. Half the Apple
WebObjects team and some close friends were on the guest list, and so we set
sail and flew across the US, from CA to FL, to - stand in pouring rain. Yes, the
VIP tour was nice, but not as nice as with my STS-93
visit, because this time the service structure was covering the shuttle and
you couldn't see too much. So at least we got a group picture of the WO team at
Launch Pad 39A, from up close and personal.
next day, during the scheduled launch window, it was pouring. Very nasty. The
bleachers were free of people - I was among the four stubborn people who decided
to sit tight and wait, this wet wait being part of the whole experience. The
wusses were all in the Saturn V building nearby, enjoying hot dogs and the
company of astronauts.
was not just the rain which lead to a launch cancellation - a technical issue
had to be resolved, and the whole launch got scrubbed for some 10 days. So, a
week later, we again showed up by the countdown clock - some same people, while
some could not justify to make the trek twice and sent replacement instead. This
time the weather was nicer - much nicer; several of us rain used Californians
suffered under sunstroke and looked like lobsters. The bleachers were full of
people supporting their favorite astronauts or simply enjoying the view.
A group of Japanese guests showing support for Japanese astronaut Mohri
The Sound Suppression System water tank is overflowing
Some of us suffered a minor heat stroke, while others were better prepared...
This is how it looks like when you run out of film a second too early. You have no idea how much I hate myself for this screwup, especially since friends told me how to do it right!
The crowd is viewing the launch just around SRB separation
The countdown proceeded more or less flawlessly. Just before launch the water tower, supplying 400,000 gallons of water for the sound suppression system, started overflowing / leaking, raising new concerns among us guests; but it was later explained as a normal phenomenon. So finally, we witnessed the launch. Me, trying to take perfect pictures from the VIP site, managed to screw up again. It's something different each time - I just need to get it right once... I ran out of film! The camera shoots at 6 frames per second, and stupid me pressed the release too early - the last picture shows the shuttle just barely clearing the tower, still partially covered by the lightning rod. Oops. I also shot a multi-exposure, showing the shuttle over an interval of about three minutes of flight.
All in all, again a great experience - if I just didn't screw up my photography in such a stupid way...
photography advice (with pictures)