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April 5, 2010

Space shuttle launch may be visible from the East Coast early tomorrow
Posted by Teresa at 12:57 AM * 22 comments


People in the eastern United States will get a great opportunity, weather permitting, to see the space shuttle Discovery launched into orbit early on Monday morning, April 5.

Should the launch come off on schedule, it will also give viewers a rare opportunity to see a shuttle launch during morning twilight, a very unusual circumstance which has happened very infrequently since the shuttle program began in April 1981.

The shuttle is due to launch Monday at 6:21 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. This viewing map shows the areas where it will most likely be visible to East Coast skywatchers. …

And this upcoming launch could also be the very first one where a shuttle will take a track parallel to the Atlantic seaboard while much of the East Coast is experiencing morning twilight conditions.

On those occasions when a shuttle has been launched in the dark of night, its visibility was due primarily to the bright yellow-orange glow of its main rocket engines. But should the upcoming launch of Discovery—its next-to-last planned mission—go off on schedule next Monday morning, its visibility might be enhanced by sunlight reflecting off both the orbiter and its orange external fuel tank.

The weather’s clear. Assuming the launch goes off as planned, all you’ll need is to get up indecently early and have a good place to watch from.
Comments on Space shuttle launch may be visible from the East Coast early tomorrow:
#1 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 01:15 AM:

I think your URL got munged. It looks like this is the link you wanted to post.

#2 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 01:31 AM:

Sigh. Just another reason to miss home. Not that I am big on 6:30am anywhere, but. Sigh.

#3 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 06:37 AM:

I watched from the outside stairs. It's like a little early sunrise at the east end of Rt. 50/Colonial Dr.

#4 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 06:58 AM:

Saw it. Went like a bat out of Newark. Thank you for the heads up. Happy to look south on my street and see something really good for a change.

#5 ::: Laurel ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 06:58 AM:

I watched it from Payne's Prairie, about 150 miles away from the Cape. I've seen several nighttime shuttle launches from here, but this was unlike any before. It went up from the horizon glowing red-orange in a graceful arc as usual, until you could see the booster rockets separate and fall away and the small light of the main engine continue upward. Then at the top of the arc, it lit up again, even brighter than it had been before, this time blue-white, and seemed to keep brightening as the shuttle went towards the horizon. It was so bright you could see a trail behind it, and didn't disappear until just a few degrees from the horizon, instead of far up in the sky as it usually does. When it was gone, the sky had turned the faintest shade of blue, and the marsh birds had started to chuckle and clap - I hadn't noticed when. Then the trails left behind by the booster rockets started to light up in reverse, starting high in the sky and slowly brightening down towards the ground as the light from the sunrise reached them, first blue-white and then rosy as the whole sky lit up.

#6 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 08:10 AM:

Laurel @ 5 ...
Thank you -- that's a lovely description :)

#7 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 08:38 AM:

Rats. Missed it.

#8 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 08:40 AM:

I didn't manage to get out of bed in time, very sadly indeed.

The launch that stands out in my mind, though, was on the opposite end of the day, an Atlantis launch just after dusk in early winter. In darkness she rose on her pillar of fire...then burst across the terminator into the most glorious sunlight imaginable. It was quite a long moment before I could breathe again.

#9 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Wow. Pretty sure I'm too far north to have seen it even if I had been up that ungodly early, but still, sad I missed it.

My parents lived on Florida's "Space Coast" for 15 years, and during that time I got to see several shuttle launches. We would tune in to NASA TV to watch the final countdown, then when liftoff occurred we'd run out to the front lawn. By the time we got there, the Shuttle would just be visible over the palm trees.

I only got to see one night launch, and "spectacular" doesn't begin to cover it. For that one, we went down to the beach. It was an unusually clear night, without the seaside haze that usually obscured everything after dark. We could see the red flare of the main engines as soon as they started up, and we were able to follow the action pretty much until main engine shutdown. For the first seconds, the entire coastline was lit up like it was on fire. It was incredible.

Titan and Delta IV rocket launches (from Canaveral Air Force Station next door, not the Cape) are pretty cool too, but they lack the overwhelming awesomeness of a Shuttle launch. It's going to be sad when those end for good, with nothing to replace them.

#10 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 10:31 AM:

Sorry I missed it.

It would have been a great incentive to get up early. And I need to put myself onto an early morning schedule for my new job that starts in a couple of days.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 02:37 PM:

My parents' vacation trailer is in Titusville, literally across the Indian river from the Cape.

They saw the last launch (4 in the AM); haven't heard yet if they got up early for this one.

(We heard the last one come down . . . the sonic booms were awesome.)

#12 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 02:58 PM:

My favorite television coverage for a night launch was when Linda Ellerbee covered the first night Shuttle launch: she'd missed all the Apollo/Skylab launches and finally convinced NBC that since it took place in the middle of NBC News Overnight they should spring for a plane ticket so she could do a remote. During the launch she was floored beyond appropriate noises of astonishment and did not hear her co-anchor (not Lloyd Dobbins) in New York say "I could hear your diaphragm shake" which is why her first coherent comment was "The Earth Moved!" They both ended up in trouble with NBC management for A Very Long Time.

#13 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 03:20 PM:

Reminds me of getting to see the only night launch there ever was of a Saturn V -- Apollo 17. But that's a longer story than I'd want to fit on this particular site. Connor Freff Cochran, Ctein, and I got press credentials, drove 9000 miles in 10 days, and had a great experience. We each wrote long trip reports. And we're talking about getting together to have a panel at some convention next year to talk about what we each remember from the trip, with a moderator who's read our reports to comment on how what we remember differs from what we wrote at the time.

#14 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Tom Whitmore writes at #13:

And we're talking about getting together to have a panel at some convention next year to talk about what we each remember from the trip, with a moderator who's read our reports to comment on how what we remember differs from what we wrote at the time.

I'd love to be that moderator, if things work out that way! (Although I haven't read the trip reports yet.)

#15 ::: SOBoron ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 07:33 PM:

high school student, tampa, florida. had to wake up at 6 for school. saw the shuttle taking off in front of me as i was driving to school.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 08:21 PM:

SOBoron 15: Serendipity! Lucky you.

And welcome!

#17 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2010, 10:42 PM:

Here's a NASA photo. Wish I'd been there to see the launch in person.

#18 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:09 AM:

Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the country to see this -- night launches are spectacular.

However, there is one detail that is bothering me. Several times today I have read or heard that the sky was lit up by the Shuttle's main engines. That is simply wrong. The main engines are SSMEs, sea level oxygen/hydrogen engines. The jets are clear to bluish, and can be hard to see from some angles in daylight. The two solid fuel boosters are something else entirely. The primary fuel is aluminum, and metals tend to burn very brightly. Those engines produce the impressive show, with lots of light and smoke.

My one night launch was nearly 30 years ago -- the Air Force invited a group of reporters to watch a Minuteman III test fired west toward Kwajalein. We were bussed in through the Surf gate early in the morning and watched from Ocean Beach, looking north. We knew roughly when the launch was scheduled for, but all we really could do is stare up the coast and wait. It was overcast, and we were not sure what we were looking for.

As it turned out we really could not see the launch silo directly, but it didn't matter. We could see the flame a couple of miles up the coast and that sucker roared up through the overcast and lit up the entire sky for several seconds. Nothing beats solid fuel for pleasing a crowd.

#19 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 03:23 AM:

Whoops -- that's the Surf gate at Vandenberg AFB north of Santa Barbara. Firing a Minuteman west from Canaveral might be a problem.

#20 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 06:25 AM:

I watched the shuttle go over late at night on, I think, New Year's Eve 2008, on a dark golf course at Crescent Head, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. We let the 8 and 5 year olds stay up and come out walking in the dark, and we all saw it moving through the dark sky in front of the stars of the southern sky. The kids were entranced -- they still talk about it.

#21 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2010, 05:17 PM:

One more expression of thanks to laurel @5. Lovely description

I'd really like to see a launch one day -- or a landing, for that matter.

For now, I must content myself with seeing them pass over Oregon, thanks to

#22 ::: jake bodhi ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2010, 05:31 PM:

I saw the shuttle contrail Monday morning while driving east on Apalachee Parkway in Tallahassee at about 6:50 am Monday morning. I didn't know what was going on and I wondered who lit up that big question mark in the sky? It was like I was a citizen of Gotham City and the Riddler had just posted a sky message all over the bat signal. As I was stopped at a light I tried to figure out why the sky was illuminated like this. At first I thought it was a break in the clouds and the early sun was shining through, but the sun wasn't up yet, and it wasn't supposed to be cloudy. The question mark was pure white, and there was a fainter red zigzag trail below that. Later I heard news of a launch and I figured I saw the contrail, high up in the sky, illuminated by a sun below the horizon. Now that's pretty cool for a morning commute. I got confirmation of this siting from a local astronomer.
I was on the Canaveral jetty last summer for the Atlantis Hubble mission. A beautiful mostly clear day, the shuttle cut the sky like an archangels' sword of fire. I should be out on A1A at the end of July for another launch viewing. This time from Titusville.

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