While it’s a little off the Gringo’s usual blog theme of motorcycle trips, I thought I’d do a quick post about watching a shuttle launch. I am fortunate, through my freelance job as a news videographer, to occasionally be able to witness a launch up close and personal, from KSC’s press site, which is about three miles from the launch pads, I believe. For this most recent launch of Shuttle Endeavour, STS-130, at 4:14 am on February 8, I worked for CBS News. Working a “routine” shuttle launch for CBS, for me, entails having my camera ready to go live on the network should events warrant. At one time, CBS, NBC and ABC each had its own small building at the press site from which they covered launches and landings. As the years passed, and space travel became more “routine”–notwithstanding the occasional disaster–network interest in covering launches waned, with most relying on NASA’s multi-camera feed of each launch. CBS and NBC each maintain a small presence at each launch, while ABC relies on its local affiliate or brings in staff if events warrant. In fact, ABC tore down its building at the press site a few years ago due to mold issues, I believe, and now brings in trailers for its staff during special events.
As this was to be a nighttime launch–the last scheduled night launch of the shuttle program–I ensured that CBS’s small second-floor studio was lit properly (tungsten rather than daylight-balance lighting), and placed my camera on its tripod in the proper location, so that CBS space correspondent Bill Harwood would be sitting on the set with the launch pad over his left shoulder, ready to go live if necessary.
Watching a launch from this close is truly incredible. Daytime launches are spectacular, nighttime launches more so. At liftoff, smoke clouds billow outward from the pad as intense flame shoots from the shuttle’s exhaust. The building shakes from the craft’s deep rumble. As the shuttle climbs, the sky and landscape become brighter and brighter, until briefly, night becomes day. The rumble continues, the building shakes, and the sky once again darkens as the shuttle makes its way into space, leaving its exhaust trail to float down and slowly dissipate in the darkness. No matter how many launches you’ve seen, no matter how long you’ve worked in news and how jaded you may think you are, it always takes your breath away.