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March 11, 2008

A Brilliant Night Launch for Endeavour

Posted: 10:26 AM ET

For a few dozen seconds early Tuesday morning the darkness of night turned into what looked like day at the Kennedy Space Center.


NASA Image

At 2:28 a.m. Launch Complex 39 – including the huge vehicle assembly building and the neighboring press center – were relatively dark. The parking lot lights had been turned off for the launch. Clouds obscured the moon and the stars. In the distance – about 3 miles away – huge flood lights made a giant X in the sky as they illuminated the space shuttle Endeavour sitting on its launch pad.


As the press center's giant countdown clock ticked down, NASA commentators calmly called out the remaining seconds over loud speakers – "3 – 2 – 1." The first sign something was happening on the pad was the smoke that billowed from the sides of the rockets. Quickly a bright light emerged as the more than 4 million pound "stack" of the orbiter, the external fuel tank and the solid rocket boosters silently lifted into the sky. The bright light in their wake looked almost like a sunrise - in high speed.


The next part of the launch experience was the rattle of the engines. Seconds after seeing the bright light the sound of the rockets reached the press site. First there was a soft rattle that grew louder and louder. At full volume you could feel the vibrations as the sound waves slammed into your body. The sound was so intense that car alarms in the parking lot start to go off.


As the shuttle continued to rise into the night sky the area around the press center grew brighter and brighter. At full intensity it became so bright you would think the sun was out. Then almost as quickly as the light dawned the shuttle slipped into the clouds. The rockets illuminated them from above and then rapidly dimmed as the shuttle rocketed away.


There is nothing quite like a space shuttle launch up close... and that's doubly true for a night launch.


–CNN Producer Aaron Cooper at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida


Filed under: NASA

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Doug DuBois   March 12th, 2008 10:01 am ET

What was the reason for launching in the middle of the night? Was it purely for the novelty and dramatic video or were ther some mission-related considerations that necessitated a night launch?

ktobin   March 12th, 2008 3:47 pm ET

In order to rendezvous with the International Space Station, the shuttle must launch on a very specific trajectory. Miles O'Brien compares it to a quarterback timing his throw to a receiver down field. Typically there is about a 10 minute window each day when the shuttle can launch to the ISS. At this particular time, that window happened to be in the middle of the night.

Mr. Spock   March 24th, 2008 12:00 am ET

I have often wondered if indeed night launches would be safer for STS missions because of the visibility and typically more stable meteorlogical conditions at night. Endeavor was certainly a beauty to behold when NASA lit that candle.

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