We woke up at stupid o’clock (5.30am) and quickly got ready before leaving the campsite at 6am to drive over to Titusville. A quick pit stop for petrol, 3 tolls and about 60 miles later we arrived at Space View Park. Unexpectedly, there was no public parking in the park itself, so we drove around in search of a parking spot. The local Masonic Lodge were selling parking spaces for $20 for the day, so we pulled in and paid up. They were very nice, and although $20 seems a bit steep, we were glad that we had paid to park somewhere safe since people who had parked for free on back streets returned to find their cars broken into and their fuel tanks drained, which would not have been a good end to our day. Not being able to park in view of the launch changed our plans of sleeping in the car somewhat so we gathered some stuff together and headed towards Space View Park, although we were headed towards the crowd where the big screen TVs and the press were, a wrong turn down the Astronaut Walk of Fame took us to a quieter area of the waterfront, where we were able to claim a spot right at the front just behind a waist-high hedge. This was at about 7.45am, in the next half hour there were at least two rows of us there, and it quickly filled up as the day wore on. The girls next to us, Stacie and Diana had driven all night from Georgia and were skipping work to be there. It was a pretty hot day (about 83 degrees Fahrenheit) and after midday the hedge provided very little shade, so I was very glad of the large umbrella that they had brought with them. Liz, having changed into her bikini in front of the crowd spent most of the day working on her tan. The day went surprisingly quickly, with the occasional trip to CVS or to Burger King to use the bathroom and enjoy the air-conditioning. Rather than hit the outgoing traffic straight away, we decided to go for a quick meal and a drink with Stacie and Diana before hitting the road after the launch, so Diana and I went for a wander to find somewhere. The first bar we found was suspicious right from the sign outside that proclaimed “Bikers Welcome” and everyone turned around as we walked in… maybe not there then. The next place we tried was much better, so we decided to head back there after the launch.

People crowding into the water for a good view

Although the place we were sitting was meant to have the launch broadcast live through the sound system, a passing boat that morning had pulled the wires loose, so we had no audio, but there were enough people around us with radios tuned in to hear the coverage that we had no problem knowing what was going on. As the launch time neared people started crowding towards the front, only to be sent back by the rather formidable ladies sitting behind us, people were even standing in the water to get a good view (we were very tempted to yell shark to see what would happen). Eventually, after a tense few minutes delay while they worked on a computer problem, the final countdown began.

Lift off!

The launch itself is difficult to describe, the countdown finished and the billows of smoke were the first thing we could see, and then with the rockets spewing underneath the shuttle took to the sky, going up and up and up, until we saw the solid boosters released and the shuttle disappeared from view. It was not until at least a minute after the launch that the noise started to reach us and it went on after the shuttle was no longer visible to the naked eye.

I know it's wonky... I wasn't really paying attention to the camera

It was truly a once in a lifetime experience, but it was over so fast. I do have over 100 photos though, so at least I have a record of it. Having packed up our stuff we hurried over to the restaurant to get a table. The service was terrible, but the food was good and we managed to kill some time to allow the traffic to ease a little. We parted ways with the girls, making tentative plans to meet at KSC tomorrow. Getting back in the car we joined the traffic leaving town. It was slow, painfully slow. What on a good day is an hour’s journey took us about 3 ½ hours. At about 10ish, Liz pulled over to the side of the road for me to take over the driving since the constant slow pace had caused her legs to cramp up. About 25 miles from Orlando the traffic let up a little, and after only one wrong turn, we finally got back to the campsite just after 11pm. Our plans for repacking and airing out the car and blogging went completely out of the window as we changed into our pjs and climbed into our sleeping bags as quickly as we could. Another early start tomorrow.