Night Launch

Adventures of a first-time shuttle photographer.

(Ed Darack)


(Ed Darack)

On Saturday, February 6, I arrived at the media site to a cool, clear sky. Thunderstorms had pounded the area the night before, so I was nervous about what I would find when we headed out to the launch area. A lot of photographs had been shot, eating up a healthy chunk of the flash cards in each of the cameras. I erased the blank images and put new batteries in the cameras and seismic triggers.

With the launch planned for 4:39:50 a.m., Sunday, instead of returning to my hotel 30 minutes away, I opted to sleep in my car. Three miles distant, powerful xenon spotlights illuminating Endeavour at Pad 39A cast a distinct, broad “V” into the sky, each arm of which was capped by the reflection off of low, swirling clouds. Slowly, people began to arrive, and by 3 a.m. a crowd of about 150 journalists waited near the countdown clock in the cold, windy early morning. With just nine minutes to go, the words “no-go” reverberated from a distant loudspeaker, based on bad weather. The launch was scrubbed, to be tried again the next morning.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, The Final Mission of Extortion 17 (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the story of the people and circumstances of Extortion 17 and its downing in Afghanistan in August 2011. The shootdown was the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue. See his website and Facebook page for more information.

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