Discovery landing signals the beginning of the end on the Space Coast

After being home for only six days from my two week long trip to Florida covering the Nascar races at Daytona and attending the final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, I was back in Florida for Spring Break. It would be a very eventful Spring Break and everything worked out perfectly as you will see below!

On Saturday, March 5th, I headed down the Canaveral National Seashore to watch an Atlas V launch carrying the X-37B spaceplane. My viewing location, which was about 4 miles away from the pad, I did not have a clear view of the launch pad, but I was still able to get some great photos of the rocket in flight.

It was overcast for most of the day, but just before launch the clouds parted, making for a beautiful evening launch.

Okay, let’s fast forward to Wednesday, the day of Discovery’s final landing after an amazing career. To say this week was working out perfectly would be an understatement. While heading out for the Atlas V launch, I was scouting out possible locations from which to view the landing of Discovery if she would happen to land on Runway 15. I really wasn’t expecting a landing on Runway 15, and I just figured I would have to watch the landing from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center parking lot as the shuttle lands on Runway 33, which leaves you about 4 miles from the orbiter on final approach. As it turned out, the winds this day ended up coming from the Southeast, making the crew have no other choice but to land on Runway 15, which in return put me about 3,500 ft from Endeavour as I viewed from Kennedy Parkway N.  What luck!

Discovery makes a steep dive while she is still 4 miles in altitude, and traveling at nearly 440 MPH.

The location gave me a sweet view of Discoverys final approach.

This was supposed to be only the beginning of a busy day as I was supposed to attend the final rollout of Endeavour later that night, but with the threat of storms and lightning that were rolling in that night, it was decided to delay Endeavour’s Rollout for 24 hours…a wise decision, and it did, in fact, rain that night into the following morning.

With that being said, on Thursday I headed back down to Kennedy Space Center for the rollout, although a little chilly, it was a great evening.

The bright Xenon lights power up as Endeavour inches her way out of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The shuttle stack’s shadow is projected onto the VAB.

Endeavour is now well on her way to launch pad 39-A as the VAB looms in the background. In order to get a evenly lit image, I chose to blend three exposures into a HDR image, my first attempt at HDR as well!

Workers walk along side the crawler  keeping a close eye out for small problems which usually include hot bearings.

A profile view of the stack as it heads to the pad. The patches on the orange external tank are the result of repairs having been made to the foam covering the tank after it was damaged by falling debris while in storage during Hurricane Katrina.

Endeavour shows hardly any wear in the closeup view. Having went into service just 18 years ago, she is the youngest of the three surviving orbiters.

Endeavour heads off into the distance towards launch pad 39-A. She is set to launch for the final time on April 19th. I am hoping to be at the launch, but that depends on how my college courses are going when the time comes…

The final space related event of the week was a Delta IV rocket launch which was supposed to happen at 5:56pm, a few minutes before sunset. High level winds prevented the launch from happening on time, but with a lot of luck the winds began to cooperate and a green light was given for launch shortly after sunset, which provided some amazing light. I viewed from KARS Park, which is around 7-8 miles from the launch pad.

After the shot above I put down my 500mm and picked up my Canon 40D and switched between a 24-105 and 70-200 lens for a few different shots of the colorful contrail.

As the rocket gains altitude the contrail attracts the light of the setting sun.

The contrail lingers, providing a work of art in the sky.

And that ends a great week of shooting on the Space Coast.

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