This morning we are awake early and wondering if the space shuttle “Atlantis” will launch today or not. The shuttle is ready, but the weather may not cooperate. The last few days have brought rain and thunderstorms and lightning. Chad Meyers on CNN is optimistic and so are we.
Anticipating bumper to bumper traffic we left the hotel at 8:15 am to drive what would be a 20 minute drive on any other day to the Kelly Park boat launch ramp. We are to meet Ron and Karen Presley in their boat at 10:00 am. Ron told me that he didn’t anticipate any serious traffic delays between our hotel and the park, but I thought just in case, we should make every effort to not be late. As it turned out local knowledge prevailed and we didn’t hit any traffic delays so we got to the dock at 8:45am. That’s ok, it is better to be early and ready than late and panicking.
Back in May when the final shuttle launch day was announced, the first thing I did was book the hotel, then the next thing I did was figure out how we were going to view this event. I knew that we didn’t want to stand on a beach or a bridge with throngs of other people all jostling for the best viewing positions, to say nothing of where to park the car and how far away we would have to walk in the sun and hot humid Florida heat. People were being told to get to their viewing positions by 4am to ensure a good spot… Not going to happen with us, we are asleep at 4am. I thought it would be best to view this from the water. So I started a search online for private boats to charter and contacted several private fishing charter businesses. We didn’t want to fish, but I couldn’t imagine any business turning us down because we didn’t want to fish. A charter is a charter. It was Ron who replied first, and from there we confirmed the charter.
The other bit of local knowledge that Ron passed on to me was that there are 2 parking spots right beside the boat launch ramp for cars only. The rest of that parking lot is for trucks and boat trailers, the sign at the entrance says “truck and trailer parking only, No Cars”. Ron said to drive in anyways and check because more often than not, those 2 spots are always available. There is a car parking lot within another area of Kelly Park and a short walk to the docks, but I took Ron’s advice and wouldn’t you know it… 2 car parking spots (plus 1 handicap spot) were indeed available right beside the ramp. We couldn’t have found a better parking spot in the whole of the Titusville viewing areas.
We watched as a continuing stream of boats on trailers arrived to use the twin launching ramps at Kelly Park. It was fun watching their backing up and launching skills, some were very good and others, well.. not so good.
Never having met Ron, he described his boat to me and I was keeping a watch out for it, and around 9:45am I saw Ron motoring into the small harbour at Kelly Park and tying up along the seawall. We walked over and sure enough, we had the right person and the right boat. With Ron was his lovely wife Karen.. and after introductions we got onboard and headed out.
We had mentioned to Ron in one of our email exchanges that we would also like to try and find some manatees. Ron owns and operates a fishing charter business on Merritt Island and I figured if anyone would know where the manatees hung out it would be Ron. Since we were early and had the time Ron suggested that we head to the spot that he knew and see the Manatees, then we could head over to the launch viewing area. So off we went in search of Manatees.
We motored quietly up this little channel and sure enough there were Manatees..dozens or more of them. They were sleeping and floating with just their back above the water surface.
The didn’t stay asleep for very long and soon the manatees were swimming all around the boat coming right up to us. Manatees are everywhere. Their noses are poking up all around us, probably sniffing for a free handout.
Karen and I even got to pat them on their backs.
It is about 40 minutes to launch time and we are gaining confidence that the skies have been steadily clearing enough that there will be a launch today. So off we go at high speed to join the flotilla of other boats out to view the launch.
In these 2 photos you can see the crowds on the side of the State Road 528 waiting to view the launch. This is probably a less popular viewing spot than some of the other spots accessible from land, but you can see the crowds along the sea wall and up the banks of the hill to the road. These people have been waiting and standing here for hours and hours, while we motor by 30 minutes ahead of the launch to our position along the front of the restricted “ no entry” zone line.
Boats of all sizes and types are anchored everywhere.
And here we are, as far as we can go without crossing over the line that is monitored by the Coast Guard. You can see one of the Coast Guard patrol boats and the Vehicle Assembly Building off in the distance.
Above us, the skies have cleared, but over the Kennedy Launch Site, there is a cover of cloud.. nothing that threatens the shuttle, but it will threaten our view as the shuttle lifts off, it will shortly disappear into that cloud cover.
Our Captain Ron and his lovely wife Karen.
As I mentioned earlier, Ron has a fishing charter business and is a well known and respected person in the business and around his community. He is an authority of the local fishing scene and has written books on the subject. Ron is also Coast Guard licensed and insured. If you are ever in the area and want to take in some sport fishing, or just go sightseeing as we did, then I highly recommend that you contact Ron through his business website “Inshore Fishing Adventures” and you will be guaranteed a fantastic time and experience.
And now after that brief commercial break, we go back to our regularly scheduled program .. LOL… The Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Here are some photos of the boats on either side of us along the invisible line being monitored by the Coast Guard.
At the 1 minute mark of the countdown things were progressing as scheduled, but suddenly at the 31 second mark the countdown was halted… oh no… here I was, wondering for the last 2 days if there would even be a launch and now when it is was so close to going, at the 31 second mark they have stopped the clock. But as you know if you were following the launch on TV, or saw the news later, the clock resumed and we saw the lift off.
“ Go Atlantis Go” and “USA USA USA” were the chants we heard from the nearby boats.
I zoomed back on the camera to get the shot as Atlantis disappeared into the lower cloud cover.
The sound of the roaring engines was faint at first, but grew and grew in intensity as the sound wave came rolling across to the water towards us.
Based on the trajectory of the flight, I thought there was a good chance that we would have one more look at Atlantis as it flew through the opening in the clouds and sure enough, there it was and then it was gone..
Karen Presley took these photos, one of me and one of Atlantis and one of Karen and I.
What surprised me the most was the brightness of the flame from the rocket engines. On TV it is no where near as intensely bright as it is in person. To me, that flame was even brighter than looking directly at the sun. It would really be something to see at night.
Thanks again to our hosts, Ron and Karen Presley, for a wonderful day. I got to see a shuttle launch and Karen, not so interested in shuttle launches, got to see and actually touch a Manatee, something that she has been wanting to do since our first time in Florida 4 years ago.
We will no doubt return to Titusville, just not in the summer time… and when we do, I know we will be calling Ron and his Karen to take us out sightseeing again.
As usual, I will post all of todays photos on my FLICKR site and will also include some videos that I took of the manatees.
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