Yesterday I had the opportunity to view the launch of the Space Shuttle from the NASA Causeway, and it was one of the most exciting things I've ever witnessed. I had seen several launches before, but never from this close. My normal viewing site was always the rooftop of a business on US Highway 1 in Titusville, which according to Google is just a smidgen over 13 miles from the launch pad. But after getting lucky enough to purchase tickets for this launch, I was only 6 miles away.
The day started out very cloudy and I was skeptical that it would even launch as my brother and I were driving down from Jacksonville. It's about 2 1/2 hours drive and we hardly saw any blue in the sky most of the trip. The forecast was for a 70% chance of favorable weather and we kept hoping the clouds would blow past before the 2:28pm launch time. As luck would have it that's exactly what happened, and Atlantis was headed up toward the international space station exactly on time after a picture perfect liftoff. This was a welcome change for me personally, because the last time I had causeway tickets, I made 4 trips to Kennedy Space Center only to have the launch scrubbed all 4 times.
For viewing from the NASA Causeway visitors are required to arrive well in advance, with arrival times being assigned to everyone who is lucky enough to purchase tickets. There is quite a crowd of people and the arrival times are staggered so that everyone does not arrive at the same time. Our arrival deadline was 11am for the 2:28pm launch, but we arrived around 9:30.
The image above is heavily cropped to show the detail. But the images in the flight sequence below are the full width of the original image, but most of them have been cropped in the other direction only enough to create an 8x10 aspect ratio. The close up images were shot with a 300 f2.8L IS lens and Canon 2x extender on a 40d body, and the wider shots were done with a 100-400 and 28-135 lens on my Mk2N. I'm always reluctant to use the 2x extender but it usually works out ok on the 300 f2.8.
Additional images can be seen on my website here.
For a look at a night launch, check out The Launch of Space Shutle Discovery