I was fortunate once again to get tickets to view a shuttle launch from the NASA Causeway, and this one was absolutely spectacular. The weather was almost perfect and although it was very hot, we had a very nice breeze that made the long wait very pleasant. This was the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Friday May 14, which was taking supplies to the International Space Station.
Although this is the 3rd launch I've witnessed from the NASA Causeway, they never get less exciting. It was difficult to get good photos prior to the launch this time because there were visible heat waves making the view through the camera a little bit wavy as Atlantis sat on the launch pad.
As the countdown gets down to around 6 seconds, you can watch the shuttle's main engines fire and try to get a few photos before the solid rocket boosters fire and the smoke plume completely blocks the view of the space shuttle for people viewing it from the south.
The next trick is to be ready to get more photos as the shuttle emerges from behind the smoke.
It's not until about 30 seconds after launch that you actually hear it, since we are slightly over 6 miles away. But once you hear it, you also feel it, and the rumble as it climbs skyward is something that everyone should get to experience.
Only about 2 minutes into the flight, the solid rocket booster engine separation occurs and the shuttle continues into orbit on it's own three engines. In the photo above, you can see the puff of smoke when the booster engines separate from the space shuttle.
In the photo below, you can see the solid rocket boosters completely separated from the shuttle as it continues onward. The bright white dot below and to the right of the solid rocket boosters is the flame coming from shuttle's three main engines as it flies away from us. This photo is a 100% crop from the actual image.
This is the last scheduled flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis. Unless the US Congress does something to extend the program, the only way it will fly again is possibly as an emergency backup to one of the two remaining shuttle flights by the other orbiters.