Guest blog: Successful launch of space shuttle Endeavour

Posted by Karri Ferron
on Monday, May 16, 2011

On May 16, Brenda Culbertson, an observational astronomer, astrophotographer, and outreach educator from Kansas, as well as a friend of Astronomy magazine, finally witnessed a space shuttle launch 17 days after Endeavour was scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center. She has been kind enough to share her adventures while representing the magazine (see the list of her blog entries below), and her report indicates her patience paid off.

Members of the media witnessed the launch of space shuttle Endeavour from 3 miles away. // All photos by Brenda Culbertson
The Rotating Service Structure (RSS) rolled away from space shuttle Endeavour assembly May 15 around noon EDT. The daytime event was in stark contrast to the nighttime rollaway before the previous launch attempt. Those of us at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) who had been waiting for the second launch attempt were quite pleased to see this step of the preparations completed. It meant that the launch was going in the right direction.

The next step in the right direction came on the morning of May 16 when the six astronauts were transported to the launch pad. The shuttle crew seemed in good spirits as they were escorted to the vehicle at 5 a.m. More than 100 members of the press pool cheered as the crew waved.

Space shuttle Endeavour lifted off for its last mission at 8:56 a.m. EDT, May 16.
An hour after the astronauts left for the pad, vehicle traffic was heavy, and the press area was full of people and cameras. From the national news to small-town publications, more than 4,500 members of the media were in attendance. Add to that employees, dignitaries, and other guests, and more than 6,000 people were at KSC for the launch. The surrounding communities had another half million people waiting to watch Endeavour head toward space.

The clock ticked down to launch, and a heavy layer of clouds appeared overhead. It seemed that a synchronous holding of breath by everyone at KSC went on for several minutes until skies cleared again. Countdown continued.

Endeavour disappeared into the clouds 22 seconds after launch.
The clock continued ticking and finally reached zero. The plume from the rockets was visible a second or two after. A few seconds more, and the fiery thrust launched the vehicle high into the clouds. I felt, as well as heard, a very loud rumble as sound waves reached the 3-mile mark where most of the media were set up. Endeavour was nearing the low clouds and disappeared into the grayness after 22 seconds. The only evidence of the Endeavour launch that lingered was the gaseous cloud at the launch pad, the lessening roar of the rockets, and a shadow of the trail left behind that was still visible through the clouds.

An hour after the launch, NASA held an update conference to tell the world that all is well aboard space shuttle Endeavour.

The last mission for Endeavour is underway, and these last 16 days of its active duty will be well spent. To see details about the STS-134 mission and learn more about Endeavour, visit the NASA website at

More STS-134 blogs by Brenda Culbertson
Tour of Kennedy Space Center buildings

STS-134 nears launch date (again)

Witnessing an Atlas V launch

STS-134 — the last mission of space shuttle Endeavour


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