July 8, 2011: That time Ars saw the last ever Space Shuttle launch

The shuttle went to orbit more quickly than our autofocus could
follow

MERRITT ISLAND, Florida—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy
describes space as “really big.” Kennedy Space Center
(KSC) might be peanuts compared to space but, for human-sized
visitors, it’s pretty big. Located on Florida’s Atlantic coast, an
hour’s drive east of Orlando’s tourist spots, KSC has been NASA’s
site of choice for sending people into space since the 1960s.
Covering the northern half of Merritt Island, its 219 square miles
are studded with launch complexes surrounded by semitropical
nature. Last week, Ars braved KSC’s heat, rain, and crowds to watch
Atlantis, and the
30-year Space Shuttle program
, head into space for the final
time.

Launching rockets over the ocean has quite a few advantages, but
it’s also subject to the capricious weather patterns of the
Atlantic. Getting something into a specific orbit is more
complicated than just kicking the tires and lighting the fires;
each day only has a discrete launch window of a few minutes. If
it’s raining at the launch site, flight path, or at the various
emergency landing sites in France and Spain during that time, no
one’s going to space that day. This makes attending a launch
somewhat fraught: the weather doesn’t care about anyone’s plans,
plane tickets, hotel reservations, or work schedule.

Driving to KSC, things did not look promising. NASA scheduled
the launch for Friday, July 8th at 11:26 am, with successive launch
windows on Saturday and Sunday. By Wednesday afternoon, the
45th Weather
Squadron
was predicting a 70 percent chance of delay. To make
matters worse, if Friday did have to be scrubbed, Sunday would
probably be the next attempt, as NASA wanted to give its teams
enough time to get home, rest, and get back again, a process that
would be seriously complicated by the hundreds of thousands of
expected visitors and the traffic jams they’d bring.


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Source: FS – All – Science – News
July 8, 2011: That time Ars saw the last ever Space Shuttle launch