the launch

T-Minus 17 hours. Approximately 10:30pm EST.
My buddy Tim and I arrive at Spaceview Park. We thought we were going to be among the first ones there. Oh how wrong we were. The entire front row along the water is already lined with camp chairs. Luckily we find an elevated planter box, from there I setup my tripod to shoot over the heads of the people in front of us. Compared to most of the people out here, we are ill prepared. Most people have camp chairs, a few people have tents, some have umbrellas, one person even has a full size TV. We have a few snacks, some crackers that we bought from K-Mart, some fruit that we sneaked out of our hotel’s continental breakfast, some bottles of water, and our camera gear.

T-Minus 16 hours. Approximately 11:30pm EST.
I’m finding the humongous 500mm lens I rented for this launch is not big enough. As you can see, even at maximum zoom the launch pad takes up a small amount of the frame. Some people have some crazy setups. I see a Canon 600mm f4L, the guy who owns it says he’s stacking it with a 2x teleconverter for a crazy 1200mm focal length. But even his crazy expensive setup pales in comparison to the guy who brought in a huge telescope hooked up to his laptop.


T-Minus 15 hours. Approximately 12:30am EST.
Nothing to do except try to catch some sleep. I lay down in the patch of dirt next to my tripod. The bricks on the left are my pillow. The ground is slightly damp, but not cold. Thank God for waterproof pants and Gore-Tex jackets. Nights in Orlando are warm. So I’m actually able to catch a few Zs. The only thing that really hinders my sleep is the swarm of mosquitoes buzzing around my ears.


T-Minus 10.5 hours. Approximately 5am EST.

I’m awakened by bright lights. News crews here to film the gathering crowds. I wonder if they caught a shot of me sleeping in the dirt. Good thing it’s Miami local news and not a national news outlet like CNN or Fox News.


T-Minus 8 hours. Approximately 7:30 am EST.
The sunrise over the water is quite beautiful. It rains a little bit and the winds pick up. It’s not looking too good, but it’s been forecasted that way. It’s supposed to clear up by the afternoon for the scheduled launch window at 3:47pm. As a side benefit, the winds blow away the mosquitoes, so I’m able to sleep better. It’s light out, so people can plainly see me sleeping in the dirt, but by now I’m so tired I just don’t care.


T-Minus 5 hours. Approximately 10:30 am EST.
Spaceview park is starting to fill up. All the empty spaces are now filled with chairs. Out near the parking lot lines are forming for the porta-potties. All sorts of food stands are going up. It’s almost like a mini carnival. Volunteers set up a speaker which provides a live broadcast of the countdown from Cape Canaveral.

T-Minus 3 hours. Approximately 12:30 pm EST.
Things are looking good. The weather has cleared a lot. The space shuttle’s liquid fuel tank has been filled. The crew has boarded the shuttle orbiter. Then all of a sudden some bad news. They have found a mechanical problem. A heater on one of the auxiliary power units has failed. Ten minutes later they announce that the launch has been scrubbed, delayed at least two days. Utter disappointment grips me. Tim and I pack up as quickly as we can, we decide to try to beat the traffic to the Orlando airport.

T-Plus 12 hours. I think. Approximately 12:30am PST.
Back in California already. Got to the airport early. I sprawled out on the floor at the gate and caught a bit of sleep. Flight is uneventful. Short layover in Phoenix then arrive at SFO a little past midnight PST. The math is confusing. Orlando is 3 hours ahead? So it’s 3:30 there, so approximately 12 hours after the scheduled launch I’m at home with my parents. They feed me before I leave to drive back to Davis. “Why not just rest here?” they ask. Well, I need to be up in about four hours for a bike ride.

T-Plus 18 hours. 6:30am PST.
The start of the Tour de Cure, a charity bike ride for diabetes. For me it’s a different kind of launch, the start of the 2011 biking season. To be honest, if it were just a normal century ride, I would’ve probably just stayed at home and slept. But this is a charity ride, people are sponsoring me, plus Dave and Jiro are counting on me to drive their bikes up to Roseville. So here I am, attempting to bike one hundred miles on only a couple of hours of sleep.

T-Plus 27.5 hours. 4pm PST.
I make it to the finish line, completely drained. On paper this is probably the easiest century ride I have ever ridden, but in actuality it’s been one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done. Somehow I make it to the end despite cramping up really early, at only the 40 mile mark.

Epilogue.
It’s been a crazy two days. Missing the launch was a big disappointment, for sure. It would seem like the entire trip was a big waste. I used an entire weeks worth of vacation time, burned through almost an entire week’s salary, flew thousands of miles, and for what? A night slept sleeping in the dirt and a few blurry pictures? If you look at it that way, then yes it sounds like a waste. But to me it’s not a waste. What I’ve been slowly learning over the years is that the stories and experiences in life are priceless. A big reason why I love to blog and I love to shoot pictures is that it helps me to remember those stories and experiences and share them with others. And so this whole experience wasn’t a waste. This particular story had an unexpected and anti-climactic ending, but I hope it was still worth reading. And I still had fun sharing it.

Pix here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/mikehong81/2011042729Florida

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