Space shuttle Atlantis is up!

By Daniel Holz | November 16, 2009 2:05 pm


At 2:28 pm Eastern Standard Time, the space shuttle Atlantis left Earth. It was a flawless launch.

Atlantis launch!It is, of course, hard to describe the experience of watching it go up. I was surprised by just how bright it was. It’s like a mini-Sun, which is roughly right since it burns its liquid hydrogen/oxygen fuel at 3000 C, just a factor of two short of the temperature of the Sun. And, of course, it is loud. Not “hurt my ears” loud. More like “my whole body is vibrating” loud. Very intense.

The whole thing was over in a couple of minutes. I guess the shuttle was eager to get to space. It’s been all dressed up and waiting for days. All too soon the painfully bright light had disappeared. The overwhelming sound had subsided. And the only sign of the absolutely amazing event we’d just witnessed were the slowly dissipating clouds of smoke.

At the end of the day, it is an incredible accomplishment. We have just shot six people into space.


  • NewEnglandBob

    woo hoo!!

    Congratulations crew.

    Hoping for clear sailing ahead.

  • Tod R. Lauer

    Hi Daniel,

    Your impressions are exactly like mine from the (1990) HST launch. The brightness is a complete surprise. But it’s the solids that you saw, not the LOH/LOX mains, which make an almost invisible plume…

  • loonunit

    I was going to mention that I’d seen Mike Brown tweeting about it, and ask how it was that so many science tweeters/bloggers happened to be at this launch… but I guess I just didn’t understand what a “tweetup” was! Did NASA do this to generate excitement and good PR?

    (Because, uh, so far it’s working pretty well on me…)

  • gss_000

    Yup. NASA has been doing a lot of Twitter-related activities. A few weeks back, they invited the first 100 people to sign up at a certain time on their website to see the launch in person. This is actually their fifth tweetup event (IIRC) but the first involving a shuttle launch

  • MedallionOfFerret

    Yeah, the show is good. But…what’s the tell? What are we actually getting out of this show? How much actual science has come out of the manned space program in the last 40 years? What other non-political benefits has the program produced? Have these been worth the cost?

    I ask this, even though I bought an extra-large size can of Tang this morning. I’ve been addicted to the stuff since the early 1960s.

  • Frank Fitton

    It just seems like when I was a kid people used to get stoked about a shuttle launch a whole lot more. I remember being at school and they were letting everyone outside to see if we could catch a glimpse of it as it headed up through the skies. People used to get excited. Today I was at work and I mentioned it and no one even knew that it was launching.

    Its as if our country has gotten so used to it that now even space travel can seem almost mundane. I guess that’s part of the reason that their calling it quits on the whole space shuttle program. Go back in time and think about why the space program even started in the first place. It was all just to prove that we were more bad ass than the Russians. We wanted our country to get excited about something and bask in the confidence of us kicking ass. The whole space program was purely an ego driven pissing contest. Now that aspect just doesn’t even exist anymore. People are getting bored with it so what real purpose does it serve. Its not like were bringing back the cure for cancer from space or anything like that. Its really just a gigantic waste of money when you come to think about it.

    Check out my blog on the Shuttle launch, the future of the program and the lack of excitement surronding it at….

  • Hydrogen Helium Leak Testing

    Great view. Hopefully It will complete all the work for which it is launched in the space.

  • Caledonian

    People went out into their backyards and looked for Sputnik after it was launched. But who gets that excited about satellites now, even though they’re far more important to our society than Sputnik ever was? Satellites are familiar and banal, although useful.

    Manned Shuttle fights are familiar, banal, and not useful. We have no more reason to get excited about them then we do for horseless carriages or electric light – and far more reason to be disinterested.

  • Steven Colyer

    I watched a clear night time launch of a space shuttle from about 10 miles out to sea from the back end of the Disney cruise ship, Magic. It was like a mini-sun on the horizon at launch, but no sound because we were far out to sea. Because it was night the vehicle was still bright as it reached its zenith, then seemed to go back to Earth but of course it was still climbing and just going over the horizon. I counted 72 seconds from launch to the notorious “Go at throttle up” point and sure enough the solid boosters flared and fell away. The visible launch and flight took about 2 minutes before disappearing. It was so beautiful.

    We need both manned and unmanned space exploration. If people don’t see why I cannot afford the time to explain it to them. Same re money for Theory vs money for Experiments in cutting-edge Physics. We need both…. but … besides Tang, how does microcircuits and fuel cells grab you? The 60’s alone gave us that tech thanks to the needs of astronauts … I’m sure there’s been more tech since…. End discussion (at least my part).

  • Spiv

    Steven Colyer: Don’t know if you were just well over the horizon or what, but launch to SRB seperation is 126 seconds, and usually you can continue to see the orbiter/ET for quite some time after if weather is clear.

    As for other tech, it’s hard to even get in to a conversation about the things human space flight has given us. Most of us don’t really know why making pumps that work regardless of orientation/gravity/etc are importaint. We also don’t get the deal with human factors research in space (I think most people just assume it’s same as down here, but floaty. We forget how carefully adapted we are to 1G, 14.7psi, living food, etc). Human factors and medical seem to be the science focus right now since we have ISS and ‘long term’ exposure capabilities at hand. Fluid and chemical research are up there too.

  • Spectroscope

    Great news, great post & great photo! Got the trifecta! 😀

    Thanks for that. :-)

    Best wishes for the Atlantis crew – hope everything goes smoothly and well.


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