Sometime in the early 1980s while on a trip to Florida, I was able to see my one and so far only launch of a manned space mission. I took photos with my SLR camera. The photos in this post are cell phone photos of those original photos.

I arrived before dawn several hours before the scheduled launch and parked by a beach next to the Indian River just off US Route 1. From that vantage point, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) was the only feature of Kennedy Space Center (KSC) I could see in the dawn’s early light.

Dawn breaks over the Indian River and Kennedy Space Center.  VAB stands in the center.

The shuttle blasted off a few hours later.

Go baby!  Go!

There was a good view of liftoff even though clouds had moved in.  It took maybe 10 seconds or more for the roar of 2,000,000+ kg of thrust from the solid rocket boosters and orbiter’s main engines to reach my viewing point.

At this point, nearby waterfowl were startled by the noisy blastoff.

It needed no confirmation, but the launch was further proof for me that light and sound travel at different speeds and light is faster.

After the launch, I took a tour of KSC and got a closer look at Launch Complex (Pad) 39A, where the launch occurred. 

Pad 39A

At 129,428,000 cubic ft. (3,665,000 m3) the VAB is the largest single-story building and the 5th largest building in the world by volume according to Wikipedia.  

Vehicle Assembly Building

The VAB was originally designed for the final assembly of the components of the Saturn V, the rocket that took Apollo astronauts to the moon.  After Apollo, it was used to mate the space shuttle’s orbiter, external tank and solid rocket boosters. 

Currently, the VAB houses the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will launch the Artemis 1 mission late this year.    SLS will be the primary launch vehicle of NASA’s deep space missions throughout the next decade, including manned lunar flights and a possible manned mission to Mars. 

Final Thoughts

Watching a space shuttle launch and hearing the thunderous roar as it arced skyward on the journey to low-Earth orbit was an awesome experience that I fondly recall some 40 years later.

Back in the day, the public could try their luck on space shuttle landing simulators at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Just like on a real shuttle, the computer flew the entry down to 3,000 ft, and handed it over to the pilot dead stick to land on the 15,000 ft. (4,572 m) runway at KSC. The shuttle landed as a glider without the benefit of engine power. After crashing and burning a few times on the simulator, I finally got the hang of it.

I miss the shuttle. It looked cool but the system was fatally flawed. Have you seen a launch or visited KSC or Johnson Space Center.