I just finished watching the lift-off of the Discovery and it was so cool, especially because they have a new camera now mounted on the external fuel tank (the big orange thing) so you could see the Shuttle roll over and then you could see it separate. The fuel tank falls off and burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry, and you could watch the Shuttle just float away above it. It's pretty incredible after so many Shuttle launches to get a never-before-seen view of the process.
I love watching the Shuttle and it's always held a special place in my heart, as I saw two lift-offs when I was younger in Florida. I thought I'd written about my experiences here, but I realized that I posted about it ages ago over on Metafilter, in a thread about the launch of Atlantis (STS 98) back in February, 2001. I've reposted it below:
I actually attending two launches in the 80's, a Challenger lift-off in 1985 (STS 51-A) and the first lift-off, of Discovery (STS-26), after the Challenger explosion. A family friend was on both missions, and was actually the commander (Rick Hauck) of the Discovery. Far and away, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.
The first time we sat in the astronaut VIP seats, about 3 miles from the pad. After Challenger they moved all the viewing stands back to about 7 miles. Still, an astronaut's family and guests sit closer than anyone else, so the view is unobstructed, and there's a loud speaker right next to the stands. The ground shakes and the flame when the engines fire up is as bright as the sun, you can't even look at it.
My adrenaline rushed as they said, T-3! 2! 1! And after lift-off, as the count went up, and edged towards 73 seconds (the time when Challenger exploded), everyone went totally silent. All you could hear was the mic, saying "t plus 68 seconds, t plus 69 seconds, t plus seventy seconds.) As soon as Discovery went to full throttle up at t + 73, and the boosters fell off, everyone burst into tears and cheers. (I'm not kidding, it was really that emotional.) There was this little trail of white and off it went into the heavens.
It still is the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.
Watching today, it still brings tears to my eyes. I'm so hopeful that today marks our return not just to the International Space Station, but to Space with a capital S — to the moon, to Mars, and eventually beyond! Godspeed Discovery, I only wish I were onboard too!