February 15, 2019

Recording the Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch

Saturday night, February 7, 2010, I decide to make the the trek over to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the Endeavour shuttle on mission STS-130 to the International Space Station. It was the last night launch ever for the current space shuttle fleet, and there’s a chance that space exploration will be stopped indefinitely after the 5 remaining launches.

1:00 am, Sunday morning (Listening to “Mr. Hurricane” by Beast)
So, knowing that I would regret letting this opportunity go by, I saddled up, geared up and set out to Titusville, FL with a few friends. Two minutes after leaving, I get pulled over for an expired tag (oops…), but I’m soon on my way again, mood unaltered by my $114 ticket, because I’m about to witness something amazing. Packed with me, I’ve brought a Sanken CSS-5 Stereo Shotgun, and a Sennheiser MKH60, and a windjammer for both. I recorded everything into a Sound Devices 744T, with a Sound Devices 302 as a Preamp for the MKH60 (since the 744 only has 2 mic preamps).

2:30 am, Sunday morning (Listening to “Kids” by MGMT)
We arrive in Titusville; it’s nuts. Apparently we aren’t the only people crazy enough to come out to see a 4:39 am launch in 40 degree weather. After searching for a parking spot for about 15 minutes, we find one on the grass in front of a condo building. The sprinkler system is on, so I have to time opening my door, grabbing my gear, and running, just perfectly, or risk soaking my portabrace bag and everything in it. Once I reached safety, I decided to explore a little. We had just driven down the coast (you could easily see the launch pad), and it was packed with people. There was no way I was getting clean sound, and I’d be nervous about the safety of my gear the entire time. So I decided to check behind the condo building we just parked in front of. Lo and behold – a private pier – directly in front of the launch pad. Not one single person on it. There was a covered porch at the end, with seating, controllable lighting, and a/c power. You couldn’t ask for a better spot.

Meanwhile, at Jetty Park:
My co-worker Lee has set out with the same rig I’m toting with me. He was around a ton of people near the ports in Canaveral. Lucky for him, he has his pre-roll set to 10 seconds. A cruise ship sails by and blasts its horn. He captures it beautifully. Great sound, great catch!

3:00 am, Sunday morning
We setup camp, sit, and wait… Watching twitter updates from NASA about the launch status. Weather went from go to red to go to red to go. We sat there straight until 4:45. Then it was announced – mission scrubbed. Rats. Pack it up. 5 hours wasted. We get back in the car and sit in a parking lot of traffic for 30 minutes before we even move. I get back home and into bed at 7am.

3:00 pm, Sunday afternoon
Wake up, make chili, hang with friends, watched the Superbowl outside by a bonfire and tiki torches while smoking cigars… Sweet way to recover from a long night… Geaux Saints!

12:00 am Monday morning
I make the decision to try again. I grab my gear, and head out by 1:00 am, this time with my co-worker, Jeff (armed with his D90 package). We head out to the same place as the night before. This time there is no traffic. Apparently we are the only ones crazy enough to do this two nights in a row, especially on a Sunday night.

2:00 am Monday morning (Listening to “The Walk” by Imogen Heap)

We arrive in no time at all and head out to our private pier. Getting nervous at this point because it’s cloudy and NASA reports that weather is red. Could this be a bust two nights in a row? After doing this two nights in a row, Jeff and I decided that we were completely committed, and that we would keep coming back until this dang this launched. It has to go up sooner or later, and we were going to be there no matter what.
I set up my gear and make sure everything is working. My biggest concern is levels – how loud will this shuttle be? Holy crap loud? I don’t even know how far I am from the pad exactly. I’ve since figured it out – the shuttle was taking off from Launch Complex 39 (coordinates 28.608901,-80.60478), I was on Indian River Drive. The pier is located at (28.609405,-80.805586). That’s 12.2 miles away. Not bad. That’s pretty much as close as you can get without paying money or knowing somebody. Anyways, I just decide to keep my levels extremely low for now, and just hope for the best.
4:05 am
After much deliberation Houston gives the all go! We’re filled with excitement – crowds in the distance being cheering a bit.
4:12 am
I grab my gear and hit record. I don’t have a real time countdown, so I needed to make sure I was ready.
4:14:08 am
The sky lights up – it looked like a sunset in reverse – if that makes any sense. I can’t even really describe it with any justice. Absolutely amazing. The most incredible part – I didn’t get any audio until 50 seconds into the launch. The sound is like nothing else. Amazing. I’ll post it to Vimeo as soon as I get the pics from the launch from Jeff.
4:30 am (Listening to “Writing on the Wall” by Underoath)
Pack it up and head home. Incredible. Won’t get to bed until 6 am and have to wake up by 11 am, but it was totally worth it. Traffic not nearly as bad as the night before. And I didn’t get pulled over this time. All in all, a successful weekend!
I was able to get a decent recording. the beginning of the launch was slightly overmodulated for a second, but I got it down quick with minimal distortion. although there was a creaky pier and some talking in the background, the main launch part was fairly clean. Again, I’ll get the sound up with pictures as soon as I can.
I love my job 🙂 Bring on the next adventure!!!
So what’s your favorite sound adventure? Any crazy things happen along the way? Was it worth it?
Find the video and sound on my portfolio at www.colinhartonline.com
To download an mp3 version of the audio, click here
Use or distribution of the video, pictures or audio is prohibited without express written permission from myself.

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