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December 09, 2006

STS-116 Holiday Show of Lights

Americans love lights and holiday shows, and NASA sure provided one of the best ever tonight with the night launch of the space shuttle Discovery. The white dove of the orbiter poised on the fat “branch” of the external tank made for a gorgeous holiday greeting card image while sitting on the pad with the launch tower lights twinkly, the flags whipping in the wind, and the “main event” spotlights lightly caging the bird with their criss-crossing beams.

And then they lit the candles! The deep orange glowing fire of the solid rocket boosters reflected off the water and probably thousands of awestruck faces as the shuttle rose majestically into the velvety winter sky.

Even though I watched the show on my new high definition TV, I know that the lucky ones were there on the beach, seeing the surprised fish jump out of the water, being rocked back and forth by waves of sound punctuated with firework crackles and pops and the collective “wow” of the crowds. The cameras didn’t show the crowds, but I know they were there.

As songwriter Leslie Fish wrote in “Witnesses’ Waltz,”

Twelve thousand, half million, million and more,
Picknicking out on the warm water shore.
Nobody notes that we’re always at hand,
To watch all the spaceships that take off and land.”

[The song is included on the To Touch the Stars space songs CD sponsored by NSS and the Mars Society. Order it through]

About eight short minutes later, the flashing firings of the engines were relayed to us from a camera on the external tank as the orbiter set itself free of the tank. Inside Discovery, five of the seven astronauts enjoyed orbital freefall for the first time. Commander Mark Polansky said, “Got a lot of smiling faces up here.”

The camera view of the Kennedy control room showed controllers hugging and shaking hands. They deserve to celebrate. That was one holiday spectacular!

The crew will be up around 9:30 AM Sunday morning for a day of checking that the orbiter was unhurt by any falling foam during launch. They will dock with the International Space Station on Monday afternoon around 4:30 PM.

The STS-116 main event is to “string the lights” for the space station. The complicated choreography of the holiday “lighting” show requires three “acts.” The first “act” is a spacewalk on Tuesday that will “play” from around 2 PM Central Time to about 8:30 PM Tuesday night.

The stellar cast’s leading man is the handsome Robert Curbeam who plays the lead spacewalking role in all three “acts.” Pilot Bill Oefelein will be “stage managing” the show from the inside with Nick Patrick and Joan Higginbotham working the robotics.

The second “act” is on Thursday from about 1:30 PM to 8 PM, co-starring the poetic and witty Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang. The third “act” is scheduled for prime shopping time on Saturday, December 16 from around 1 PM to 7:30 PM. Curbeam will be joined by leading lady Suni Williams who said this spacewalk is “the start of my nice long expedition, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

So is an appreciative audience here on the ground! We know with each launch we are a little closer to the bright future you are building for us in space. That is a welcome gift for this holiday season. Continuing with "Witnesses' Waltz,"

“It’s the loveliest show on this Earth that you’ll see,
It’s living and real, not just tape on TV,
So come to Canaveral and bring lots of beer—
When the spaceship takes off, we’ll all stand up and cheer.”

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at December 9, 2006 11:42 PM



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