STS-82 Orbiter Discovery returns Home
I had wanted to see a night reentry of a shuttle for years and had heard my friends and coworkers talking about seeing them come over on their way back to the Cape. STS-82 the Discovery was scheduled to return home tonight and I was getting ready. I had my camera loaded with 400 ISO film and the shutter chord ready and mounted. It was to be an interesting night in more ways than one.
It was February 21st 1997 and I was going through my second run through college in Waco. I had told my friends that I was planning to take a few pictures that night and went home early to get some rest so I would be ready. Over head in orbit Commander Kenneth Bowersox and Pilot Scott Horowitz along with their five mission specialists were making finial preparations for their return to Florida. They had been up servicing the Hubble Space telescope for a couple of weeks.
That night I slept well and somewhere over the Indian Ocean the Discovery fired its Orbital Maneuvering System and started its decent.
I snapped up and raced out to the car I knew I would not make it to my planned observation point. I was very late! I drove as quickly as possible out of town and far out into the country heading to the Summers Mill area near Salado TX. There was a place on the road known to us as ‘Ghost Hill’, a very high area along the farm to market road that had a nearly unobstructed view of the sky. If I could just make it there in time
On the way out I announced my call sign on the repeater and not surprisingly Gerald N5ZXJ was on the air. A big fan of the space program Gerald was up waiting for the reentry and monitoring the 148.82 repeater, what we did not realize that there were others listening in as well... I finally arrived, with only minutes to spare. I set up and double checked that my camera was loaded and set up my tripod while talking with Gerald from the site. Gerald was ahead of the game, he was monitoring the Discovery’s progress on the internet! This was quite a feat for 1997 and he knew exactly when it would come over the horizon and kept me updated. I was ready and had the camera pointed and ready. I wanted this picture really bad.
Time passed and Gerald notified me that the orbiter should be over the horizon and should be coming visible quickly. Now the excitement started kicking in, “why can’t I see it??” I asked myself. I double checked with Gerald and was sure it was up over the Horizon and should be visible. Then a faint trace started to become visible in the low western sky, I could see her!
I quickly grabbed the microphone and started exclaiming “I have the vehicle sighted!!” I was ecstatic and charged with adrenalin! I started snapping photos each about 10 seconds long . The communications must have been in a very excited tone I don’t exactly remember all I said to Gerald but some where along the way he had gone out and climbed up his tower and was watching it from up there with a great view! We continued to watch and photograph till the orbiter completed its reentry phase, the trail stopped close to the Eastern Horizon. What a sight, it was something to see and I was never able to get as good a photograph or see it that clear again. While we were busy doing this apparently we caused quite a stir in the local ham community. In the next couple of days I was driving to school and heard some traffic on one of the big regional repeaters and also some in Waco as well. Apparently there were some old hams listening in to our conversation that night out of curiosity mostly I suppose. Well when I started getting excited one of them said he jumped up, down the hall and stepped on his poor dog while trying to get outside! Another described how he fell down and then could not find his glasses. Finally the evening guys as KCEN TV channel 6 were listening to us on a scanner and ran out to take some pictures as well. I had to laugh when I heard the guys talking and I wish I had asked them for more details. It was a fun night for sure.
Well that’s the story around the pictures I hope you enjoy them and the little narrative of the events of that early morning.
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Gerald Richmond N5ZXJ
At his Station in Temple TX
Note his faithful pet cat!
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