So as the night progresses, I notice a lot of people starting to settle down and take a quick cat nap.
The weather forecast was pretty good for the launch. The only concern was the potential for fog. NASA doesn't launch in thunderstorms and questionable weather, so the fog could cause a scrub. However, the forecast called for a 80% chance of launch.
There were also some malfunctions during the countdown and the announcer would keep us posted on the fixes that were being done, how the backup systems were responding, and if the failure was severe enough to cause them to scrub. Out of the two or three issues they told us about, they were all remedied in such a way that we were able to continue.
About 15 minutes before the launch, the announcer comes on the PA and informs the crowd that the International Space Station was about to pass overhead from the southeast, so we all turn around to our right (we were looking north towards the shuttle) and see this bright object moving across the sky. It was BRIGHT! Not only was it easy to spot, but it was so COOL to see ISS pass overhead towards the north and then see Discovery sitting down on the pad, eager to blast off and chase that sucker down!
Definitely one of the upsides of a night launch. You get to see that!
So as the countdown starts getting close to zero, everyone is up and ready, eager standing behind their tripods or seated in their camp chairs. I'm standing there watching the shuttle, remote release cable in hand (having read Stan's advice to watch the launch with your eyes, not through the viewfinder), and practically bouncing in anticipation with eyes wide open. I look over at my friend and we're both giddy with excitement as the countdown starts approaching zero.
At T-6 seconds, the orbiter's main engines ignite. As the countdown hits zero, this long still rocket ignites to life. A huge fireball blasts down from the base and an enormous circular plume of smoke starts building up from the launch pad. The silent fireball grows as cameras start clicking. A few moments later we see the shuttle start to fire up and out of that ball of smoke as chills run down my body and I simply go "Oh My God" as I watch this beast of a rocket slowly rise up off the pad.
How exciting it was to see this rocket, sitting still on the pad for hours, awake to life and blast off into the sky. Unreal... This is actually happening!!!