T-7 minutes, 45 seconds. “Start automatic ground launch sequencer.” T-7 minutes, 30 seconds. “Retract orbiter access arm.”
T-5 minutes, 0 seconds. “Start auxiliary power units,”
T-3 minutes, 55 seconds. “Arm solid rocket booster range safety safe and arm devices.” “Start orbiter aerosurface profile test. Start main engine gimbal profile test,” T-2 minutes, 55 seconds. “Retract gaseous oxygen vent arm,”
T-2 minutes, 0 seconds “Crew members close and lock visors,”. T-50 seconds. “Orbiter transfers from ground to internal power,”
T-31 seconds. “Ground launch sequencer is go for auto start,”
T-16 seconds. “Activate launch pad sound suppression system,”
T-10 seconds. “Activate main engine burnoff system”
T-7 seconds. “Main engine start.”
Deep in the bowls of the rocket, rubber tubes and hoses pumped gallons of liquid fuel through chambers and valves. The thing shuddered as the main engine roared to life, woken from its slumber with sparks and oxygen and liquid kerosene. T-6 seconds. Launch clamps strained and creaked under the massive weight they carried, their symphony drowned out by roar of the engines. T-5 seconds. In the command module, four suited figures braced themselves, preparing for the coming onslaught of titanic force. T-4 seconds. Deep in the first stage combustion chamber, the temperature rose. T-3 seconds. Over three thousand degrees Kelvin and rising, boiling and simmering. T-2 seconds. The engine gimbaled one final time, the automated systems checking and double checking themselves, redundancies on top of redundancies. Every minor change in weight or balance must be accounted for. T-1 seconds.
T-0 seconds. Clamps released. Flames seared the launchpad as the rocket began to rise, slowly at first, gaining speed. Past the launch tower, it rose into the sky. On a trail of fire, it rose to the heavens. It echoed off the plains and valleys as it carved its way into the sky, clouds of pale grey smoke billowing in its wake. As it rose it began to turn; its nose started to drop to the east. Eighty five degrees off the the horizon. Eighty two degrees. Eighty degrees. Still it accelerated. Past mach one. Through mach two. Over three thousand miles an hour, it screamed through the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The earth curved away below it, the suns rays reaching over the horizon to kiss the top of the command module. The earth lay below, a blue green dome. Seemingly empty blackness waited above. Past thirty thousand miles an hour, the rocket roared. Boosters separated and engines detached, falling back to earth, captives to gravity. At over a hundred thousand miles an hour, the rocket initiated its final burn. Over above one hundred and seventy four thousand miles per hour, the main engine cut out. Over a thousand miles above the surface of the earth the rocket glided, silent in the dark vastness of space.