This is such a glorious image… I was fortunate enough to watch the Space Shuttle launch in person during STS-95 in 1998, but I’ve never witnessed a night launch.
That’s not to say I haven’t tried…
Back in January 1999, I went down to the Western Test Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to watch a Delta 2 get launched. That one was supposed to be a night launch. But it ended up getting delayed. They made three attempts while I was down there but they got delayed each time. One even made it down to 39 seconds before the clock stopped!
It didn’t end up launching until March 1999 and ended up being one of the longest delayed launches in US space flight history.
Then, in 2004, I went back down to Vandenberg AFB with the folks at Northrop-Grumman to watch the launch of EOS-Aqua, an earth observation satellite. That was supposed to be a night launch but it ended up getting delayed as well. After staying for two delays, I couldn’t wait any longer – I had to get back home. And of course, the satellite ended up launching on the day I came home.
Thirty-four of the 135 shuttle launches were night launches and what beautiful sights they must have been. Against the black sky the glow of the Shuttle’s engines would be visible across most of the eastern seaboard.
The last Shuttle night launch took place on April 5, 2010. (It actually took place at 6:17 a.m., but because that was before official sunrise, it is counted as an official night launch.)