This weekend could be the Tampa Bay area's last chance to see a spectacular sight: the space shuttle blasting off in the night.
The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to lift off at 4:39 a.m. Sunday, well before sunrise. If it's clear, Tampa Bay residents will be able to look to the east and see the fiery launch against the dark sky.
"A night launch is absolutely spectacular," said Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Candrea Thomas. And this spectacle, she said, is likely to be "an opportunity that most people won't get to have for a long time."
Only four space shuttle missions are planned after this one, and under the current schedule, all the others will launch during daylight. That could change, however, because launches are frequently scrubbed and rescheduled.
Some viewing tips for Sunday:
Look to the east, in the general direction of Cape Canaveral (due east if you're in New Port Richey, east-northeast if you're in St. Petersburg or Tampa.) Keep the radio or television on or check www.tampabay.com to see if the launch has been canceled.
If you are thinking about driving over to the Cape Canaveral area to see the launch, start this afternoon or early this evening. Consider getting a hotel room tonight if you can find one, in Titusville or Cocoa Beach.
You'll want to arrive in the area at least three hours before launch time. And expect to spend an extra three hours in traffic on the way back. In other words, you'll be pulling an all-nighter. So bring extra drivers and extra caffeine. And remember, cancellations are common.
If the launch is scrubbed Sunday morning, NASA will try again at 4:14 a.m. Monday.
NASA plans to end the space shuttle program early next year.