Monthly Archives: February 2013

Landsat NASASocial – Day 2 – The Launch

You might think that at 7.73 miles away, a rocket launch, especially an expendable rocket like an Atlas V, wouldn’t be all that impressive, but you’d be wrong.

I’ve seen two rocket launches, the first was STS-131 from about 6.9 miles away:

STS-131 Launch Viewing Location

I’ve described the experience of watching STS-131 launch in previous posts, so I won’t go over it again, but needless to say it was amazing.

The second launch was from about 7.73 miles away from the pad on the other side of the country in Lompoc, CA to watch an Atlas V rocket launch carrying the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (Landsat 8, LDCM) into space. I was invited to view this launch as a part of a NASASocial group. The day before, we toured NASA Facilities at Vandenberg AFB as well as three launch sites, two of which are still operational. On a cold Monday morning in February, we stationed ourselves in Providence Landing Park in Lompoc, CA to watch the launch.

Landsat Launch Viewing Location

We had spent an hour on Sunday afternoon hanging out with the rocket, so we knew the immensity of the thing, but at 7.72 miles away, it still looked a bit small. Our launch viewing accommodations were great! NASA and the Air Force had set aside for us a beautiful poolside patio and club house from which to watch the launch. If it had been a bit warmer, I’m sure that some of us would have ended up in the pool, but as it was chilly, we all stayed out.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory Blog, photo by Adam Violand

This launch was Vandenberg’s first public launch party, so there were facilities set up for the public and also an Air Force Rock band called Mobility playing for the assembled crowds. It was a great party and our hosts at NASA and Vandenberg outdid themselves. Also, we were able to bring our families to this launch, which was a truly awesome thing.

The day before, while at the launch pad, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden asked us to share the launch via our social media channels. He asked us, whether or not we liked the launch, to share our thoughts with feeling, so here I go…

Our view of the pad was spectacular. We were on a hill on the opposite side of the valley from SLC 3, so there was nothing but a couple of antennas between us and the pad.

01-SLC 3 from Afar

By the time we arrived on our viewing station, the rocket had already been fueled and the service structure moved back. After a couple of minutes of watching the rocket, we noticed it venting some gasses, which is normal for a rocket about to launch.

05-Venting Gasses

As the launch grew nearer, we all gathered near the white wooden fence to watch the launch. I was glued to Mission Clock on my phone for an up to date countdown and listening to the countdown which was piped through the speakers at the park. We were all glued to the sight of the rocket and waiting for the countdown to hit zero.

The day before, we had been warned that because this version of the Atlas V rocket wasn’t going to use any solid rocket boosters, it wasn’t going to leap off the pad. In fact it was going to light off and linger a bit before it flew into the sky. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I was ready. As the countdown got close to zero, I remembered that it was important watch the launch, not just get pictures of it; it was important to EXPERIENCE the event, not just chronicle it.

As the clock hit zero, we all took a breath… and watched the first flames come out of the base of the rocket…

09-Launch 02

I watched the rocket lift off, I watched it linger above the pad, like everyone said it would, until seemingly, it decided to get a move on and head towards space. But at this point, THERE WAS STILL NO SOUND. In fact it took about 36 seconds for the sound of the rocket’s engines firing to reach our viewing site. When I watched STS-131 launch, the rumble that came was tremendous and I felt the heat of the launch. The Atlas V is a much smaller rocket, but the sound was still tremendous. At 7.73 miles away, the sound was so loud that my son covered his ears and the fence rattled.

Rockets don’t launch straight up, they start to curve and go down range (follow their flight path to get in to orbit), so a few seconds after the sound reached us, the Atlas V headed away from us, south over the Pacific Ocean. It grew smaller and smaller as it got higher and further away from us.

18-Headed South

As a rocket gets higher, there is less and less atmosphere to push against, so the vapors coming out of the nozzle, which were basically straight as it was leaving the ground begin to expand. Viewed through the lens of my camera, the effect is highly visible.

20-Expanding Contrail

It was a gorgeous day on the California coast. There was not a cloud in the sky, so our rocket gradually disappeared into the blue. It was an amazing experience, individually, as a family, and collectively as a group. My wife, who I was worried wouldn’t understand why rocket launches amaze me so, totally got it.

See my full Flickr set for the launch for all my pics.

I want to thanks NASA, USGS, the 30th Space Wing, Orbital Sciences, Ball Aerospace, and all of our hosts Aries Keck, John Yembrick, and many, many more for a wonderful experience. It was awesome beyond belief!

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Landsat NASASocial – Day 1

On February 10 and 11, I was once of a lucky group of about 80 participants in the NASASocial for the launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (Landsat 8). Over 2000 people applied to participate in this event, I was lucky enough to get chosen as a participant. This experience was even more awesome because I was able to bring my family to view the launch, which most of the time isn’t allowed at a NASASocial.

Landsat satellites provide the longest continuous global record of the Earth’s surface – ever. The first Landsat satellite launched from Vandenberg in 1972 and now what will become the eighth satellite in the Landsat series is scheduled to also launch from Vandenberg. This satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), continues Landsat’s critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing our resources of food, water and forests.

A collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Landsat program provides data that shows the impact of human society on the planet – a crucial measure as our population surpasses seven billion people. Landsat data has, over time, led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring, all resulting in incalculable benefits to the U.S. and world economy.

LDCM will join the aging Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites in orbit to produce stunning images of Earth’s surface along with a wealth of scientific data. If you’ve ever used Google Earth, Google Maps, or another mapping service on the Internet, you’ve probably seen pictures taken by a Landsat satellite. Watch the copyright at the bottom of the page, when it says United States Geological Survey, you are probably looking at a Landsat image.

The first day of the event began with our arrival at the South Gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base on a chilly Friday morning, we checked in and were whisked by bus to the NASA building on base.

For about 2 hours, we got presentations on the Landsat Program, the construction of the satellite, how Landsat data is used, the collaboration between NASA and the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB, and several other topics. The entire program, including the Q&A, was broadcast live on NASA TV. You can view the program below:

At about 01:18:40, you’ll hear me ask a question of Col. Nina Armagno, the Commander of the 30th Space Wing.

After the morning program was over, we got to tour the NASA control center at VAFB and hear from PAO George Diller, who was the launch commentator for this mission and many a shuttle launch.

Then, we headed to lunch, cooked by the non-commissioned officers association at VAFB. Even though I grew up in California, I had never heard of Santa Maria barbeque. This was some of the best BBQ I have ever tasted. My $10 bought me a full plate of Tri-Tip, beans, and salad. I asked for the recipe, which they wouldn’t give me, but the did allow me to try an decipher the recipe by having seconds… and maybe thirds….

We then headed out to the Vandenberg Heritage Center, located at Space Launch Complex (SLC) 10. We were walked around the old Thor missile & launch system by Jay Prichard, who is one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, period. He knew his stuff and presented it in an engaging and funny way that conveyed good information and made us all laugh.

34-Seriously, Jay is the best Tour Guide Ever!

Our next stop, albeit brief, was the overview of SLC 6. This launch complex, now used for the Delta heavy rocket, was slated to be used for west coast launches of the Space Shuttle before the Challenger Disaster occurred.

52-SLC 6

The building on the right shelters the rocket. It separates down the middle when it’s time for launch, each half moving 300 feet away from the vehicle. For a sense of scale, look at the flag painted o the building. Each of the stripes is 13 feet wide.

Our final stop of the day was the coolest, in my opinion. We were lucky enough to go to SLC3 to see the Atlas V rocket with Landsat on it. That’s right, we got to visit the launch pad of the rocket we were going to watch launch, a mere 18 hours before it was set to launch.

59-That's a Rocket Behind Me!

We spent about an hour on the launch pad, and were able to get within about 500 feet of the rocket. I can’t describe how cool it was to be on the launch pad of the rocket we were going to watch launch the next morning. It was beyond amazing!

While there, we also got to meet NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both former astronauts. Both were as nice as can be! Here’s a pic of them holding my favorite space chicken, Camilla Corona SDO.

57-Camilla, Bolden, & Cabana

That night some of us gathered for dinner in beautiful, downtown Lompoc. This was an especially fun event because we were joined by some folks who didn’t get in to the official NASASocial event, but came up to see the launch anyway!

63-The NASASocial Dinner Group

In my next post, I’ll detail the launch experience.

For all the pictures from Day 1, visit my Flickr set Landsat LDCM NASASocial Day 1

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