Tag Archives: Launch

QM2 Rocket Test NASASocial

I’ve been to several NASASocial and NASATweetup events, but this is the first that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures for a majority of one of the days of the event. When the purpose of these events is to publicize NASA and, in this case, the QM2 rocket test for the Space Launch System (SLS), would I not be allowed to take pictures?

The answer is because we spent the first day touring  a rocket factory. Apparently rocket manufacturing is something that the government considers fairly sensitive, so they don’t like pictures. I understand, but it was a little odd to not be able to photograph and even tweet from some places on the tour. Because they build rockets at the Orbital/ATK facility in Promontory that we toured, our bags were checked to see if we had any spark producing materials in our bag…

Touring the rocket factory site was amazing. This is the site where the Solid Rocket boosters were manufactured for the Space Shuttle program. It was really interesting to learn how these solid fueled rocket motors are built. How do they transport the segments to Florida for launch? By rail, naturally! the rocket factory is about 9 miles from the location where the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

For my precious few pictures of the Rocket factory tour, please see the Flickr album.

Day two of the NASASocial was the main event, the actual test of the QM2 rocket. Our viewing site was about 1.3 miles away from the booster, with an unobstructed view.

03 - There's a Booster in Them Thar Hills

I’ve seen two rocket launches before. I watched STS-131 launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. I saw Landsat 8 launch from SLC3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In both those cases, the rocket sped away from me at a great and ever increasing speed, trying to achieve orbit. In this case, the rocket was bolted to the ground, and all of us in attendance got to experience the full three minutes of thrust and it was amazing.

16 - Full Thrust 01

After the rocket ignited it took a full 6 seconds for the sound to reach us at the viewing location. It wasn’t just a sound that I hear with my ears, it was a full body experience. I felt the rumble for the full three minutes of the test. After the test, they took to the test stand and we got up close and personal with the rocket!

27 - Business End of a Cooling Booster

For my full set of pictures of the test and visit to the rocket afterwards, please see the Flickr album.

I really want to thank NASA and Orbital/ATK for the tour and letting us view the test. If you ever have the desire to learn about space, I strongly suggest applying for a NASASocial event. You will get up close and personal with the scientists, engineers, and others that make our space program work. Visit the NASASocial web page for more information and to sign up!


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Innocence, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, I was in second grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last year at the elementary school that I attended and  lots of change would be coming over the next several years for me. Thirty years ago, I was young and didn’t believe that bad things could happen to me, to anyone I knew, or to my country. Thirty years ago, I had my innocence and it was a great state to be in.

On January 28, 1986, I was playing on the playground during morning recess and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was sheer incredulity, that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle CAN’T explode.” I didn’t believe that such a thing could even happen. Space travel was routine, with the first shuttle launch just after my third birthday and the 25th scheduled for that morning. My friend replied, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” I still didn’t believe him. I couldn’t grasp that an event such as this was even possible.

From there, in my memory, that day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. The adults were in a different room, doing adult things. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s 73 second flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again. Looking back now, that was the beginning of the end of my innocence. The end of the belief that bad things couldn’t happen.

Every year, in mid-January, I post four pictures on my office door. The first is the Apollo 1 Crew, the second is the STS 51-L (Challenger) Crew, the third is the STS-107 (Columbia) Crew, and the final is a Red and Rover cartoon by Brian Bassett commemorating the aforementioned crews that all lost their lives in service of exploration.  I picked these pictures of the three crews because I think they represent the potential of the missions. Each crew is in their space suits, seemingly ready for launch, ready to being their exploration. I post these cartoons no later than January 16th, my birthday, which is the day that Columbia and her crew launched on their final mission in 2003. It’s also the day that the damage that caused Columbia’s demise occurred, though it would not happen for another fifteen days.

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary about the Challenger accident. The documentary focused not on the technical details of the accident, but on the reactions that people had to it. I was particularly taken by the audio of a reporter from Concord, New Hampshire, who was at KSC reporting on the flight because of its most famous crew member Christa McAuliffe. His station played several minutes of his spontaneous reactions to the incident, and at one point, he basically says, “I can’t talk any more. I’m in shock, I need to process this…” at which point I can imagine his dropping the phone he’s been talking in to and walking away. This struck me because it’s how I’ve been feeling since I posted those four photos on my office door.

Today, in 2016, my son is in second grade. He attends the same school that I did on that fateful day in January 1986, and though it’s been rebuilt, he plays on the same playground that I was playing on thirty years ago when I learned the news of the Challenger disaster. For some reason, this parallel, this coincidence that came about because he was born in my thirtieth year and started kindergarten when he did, has been bothering me this week. Ever since I put up those photos a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my experience on the playground thirty years ago. I’ve been thinking about the beginning of the loss of my innocence and the changes that would occur in my life. I feel like spaceflight, to most people is again routine and the fact that there have been astronauts in space for nearly twice my son’s lifetime is taken for granted (if it’s even known) by most people. I feel like so much of the technology that we use on a daily basis, most of which was developed directly or indirectly as a part of the space program, is taken for granted.

My son is fully ensconced in his innocence and I work hard to protect that for him. I wonder what he will look back upon some day as the beginning of the end of his innocence. I hope that it will not be for a long time. I hope that I won’t be a cause of the beginning of this change in him. This year and ever year, I choose to remember the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, and STS-107 in their flight suits, looking like they’re headed to the pad to launch into space and explore our universe.

I choose to look at them with the innocence of a child, knowing that it is not possible for anything to go wrong. I know that this is not true, I know that complacency and apathy will create problems for my country and my world. I just hope that my son won’t realize this for a long, long, time. I want to remember him like this, full of promise, full of innocence, and full of potential. I want all kids to have a look like on their face like my friend Shannon Moore‘s daughter Sara does in this picture.

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A Tough Week in NASA History

Today begins a tough week in the history of NASA. All three of NASA’s major accidents have happened between January 27th and February 1st:

January 27, 1967 – Apollo 1 Fire

January 28, 1986 – Challenger (STS-51L) Disaster

February 1, 2003 – Columbia (STS-107) Disaster

Each of these events happened at a different stage of the mission, each of them had their own technical causes, but in my opinion, each was caused by ignoring or accepting some of the risks of spaceflight. After each accident, the people of NASA got together to solve the problem and make human space flight possible again.

As you go about your week today, remember the Apollo 1 Crew: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee;

Apollo 1 Crew


the STS-51L Crew: Francis R. Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe;

STS-51L (Challenger) Crew


as well as the STS-107 Crew: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon

STS-107 Crew

and the sacrifices they made for knowledge, understanding, and their country. Be proud of the work they have done and be hopeful for the future of spaceflight and of humanity.

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The Space Shuttle Columbia Lifted Off 10 Years Ago Today for the Final Time

Ten years ago today, the space Shuttle Columbia lifted off for the final time. When the liftoff occurred, no one knew that it would be here final departure from the planet. Rather, it was the start of a science mission scheduled to last about two weeks. Onboard the orbiter were seven astronauts:

  • Commander Rick Husband
  • Pilot William McCool
  • Mission Specialist David Brown
  • Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla
  • Payload Commander Michael Anderson
  • Mission Specialist Laurel Clark
  • Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon

About 82 seconds after lift off, a large piece of the insulating foam on the external tank came loose and hit leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. This incident was captured on the film of the launch as a white streak training away from the wing as the shuttle ascended. Over the next two weeks, the crew flawlessly executed their mission, knowing that something had struck the wing, but not knowing that this impact would cause the end of their lives.

On the ground, at Mission Control in Houston and at other NASA Centers, some engineers were not so certain that the impact hadn’t caused damage. In the end, however, there wasn’t much done to investigate the effects of the impact. Truthfully, nothing could have been done to repair the damage.

Wayne Hale, a Flight Director at Mission Control and leader in the Shuttle program, has written a series of blog posts over the past several months examining the totality of the Columbia disaster, which are definitely worth a read. See his blog at waynehale.wordpress.com for his insights.

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to post more thoughts on the Columbia disaster, its place in history, and other related topics.

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What a Ride it’s Been

April 12th is a day of many anniversaries. This year, many of those anniversaries have even come in tens. 150 years ago today, the first shots were fired in the Civil War, pitting brother against brother in a battle for the very fiber of a nation. 50 years ago today, the first human left earth and entered space, starting a race between our nation and another that did a lot to better the human race and international cooperation. 33 years ago today, my wife was born! (Happy Birthday Sweetie!). 30 years ago today, the first launch of the Space Transportation System occurred, propelling the United States and the world to a new level of space exploration.

Just over 57 years after humans’ first flight, we left our planet for the first time. Eight years, three months, and eight days later, men first stood on the moon.

On this day in 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia, commanded by Gemini and Apollo veteran John Young and piloted by rookie astronaut Robert Crippen launched from the same launch pad from which all of the visitors to the moon (including Young himself) had launched from. This launch was the first of the most successful manned launch vehicle in the history of space travel. At the end of the Space Shuttle program in just a few months, 135 missions will have flown on five different orbiters, carrying over 350 people of many different nationalities to space. The Space Shuttle was was designed to have many different capacities and has served as a research vehicle, a military transport vehicle, a materials supply ferry, and most of all as a vehicle carrying the dreams of anyone who wanted to get to space.

Some people grew up with Mercury, some with Gemini, some with Apollo. Most who were alive at the time can remember when men first landed and walked on the moon. I grew up with the Space Shuttle. Some of the days that will stay with me forever are January 28, 1986 when the Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch; Februrary 1, 2003, when then Columbia disintegrated in the final hour of its mission; and April 5, 2010, when I got to watch Discovery launch from KSC. These days are forever burned in my memory and I will never forget them.

The Space Shuttle is a utilitarian vehicle, designed by committee to fulfill many tasks. However in that utilitarian design comes a system of immense beauty. The Shuttle is the world’s only reusable spacecraft, launched like a rocket and landing like an airplane. With over 1,000,000 moving parts, it’s the most complicated vehicle ever made by humans. To date, there have been 131 successful flights out of 135 attempts, which is a 98.4% success rate. Out of over 350 people launched on the shuttle, only 14 have been lost.

The losses of STS-51L and STS-107 were tragic. The Challenger disaster (STS-51L) occurred nineteen years after the Apollo 1 fire. The loss of Columbia (STS-107) occurred 17 years after Challenger was lost. These disaster all had similar human causes, while their technical causes were very different. Each of these disasters taught us that complacency is a very dangerous thing and in high risk endeavors, it can cause the loss of life. Brian Bassett, creator of the Red & Rover cartoon strip, put it best in this drawing:

So today, on the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle program, I want to take the time to thank the countless thousands of people have devoted their lives to keeping the Shuttles flying. Whether your’e an astronaut, a trainer, a flight controller, a propellant tech, an NBL diver, a public affairs officer, or one of the thousands of other positions that have kept the shuttles flying for three decades, THANK YOU for all that you do and have done! The human race and our planet is better because of the work you’ve done!

As the final two Shuttle launches approach, think about how different the world is from how it was at the first flight thirty years ago. When the Shuttles retire, we will buy seats from the Russians to get our astronauts into orbit. There is a space station orbiting the earth once every 90 minutes with components built around the world and launched in to space from three different continents. Humans have had a continuous presence in space for over 10 years, working together for the betterment of the species and our planet as a whole.

Again turing to Mr. Basset’s  comic strip, “What a ride it’s been!”


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STS-131 Launch, 1 Year Ago Today

One year ago today, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I watched the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-131. It was truly amazing, not only because of experiencing the launch, but also because it’s set me down a path of space exploration that I’ve been on for the past year.

I’m not going to rehash the experience again, just link to my previous writings on the subject:



Today, the world is different. Discovery has has her last flight on the STS-133 mission. There are only two space shuttle missions left, SpaceX has announced the Falcon Heavy rocket, which might just revolutionize the space industry, and the russians have raised their Soyuz seat prices by 200%.

Who knows what is going to happen in the next few months and years when it comes to space. I’m confident that good will come of these changes, but it’s still a tough time in space travel…

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STS-107 – 8 Years Ago Today

On my 25th birthday, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on the STS-107 mission to do research on myriad topics in low earth orbit. I remember hearing about the launch, but was very involved in my job and didn’t have the chance to watch it. I had a new job and was quickly learning how to do things in a fast paced legislative environment.

Fast forward two weeks, to the evening of January 31, 2003. It was a Friday night and I had dinner with some friends as my wife was out of town. We got in to one of those “Where were you when” conversations.  I talked about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, they talked about several events that they remembered, and the discussion settled down to January 28, 1986. On that fateful morning, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch. My friends and I talked about where we were, how we felt, and how it changed us. We spent a good deal of time talking about these topics, after which, I headed home.

The next morning, I woke up and headed the 60 or so miles to work. About 1/2 way there, I turned the radio on to NPR and they were discussing the landing of the Columbia. I started listening, expecting it to be a routine 3 or four minute broadcast of the landing. It was a snowy day, so I was paying more attention to driving than I was the radio, but it slowly sank in that they were still talking about Columbia NOT landing, rather than the smooth landing I expected. The remainder of the trip, I was glued to the radio, trying to take in all that was going on.

I got to work and turned on the TV in my office and rather than getting any work done, as was my plan, I was glued to CNN watching the story unfold. I remember hearing the capcom, who I think was Charlie Hobaugh, saying, “Columbia, Houston, Comm Check…” over and over again with no response. Obviously, there was something wrong…

I’m thankful for the Columbia disaster in many ways because it rekindled my interest in space and human space flight. I’ve watched every launch and most landings since then and found a great community of space tweeps. I’ve been able to help my son develop an awareness and a love of space. I’ve experienced a launch in person and visited Mission Control in Houston.

Even though a lot of good has come from the tragedy, I find myself down today. I’m reading all these reports from people who work at NASA and where they were on this day 8 years ago. Most of them express sadness, some express hope, but the sadness gets me today. I look over at the pictures of the Apollo 1 crew, the crew of STS-51L, and the STS-107 crew and I feel that we could have done better by them. I hope that we will continue to learn from the mistakes we collectively made that cost them their lives.

I hope that we will be able to live up to their legacy.

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