Tag Archives: NASA

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!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lessons from the West Wing about the Orbital Launch Failure

If you need a moral of today’s ‪#‎Orb3‬ Launch failure, watch an episode of The West Wing called Galileo. One of the several plot lines in the episode is about a NASA space probe that doesn’t make it to Mars. At about 40 minutes into the episode, the President and CJ enter into a conversation about whether or not the President should do a televised event the next day with students which was planned to coincide with the probe going in to orbit around Mars. Listen to what she says about how even a mistake can inspire people to do their best and how it can inspire people to come out of their shell.

It’s a great episode of television and it’s especially applicable today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Up Close and Personal with Endeavour

The morning of February 11th, I watched my second rocket launch. It was an awesome experience, made even better by the fact my family was able to watch with me. After the launch, we had to drive to San Diego, traveling through Los Angeles. the trip was going to be tight on schedule, as I had to catch a flight home from San Diego that evening. WIth the unpredictable LA traffic, we might get down there early, or we might get down there just in the nick of time to get on the flight. The drive from Lompoc to SAN was about 4.5 hours without traffic.

After about two hours on the road, we realized we were ahead of schedule and, according to Google, the traffic wasn’t too bad, so I started to entertain the idea that we might be able to make a stop in Los Angeles to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I looked for tickets on the web site of the California Science Center, which told me that there weren’t any tickets available until after we needed to leave Los Angeles, which was a major disappointment. I decided that the web wasn’t the final answer and that I would call the center’s box office and ask them, pleading my case if necessary. I made the call, and inevitably had to hold before I spoke with an agent. When the gentleman was answered, I was nervous and could barely talk. I explained my situation to him, that we were in a tight timeframe, and asked if there was any way we could get in to see the Space Shuttle. His answer… Yes. There was availability about the time we should arrive at the center. I jumped from nervous to cloud nine, I was going to see an orbiter closer than I had ever seen one before.

I had seen Endeavour twice before, as she was being transported to Los Angeles for display at California Science Center. My son and I woke up very early the morning of September 20, 2012, drove from Oakland to Boron and watched her land at Edwards Air Force Base. After the landing, we headed to Los Angeles and, the next day watched her land at LAX, which was her final landing ever. I wanted to go down to LA in October when she made the 12 mile journey through the streets of Los Angeles, but instead got to cheer my wife on while she ran her first half marathon. There are a couple of really amazing time lapses of the journey through the streets of LA, one from the LA Times, the other from Givot on Vimeo.

Arriving at Exposition Park, we paid the parking fee, parked and walked toward the Science Center. As we were walking in, I was so excited that I forgot to take any photographs of the building. We went up to the ticket desk and were told that tickets were FREE and where we should wait in line. Waiting there for about 5 minutes, I was trying to explain the importance of this event to my son, but didn’t do very well. We were allowed to go exit the line and head toward the shuttle. We were routed through what I’m sure is a great exhibit about Endeavour’s history in California (all the orbiters were built here), but I was too excited to stop and read anything, so we powered through the exhibit and headed to the Shuttle. We exited CSC’s main building, made the 30 second walk to the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion.

Entering the room, I was greeted with this site:

At which point, I basically started crying. Endeavour has been to space 25 times and I was standing within 10 yards of her. My wife, sensing my emotional state, said “I’ll watch the kids, you take your time.” Grateful for that gesture, I started walking and looking around. It a truly amazing experience. You can see all my pictures on Flickr.

What took me most aback was just how close visitors can get to this national treasure. Standing under Endeavour, I felt like I could reach up and touch her. I was amazed by the intricacy of the thermal protection system, the tiles and blankets that protected the vehicle as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. If you know me, you know that I am a shuttle, space, and NASA nut, so I’ve read a lot about the TPS. I know the stats, but being this close to the actual tiles that had done the job was amazing. Seeing the sheer number of tiles was amazing.

The visit was a truly personal experience. I felt like I was really in Endeavour’s presence, able to be close to her in a way that I never imagined possible. Here’s a view inside the bells of the forward RCS nozzles.

Here’s the hatch which the Astronauts who flew on Endeavour used to embark and/or disembark the vehicle while on the ground.

The sheer size of an orbiter is amazing. The best comparison is a Boeing 737, but I didn’t really get it until I walked into a room with an orbiter in it. The body of an orbiter is taller than that of a 737 and it seems longer to me. Endeavour’s cargo bay can carry a bus sized object and the length of the orbiter is longer than the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.

I do want to say that the planned final display of Endeavour which will have her in an upright position, connected to tank and boosters, ready for launch, should be amazing.

Photo of planned final display of Endeavour in launch configuration. Photo by and copyright Robert Pearlman of Collectspace.com

With that said, I don’t think it’s going to be as personal of an experience as the current display. From the look of it, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to get as close to the orbiter as you can now. It will certainly be amazing, most likely breathtaking, and I will go see it, but I will always remember how up close and personal I was able to get to her in her current display.

We made it to San Diego on time and my flight home was uneventful. I’m so lucky that the visit to Endeavour worked. The space (and traffic) gods were smiling on me that weekend!

If you can make it to Los Angeles, a visit to Endeavour is certainly worth it. You won’t be disappointed! Tickets are free and it’s an experience you will never forget.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

STS-107 Disaster in Mission Control

As those who know me have already gathered, I’m a NASA geek, specifically a Mission Control geek. Though they don’t make it space, but the engineers and technicians in Mission Control and at the other NASA centers make the human spaceflight program possible.

The video below breaks my heart. It was taken in what is called the White Flight Control Room in Building 30 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, on February 1, 2003 as Columbia was making her way from orbit to earth.  What you hear is the conversations between the controllers and the Flight Director as they read the clues and gather the data and come to the realization that something has gone terribly wrong. These are men and women who have dedicated their lives to the safe operation of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

Watch this video, watch it again, see and hear the anguish in the voices of the controllers, see how they keep on doing their jobs even as they realize that the worst has happened to their friends, colleagues, and indeed, the entire space program. Then think that 10 years have gone by since this happened, we still have a manned outpost in space and we’re working on getting out of low Earth orbit once again. The people in this room are those who are getting us there, a fact which gives me tremendous comfort!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized