Tag Archives: NASASocial

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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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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The First A in NASA Stands for Aeronautics – My Visit to Dryden Flight Research Center

When most people think of NASA, they think of the “S” in the acronym, however the first “A” in NASA stands for Aeronautics. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established in 1958, by replacing its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which had been formed a decade after the dawn of human flight in 1915. Since that time NACA, then NASA, has been doing groundbreaking research on Aeronautics.

On May 4th, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of social media users treated by NASA to a day at the Dryden Flight Research Center located on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Edwards was founded in the 1930s because of its ideal location to test aircraft far away from the population centers of Southern California. Dryden is now the NASA’s primary center for aeronautical research. We were the first group of social media users invited to tour Dryden and we were given an amazing experience while there.

The morning started at the gatehouse for Edwards Air Force Base, where we all checked in and were given our passes to drive on to this secure military facility. Dryden is a tenant of Edwards Air Force Base, so there were rules we had to follow and procedures we had to go through. No pictures of the flight line, only drive where authorized, etc.

Arriving at Dryden, I parked and went in to the auditorium. I picked a prime location and set up my computer. I then headed back outside to the static aircraft display to meet Dr. Christian Gelzer, the chief historian at Dryden. We walked among some amazing aircraft, including a SR-71 Blackbird and the first “fly-by-wire” aircraft, among others. Dr. Gelzer is a tremendously interesting and engaging gentleman who knows his aeronautical history.

We went back inside and were greeted by Kevin Rohrer, our host for the day. He introduced David McBride, Dryden’s Director who welcomed us and turned us loose. Dr. Gelzer followed Mr. McBride and gave us a great presentation of the history of Dryden and the aeronautics research that has been done there.

Next came Edward Haering, who gave us a presentation on sonic boom research. To get past the speed of sound takes a lot of fuel and makes a lot of noise. Researchers at Dryden are trying to find ways to reduce both of those so that the efficiency and time of cross-country flights can be reduced safely without causing collateral damage to the properties that get hit by the boom. This picture is amazing, it’s the actual shockwave of a sonic boom as cause by a Navy F/A-18.

We then heard about some research being done regarding collision avoidance for aircraft. Current collision avoidance systems give the pilot a warning to fix the problem, which adds second to the time required to avoid a collision. The system being worked on by Dryden briefly takes control of the aircraft and automatically avoids the collision. They started the research using military aircraft with high-powered computers on board. However, the researchers wanted the system to be able to be used by aircraft that don’t have the same type of computing power on board. So, they made a version of the program that runs on an android smart phone, connected that to the controls of a smaller aircraft and it worked. How cool is that!

After taking a short break, we headed out on tour of the facility. Did you ever watch “I Dream of Jeannie”? Do you remember the building that was the headquarters at Cape Canaveral? Well, it was actually the main administration building at Dryden. Does this look familiar?

While outside, one of Dryden’s F/A-18 research aircraft flew over us and actually made a sonic boom. It was an awesome experience and we could feel and hear the boom even though the place was flying at 40,000 feet. The pilot then came down and did a low flyby over us, it was truly awesome!

Next we saw a true piece of history. When the Apollo astronauts were training to land on the moon, they trained for landing on the Lunar Landing Research vehicle, which was basically a jet engine strapped to a frame with a seat attached. The astronaut sat at the controls and took off, then did simulated landings. I think this piece of equipment was used by all of the Apollo commanders and lunar module pilots. How cool is that?

We then headed to the flight line and saw the global hawk. This is a remote operated aircraft that is about the size of a regional commuter jet. It was amazing to think that this aircraft is flown by joystick!

From there, we went to a different hangar and saw the Ikhana, a slightly smaller drone that has been used for several operational missions, including forest fire surveillance in coordination with the US Forest Service. The Ikhana is the civilian equivalent of the reaper drone used by the military.

We headed back to the auditorium and had lunch. After lunch we got some more amazing presentations by Dryden staff. First up was a presentation on aircraft pressurization, which included a demonstration of a pressure suit. If you fly too high, your blood will start to boil, so you wear a pressure suit, which keeps the atmospheric pressure around your body at a more ground like level. Pilots who fly above the Armstrong limit, where pressure gets so low it hits deadly levels, wear these suits. The Armstrong limit is between 62,000 and 63,500 feet above sea level.

We then got a great presentation about Dryden’s specialized fabrication shop. The scientists and pilots at Dryden do a lot of research on different flight parts, which the fabrication shop makes solely for research. When asked to make two of something, they often ask why so many. This gives you an idea of the specialization of the shop.

We then headed over to a different hangar and got to walk among some of the aircraft that Dryden uses to do its research. We saw two F/A-18s, the X-48C, a Vietnam era spy plane that flies so quietly it is used to test the sounds made by different airplanes, and a gulfstream type plane.

We then headed to the Crew Transport vehicle used by crews returning from orbit on a space shuttle. If you’ve ever been to Dulles airport, this is a modified mobile lounge used to load an unload passengers from their flights. In the case of Dryden, the flights were arriving from orbit and so this one had special facilities on board. There was a medical suite, and some great comfy seats for the crew to relax in. They also changed from their launch and entry suits in to more comfortable clothing in this vehicle.

This was the end of our tour, and it was a great day. Though it has been months since my visit, the thing that still stands out in my mind about my visit is the dedication of the folks working there and the good work that they’ve done for aeronautics. They work to make air travel safer and more efficient. They’re dedicated to the work they do.

Visiting Dryden was an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it. Thanks to NASA for giving me the opportunity to visit!

See the Flickr set of my photos from the visit!

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