Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day 1871

Today was another big adventure. I left the hotel around 4 AM this morning to look for the illusive viewing site where we were all going to watch the launch. I had the longitude and latitude of the site, which I was able to enter into the map app on my phone, but that was all. The GPS in the car was useless, because the back roads that led to a weather station on top of a small mountain near the air base weren't even listed. Most of these roads were just used for fire safety. Did I mention it was pitch black. As I was driving up the mountain, I eventually saw a few people wandering around in the dark with flashlights, so I stopped the car and joined them. We came to a clearing in the trees and off in the distance to the West was the rocket, bathed in the light from some incredibly bright spotlights. We were about three miles away from the tower, which was as close as anyone was allowed to go. There was a guy with a Mohawk haircut just ahead of our small group who seemed to know where he was going. One of us asked him where the viewing location was and he didn't know either. I knew who he was though. This guy was Bobak Ferdowsi, NASA's famous Mohawk guy from the Mars Curiosity landing. You never know who you're going to run into in the dark. We could all see the rocket quite well from where we were standing, but everyone wanted to find the "official" viewing site, because NASA had promised an audio feed of the countdown that everyone could listen to on speakers.

Looking at the longitude and latitude mark on my iPhone map and comparing it with my own position, it seemed that the site was further up the mountain. We walked uphill for about half a mile and there it was. There were some small concrete bleachers and a growing crowd of people. Even the mayor of one of the nearby towns was there. For some reason the entire Grand Jury for the city of Santa Barbara was there as well. By the time the launch was about thirty minutes away, there were close to two hundred people on the mountain with us.

Everything looked perfect. The sky was clear and full of stars. I've never seen this many stars in Dallas. The city glare is just too bright. As the countdown progressed, we heard one person after another give mission control a go on their area of responsibility. Mission Control said that there was over a 90% chance that the launch would take place at 6:20 AM. The only problem were reports of high winds in the upper atmosphere. The winds would come and go, so they sent up a final weather balloon to get a reading with about five minutes left on the count.  The telemetry came back indicating that there were 70 mph winds in the upper atmosphere. This was considered dangerous and the launch was scrubbed at T-minus 4 minutes and counting.

There was only a three minute window to achieve the proper polar orbit, so the launch was rescheduled for Friday. Everyone was so disappointed. Some were able to change their schedules and stay another day. Others, like myself, had their chances of seeing the launch scrubbed as well. There are only two flights a day in very small prop planes to the town I flew to on Tuesday. I didn't want to fly standby and there were connecting flights in Los Angeles to deal with as well. It proved too difficult and way too expensive to change plans on such short notice, so I am back in Dallas now. There are no guarantees that the launch will take place tomorrow either. It might get scrubbed over and over again until the conditions are perfect. It took an entire year to get the spacecraft ready, so I don't think they're in any hurry to launch it when something isn't right.

I'm sorry I missed the launch, but I'm definitely not sorry I went to Vandenberg. This is the most fun I've had in quite a while. You guys keep on watching the NFL and the MBA. I want to watch the Space-X Dragon launch when it is certified for manned flight a few years from now.  I think I'm officially a space geek now.

Spirit is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day