Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Day 3470

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful place on a clear night. When we arrived at our destination on the shores of the Banana River around 1 AM, a copper colored moon was just starting to rise on the Eastern Horizon. Behind us, Jupiter was shining brightly just above the constellation of Scorpio. The sky was dark enough that I could actually see the Milky Way for the first time in years. Directly ahead, something else was shining brightly on the horizon. It was the Falcon Heavy rocket bathed in searchlights at launch pad 39A.

The launch was supposed to take place at 11:30 PM yesterday evening, but got delayed for three hours because of a minor technical problem on the pad. There was a lot of nervousness within our group as we began to hear rumors of the delay. When the countdown clock stopped and went dark, we were afraid that the launch might be canceled. When the rumors began circulating, we were scattered between Cocoa Beach and Titusville eating dinner before returning to meet the bus that would take us to our viewing location.  Lots of messages went back and forth before a new plan was announced. The launch would still take place and had been rescheduled for 2:30 AM this morning.

We were prepared for something dramatic, but the launch exceeded everyone's expectations. When the countdown clock reached zero, there was an intense flash of light on the horizon. An enormous trail of fire rose quickly into the sky, followed about ten seconds later by the thundering sound of 27 Merlin engines. Literally in a matter of seconds, darkness was turned into day.

Night launches are spectacular because you can see the rocket much longer. As the Falcon Heavy climbed in a graceful arc toward orbit, we could clearly follow the rocket all the way through stage separation and second stage ignition. The return of the two side boosters to Space X Landing Zones 1 and 2 was amazing. The two side boosters began their boostback burn almost directly over our heads.  Less than a minute later we saw the second stage engine start. The side boosters continued to fall rapidly as the second stage slowly faded from sight. About seven minutes after liftoff, the two side boosters simultaneously began their entry burn and started to slow down rapidly as they approached the landing zone. We saw puffs of smoke from the rockets exhausts rising from the landing zone indicating a successful landing and less than a second later heard two incredibly loud sonic booms. Sound travels slowly and the sonic booms arrived at our location after the boosters had actually landed.

Although the center core failed to land on a drone ship positioned over 1,000 miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, the mission was a huge success. The side boosters which had already been used before on a previous Falcon Heavy mission proved their worth again. All of the 24 satellites were deployed successfully. The brilliant people we talked to during the past two days who had spent years and years developing these payloads must have been very happy this morning.

Our little group of social media mavens were happy too. For many of us this was a dream come true. We had been up for over 24 hours, but I'm sure that some of us were already making plans in our mind to do this again. It is inspiring to see people succeed at doing something so complicated. As I returned to my hotel to pack my bags and return to Dallas, I felt like I had made some new friends and witnessed something important. I'm not always a positive person, but I felt good as I was flying home today. If humans can do something this complicated just by working together, we can do anything.

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