How to Launch a @Delta2 Rocket @NASASocial

VANDENBERG AFB, CA — Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the launch of the OCO-2 satellite, and tweeting about it on Twitter. My young readers are not on Twitter, however, so I will recap the events for them here with some never-before seen photos of this top-secret military base (and hope that I don’t get busted!).

How to Launch a Rocket

1. Arrive at the top-secret south entrance at the pre-arranged hour. IMG_92522. Pretend you can’t read English as you step past this sign:IMG_92563. Present two forms of government-issued I.D. for your security clearance:IMG_9254Which you must wear on your person at all times while on base.

4. Don’t miss the bus.IMG_92575. Step inside the hangar.IMG_92596. Listen to NASA scientists explain how to launch a rocket within a 30-second window to place the OCO-2 satellite in a precise point in an orbit with 17 other satellites. IMG_9263It’s all very extremely precise and complicated, so …

7. Ask a lot of questions! BrZN2VjCIAEx0ti8. If one of the scientists follows you out of the building saying that you still look confused, try your best to look smart. More importantly, try to your best to understand what he’s saying or you’ll end up misinforming your readers, or omitting vital information entirely.

9. As soon as you get back on the bus, cry. Cry that not only are you not smart enough  work at NASA, but you’re not even smart enough to understand the answers to your own questions 😦 !

10. TGFBT. Thank God for Bus Tours.IMG_9265Above is one of the Space Launch Complexes (SLC, pronounced as “slic”).

Below is the Pacific Ocean, just north of Honda Point, where 11 Naval destroyers ran aground in 1923, and seven sunk. IMG_9267Vandenberg Air Force Base is built on 64,000 acres of farmland that had originally been a part of a larger Army base, Camp Cooke. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, and the following year, the U.S. responded by launching a Thor IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) from Vandenberg.

In 1959, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rode through Vandenberg on the train (the tracks run right through the military base) from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. His American hosts had wanted him to see the Atlas missiles aimed at the Soviet Union visible from the train.

Not far from Honda Point is  SLC 6, designed for the space shuttle:IMG_9270The space shuttle program was cancelled after the Challenger disaster in 1986. No shuttle ever launched from Vandenberg.

But there’s evidence that the space shuttle was here:IMG_9273The sides of the canyon had to be cut away in real time to accommodate the space shuttle wings as it was being towed to SLC 6. Power lines also had to be elevated.

I have seen with my own eyes the space shuttle Enterprise being towed up the Hudson River on its way to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on June 6, 2012. And lemme tell you, it was a behemoth in a kiddie pool.

But I digress.

11. Eat lunch. IMG_9274Here are the non-commissioned officers cooking a yummy Santa Maria BBQ for us, complete with fresh homemade salsa, chili and veggie burgers for those with food issues. Thank you, NCOs!!!

12. After lunch, enter a top-secret, classified area (note the barbed wire and fence):IMG_9282What could possibly need security like that within a secured military base?

Gasp! The world’s only Thor rocket launcher in existence today, that’s what!IMG_9287IMG_9290Empty, it’s a 6010-pound aluminum can. But with fuel, it’s a 110,000-pound monster. This is the “grandpa” of the Delta 2 rocket, and was used to launch medium-range ballistic missiles as well as reconnaissance and weather satellites.

Here is our Thor guide, Jay, pointing to the missile head that once contained a weather satellite:IMG_9285And here is one of the control panels:IMG_9286Oops! The anti-espionage sonar must have scrambled my phone and prevented me from taking a clear photo.

But I got a clear shot of the warning:IMG_9289Jay explained that back in the bad old days when they launched a Thor IRBM, they simply pushed the building (it’s on wheels on a track) away from the rocket, tilted the rocket and its missile head to vertical and blasted away. IMG_9284If this rocket ever goes missing, you didn’t see it here. This post will self destruct. I will no longer be blogging … unless there’s free wi-fi in the Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc. Gulp.

Did I tell you that I had to drive past the penitentiary on my way to the off-the-map south gate in the morning? The prison is a working farm on land that was formerly a part of the military base. I’m not so good at planting stuff. Especially under a hot white sun in the desert.

Hmmm. Well, I sure hope I don’t get busted for showing you all this top-secret rocket stuff.

Or for trying to twist Charles Bolden’s arm to give me a closer look at that LIVE rocket behind us:IMG_9314Mr. Bolden, who is the NASA Administrator, was often riding atop the rocket itself as an astronaut, so surely he wouldn’t bust an author for approaching the gate within a few hours of the 42nd liftoff from Vandenberg because how else would she launch a rocket, right?:  IMG_9338Yikes!!! Can you believe I got this close to a FUELED rocket that was about to blast off into outer space on 227,000 pounds of thrust, accelerating from zero to Mach 22 in eight minutes???!!! Yes, that’s 22 times the speed of sound, or 16,874 mph. But not only is it supersonic fast, it’s “unbelievably precise and accurate,” as Randy Pollock, the original architect of the OCO, said in the morning news conference.

As it turned out, the OCO-2 launched on its second attempt, on July 2, at precisely 2:56:44 a.m. We couldn’t see it through the coastal fog from the public viewing area more than 3 miles away, but we heard its strong rumble and felt its sonar waves shaking our bones.

The OCO-2 is circling the earth every 99 minutes. It’s on a two-year mission, but has enough fuel for 12 years. It is collecting hundreds of thousands of measurements each day of the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The data will be used to help us manage climate change. With one eye on the stars, and its arms turned toward us, NASA scientists say it’s watching the earth breathe.

Wow.

It takes my breath away.

A space shuttle-sized THANK YOU to Stephanie L. Smith, Courtney O’Conner, Veronica McGregor, John Yembrick @NASASocial, and Larry Hill, Vandenberg AFB Chief of Community Relatons and Tour Guide Extraordinaire, for your warmest welcome and hospitality at the launch of OCO-2. And a special thank you to all the NASA scientists and engineers who were so inspiring: Ralph Basilio, Ken Junks, Randy Pollock, Pavani Peddada, Ann Marie Eldering.

 

 

 

 

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Failure to Launch is Not a Failure #Delta2 #OCO2

VANDENBERG AFB, CA — This is what it’s like to attend a NASA launch.

5:56 p.m.  Take a nap.

6:05 p.m.  Can’t sleep.

6:16 p.m.  Still can’t sleep.

6:40 p.m.  Doze off.

7:11   You startle awake. You stare. Is that 7 p.m. or a.m.? WHAT??? DID I MISS IT???

7:12 p.m.  You try to go back to sleep.

7: 23 p.m.  You check your email.

7: 31 p.m.  You check your Twitter account.

7:40 p.m.    You read other people’s tweets.

7:56 p.m.    You’re famished.

8:02 p.m.    But you’re too exhausted to get up.

8:24 p.m.   You’re in your rental car cruising the streets for dinner.

9:10 p.m.   You sit down to a yummy shrimp fajita dinner, finally.IMG_933910:15 p.m.  You’re back in your hotel room, exhausted. You set your alarm for 12:30 a.m.

10:21 p.m.   Lights out. You take nap #2.

10:40 p.m.  You blink. You can’t believe it’s not 12:30. You force yourself to go back to sleep.

10:48 p.m.   You breathe in. You breathe out.

11:41 p.m.   You bolt up. It’s useless. You turn on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. You laugh. Jimmy Fallon is really funny.

11:50 p.m.   You check your email, etc., again.

1:02 a.m.  You head out the door, finally.

1:05 a.m.   The streets of Santa Maria are eerily empty.IMG_93421:32 a.m.  You’re the only one on the deserted highway.IMG_9343For 15 miles.

Winding road along the coast in pitch blackness and fog.

You freak out a little. You wonder if you’re crazy. Sane people don’t go speeding towards a military base in the middle of the night. All you could think of is Pliny the Elder running towards Mt. Vesuvius as it was spewing its murderous fire.

A rocket launch with 220,000 pounds of thrust is quite volcanic, you imagine.

1:52 a.m.  The point of no return.IMG_93452:01 a.m.   I join those going toward the white light.IMG_93472:06 a.m.  Everyone is settling in on the bleachers in the public viewing area 3.2 miles from SLC2 (Space Launch Complex 2, pronounced “slic”), and listing to Delta Launch Control over the P.A. system.

Before us, nothing but darkness and fog.

2:17 a.m.  @NASASocial host Stephanie Smith explains that the first missile launches at Vandenberg were failures, until . . . IMG_9349peanuts were eaten in Mission Control. “Everything went smoothly as the peanuts went back and forth,” Smith said.

2:21 a.m.   We crunch like crazy!IMG_9350Who knew that astrophysics and mind-blowing mathematical calculations needed peanuts to work?

I jot the following in my writer’s notebook while listening to Delta Launch Control:

2:49 a.m.   “Zero Alpha, Alpha zero.”

2:50 a.m.   “You have permission launch.”

Cheers erupt from the bleachers.

2:52 a.m.   The viewing area lights go off.

For a moment, silence.

2:53 a.m.   “Vehicle fuel tank open.”

2:53 a.m.  “One and two heaters off.”

“95 seconds.”

“Minus 90 seconds.”

“Check hydraulic pressure go.”

“Go.”

“Minus 70 seconds. Hydraulic . . . .”

“65 seconds. We got no water flow.”

2:56   “Hold water flow . . . main power on and apply . . . four-inch line.”

“Step 10.”

“Line open.”

“Perform hydraulic . . . .”

2:57  “Launch will not be occurring this morning.”

Larry Hill, Director of Community Relations, apologizes for the “disappointment.”

Stephanie Smith says, “Better a good scrub than a bad launch.”

3:01  People start to leave.

3:17  Social media attendees linger, tweeting, chatting, reluctant to end a long, happy day in which we got to see and walk through many areas of a top-secret military base, chat with the brightest minds in science and engineering, meet Charles Bolden, the Administrator of NASA himself, and got treated like VIPs.

This what we saw yesterday:

The Cold War is dead and if NASA out to prove anything, it’s that science is fun and cool.

Women and minorities are not anomalies at NASA.

Youth is not disdained. (Many social media attendees were students.)

Age is revered. (Each succeeding generation of missiles is built on the knowledge of its predecessors.)

Science is a catalyst for improving lives. (Measuring the world’s carbon dioxide and offering solutions for “faster, cleaner and less noise” aeronautics, as a start.)

The NASA spirit is the indomitable human spirit. “We know how to get our butt kicked, pick ourselves up and press forward,” Charles Bolden said while standing in front of the OCO-2, just hours before the scheduled launch.

A failure to launch is not a failure, NASA. It’s a resounding success. Of the thousands of mechanical functions on board, you caught the malfunction. Seconds before liftoff. Before disaster struck. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

I, for one, am not disappointed. I got to experience an aborted launch.  And just as you need shadow to see beauty, I needed to see NASA at “failure” to see NASA at its best. And the best is this: you DID launch yesterday. You launched yourselves into a new age with a new generation, with new work to do.

It’s not about who has the most toys anymore. Or who can reach whose motherland with a missile first.

It’s about being smart and helpful. It’s about doing what’s right. It’s about responsibility.

And when you try again tonight, I’ll be there — not for the reason I came in the first place — for the thrill, but because I want to be a part of that fearlessness that looks into the dying sun and leaps.

NASA, you ROCK it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OCO-2: Quick Facts from @IamOCO2, @NASASocial, @NASAJPL

Quick facts about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory:images-7

Spacecraft

Length: 6.96 ft (2.12 meters) — approximately the same as the typical wing span of the American Bald Eagle 1.8 -2.3 meters (5.9 – 7.5 ft).

Width (stowed): 3.08 ft (0.94 meters) — a little wider than the girth of the typical American refrigerator.

Weight (spacecraft and science instrument): 499.5 killer rabbits — or 454 kilograms (999 pounds).

Power: 815 watts — runs a small waffle iron, coffee maker, or toaster, but not enough to run a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner or air conditioner — in other words, you could make breakfast, but not look very good while doing it.

Primary science instrument: three-channel grating spectrometer. Don’t ask me what that is.  I have no idea. But maybe it has something to do with the solar panel-looking arms sticking out from it.

Instrument Dimensions: 5.3 feet by 1.3 feet by 2 feet (1.6 meters by 0.4 meters by 0.6 meters) — hey, that’s an exact description of me in my golf shoes! Yikes!!! In case of malfunction…

Instrument Weight: One Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, or two gorillas — 288 pounds (131 kilograms). Whew! Not a description of me, not even close.

Mission

Launch: No earlier than July 1, 2014, at 2:56:44 a.m. PDT (5:56:44 a.m. EDT) — and no later than 2:57:14 a.m. PDT (5:57:14 a.m. EDT) — from Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W), Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Launch Window: 30 seconds daily — this means that if they miss the 30-second window, they must wait for the same 30 seconds the next day to attempt it again. This is because the OCO-2 has a precise place along the “A-train” of 17 satellites passing a certain point of the earth at an exact time each day. This is not a random firing, people! This is 30 seconds of man’s highest intelligence and the poetry of the universe coming together.

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Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II 7320-10.CONE

Primary Mission: Two years Orbit Path: Near-polar, sun-synchronous, 438 miles (705 kilometers), orbiting Earth once every 98.8 minutes and repeating the same ground track every 16 days.

Orbital Inclination: 98.2 degrees — don’t ask. I don’t know what this means.

NASA Investment: $467.7 million (design, development, launch and operations) — the same price as the Paris Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees, which a Chinese investor recently agreed to buy for 344.5 million euros ($648 million).

Wow. That’s a lot of money.

If I had $648 million, I would . . .

Well, I wouldn’t be leaving my house at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to sit in coach class without any food for six hours on a commercial flight to California, that’s for sure! I’d blast off in my own private Delta II rocket!!!

See you at the launch 🙂 !!!