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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Lucky Day!

SANTA MARIA, CA — When I got to my mini rocket in Los Angeles this morning to blast off to Santa Maria near the Vandenberg Air Force Base . . . IMG_9239I nearly tripped a gentleman with a cane. Bad me. He’s at the center of the photograph above.

Later, I noticed that his shirt was embroidered with the NASA globe insignia. So I had to ask — “Are you going to the launch?” When you’re an author it’s usually a good idea to talk to strangers. You could learn something.

He turned out to be James O. Norman, Director, Launch Services. He’s the guy in charge of the rocket!!! It was my lucky day! Normally, Mr. Norman works at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. But today, since he’s the BOSS of the team of scientists working on the Delta II rocket, he had come to oversee the pre-launch testing (not open to the media). Oh, I should have told him I was a member of the top-secret military unit responsible for the new paint job, or something like that, when he asked what OCO-2 unit I work in. He thought I was a rocket scientist! And so did the car rental guys!

I digress.

Anyway, this is what I learned from Mr. Norman: when the Delta II blasts off, it goes from zero to Mach22 in eight minutes. That’s 22 times faster than the speed of sound!!! The speed of sound is 761.207051 miles per hour. So the Delta II goes from 0 to 16,746.5551 miles per hour in eight minutes.

And I thought that race car I drove in Tucson was badass.

I have NO CONCEPT of this power. None.

But in about 28 hours, I will find out.

For those of you who want to know everything-you-need-to-know about the OCO-2-before I take the tour tomorrow, here’s the pre-launch press briefing that they gave us via an Internet live-feed today:

Enjoy!

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.

Unknown-1

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 🙂 !!!