We all have things in our area that we take for granted, we don’t appreciate enough, or simply don’t take advantage of. Like, being able to step outside your home and watch a rocket launch into space. I do try to watch as many launches as I can, but being apart of the NASA Social in April gave me a new perspective on seeing a launch. Quite a few of the other Social’s haven’t seen a live launch before. Hearing the first timers excitement in their voices about the upcoming launch and getting a behind the scenes tour of the Kennedy Space Center was contagious and made this experience even better.
(What is a NASASocial? What is TESS? CLICK HERE for more info)
Our NASA Social was centered around a SpaceX Falcon launch of TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) Day one entailed the official group gathering where we all received our credentials for access to Kennedy Space Center. What I mean by access was we were able to get on a bus and be taken to a very specific part of KSC (It is a secure government facility after all) The purpose of today was to be a part of a filming of NASA Live. We heard from an engineer from SpaceX regarding the rocket and 6 scientists that were involved with TESS.
Day two was an incredible experience. We met back at the Press Accreditation Office to pass through our security check, load up on the bus and headed back to the Space Center. Our first stop was to NASA Swamp Works and the Space Station Supply Facility. The bus was divided into two groups to allow for better viewing and questions for our hosts in each building. Our half began in Swamp Works and I knew we were going to see some pretty cool stuff when we were told no photography or videos can be taken inside the building. I learned that NASA and the Space Program has 2 primary goals that they are working on…establishing a post on the moon and then onto Mars. This is where they are trying to figure it out. They have a large, clear enclosure on one end of the building that is supposed to simulate being on the moon (except for the lack of gravity and atmosphere) They have made a synthetic moon dirt to allow the robots and rovers. One of the goals of this room is to figure out how to remove any oxygen and metals from the soil. Oxygen is for life, breathing and creating water. The metals are to be made into a wire-like material to feed into a 3D printer that can then be used to make the buildings, structures, and equipment for the colonies. The theory is to have these robots and printers on the moon & Mars a few years ahead of the astronauts so they have shelter waiting for them.
Inside the Space Station Supply Facility, we were told we can only take photos of half the building due to what was in the supply facility. Two items in particular in the “no photo zone” had a pretty cool story. The first is going to the Space Station and is a retrofit docking station door for the newer vehicles heading up for a resupply mission.I am no scientist, but I understand a tight fit between spacecraft and space station would be important. The second thing in the no-photo-zone is the model for the Sierra Nevada space plane that will be used to help resupply the Space Station. It resembled the shuttle and they had a taped outline of what the actual size of the vehicle will be. Hopefully, they will be using KSC as their launch facility!
Our next stop was launch pad 39a to see the Falcon 9 on the launch pad. It was like Christmas morning. We were oohing…we were aahing…we were pointing…we were smiling…we were taking a lot of photos and video from inside the bus trying to capture the rocket. I am sure there were some OK pics from the bus, but we really should have waited until we were off the bus for the pics because we were got close to the rocket…really close! We were able to get within a hundred yards of the launch pad. The couple warnings they gave us before getting off the bus was look out for the fire ants, look out for random holes in the ground, and whatever you do, don’t touch the fence because it will trigger alarms and security. I didn’t see any fire ants, but I did trip over a hole as I was walking towards the fence and almost fell into the chainlink. It would have been an epic face-plant.
I am pretty sure every one of us had 3 things in our photos. One, of course, was the Falcon 9 in all her glory. The second was the sign on the chain link fence saying no photography. (Elon Musk has a sense of humor). It wouldn’t seem right not having a selfie with a rocket behind you either.
Next stop was a short bus ride over to launch pad 39B that is under construction getting it ready for the SLS (Space Launch Systems). Standing on top of the launch pad gave an incredible view of the Atlantic ocean, the crawler tracks, and deep into the pads flame deflectors.
My afternoon highlight was standing inside the vehicle assembly building. This building is massive. You can see the VAB as far south as SR 520 in Cocoa Beach, along SR 528 and the east side of US 1 in the Cocoa to Titusville area.
The VAB stands 526 feet tall and is the largest single-story structure in the world. I was in the VAB once before back in the 80’s and had forgotten just how large the building is. Originally built for the Apollo program and used throughout the shuttle program, it will be used for the Boeing Orion and the NASA SLS in the very near future.
Our last stop prior to heading out to the NASA Causeway for the launch was a tour of Launch Control Center. This is what you have seen in the movies or on the news regarding any major launch from KSC. It has been modernized and gone through some recent updates. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos in the control center. Too bad…the view of the launch pads was epic! I did get 2 cool pics in the lobby. If you follow my blog or social media posts…I have a thing for murals and they had a great one in the lobby. The other cool thing in the lobby were all the patches from all the launches at KSC. My family moved to Cocoa Beach April 1982. My first launch was the Columbia STS 4 that launched on June 27, 1982.
As we were leaving the Launch Control Center, the whispers, rumors and random tweets I heard became true…today’s launch was being scrubbed due to a guidance navigation control issue on the Falcon 9. Those of you who have lived here or have seen a launch know that this happens from time to time. I really felt for the 35 Socials that were not from Brevard county or central Florida. They needed to check flights, hotels and work schedules to see what could be done to stay for the rescheduled launch. The tentative date was two days away.
Wednesday night we are meeting back up at the Press Accreditation Office in North Merritt Island to go through our security check, load up on the bus and head out to the NASA Causeway. Our viewing site was 3.9 miles from the launch pad. We had a clear & unobstructed view of the Falcon 9 on the pad. 2 weeks earlier I saw the previous SpaceX launch from the north side of Port Canaveral. I thought that was a great place to see a rocket launch, which it is; this is just much better!
We were entertained by several ibises scouring the shoreline for dinner and by a pod of dolphin passing by. The main event happened at 6:51 pm. There is nothing quite like watching a launch this close. The one thing that stood out was how loud it was and how quickly you heard the rocket. Watching it from my house, the north side of the Port or anywhere else in the area; you don’t hear the rocket until it is well on its way into space. When you are less than 4 miles out, the rumble is almost instant. You feel it as much as you hear it. It is truly an awesome site to witness.
I would like to thank NASA Social for the opportunity to be a part of this event. I learned a lot from the scientists and engineers from NASA, SpaceX and those involved with TESS. It was great to be able to meet other space enthusiasts here locally and across the country. If this is something you are curious about or would like to be a part of, follow NASA Social on Twitter or bookmark their website to look out for upcoming NASA Social events.