This week the Antares ORB-1 was launched from the Wallops Flight Facility. I applied for a social media program offered by NASA to allow people to join the media for this launch. I have been very excited for weeks to see this launch, and it being canceled a few times just made the wait that much more anticipated. I have seen the Antares launch from our beaches in Delaware, but this would be my first up close and personal experience. During the drive to Wallops the other day, I had time to reflect on the many cool things I have done thanks to DSF and this would definitely be in the top ten. This was my first trip to Wallops and I was surprised just how close we are to a NASA launch facility. It took less than two hours to get there and the ride was scenic. I could tell I was getting close to the facility when a E-2C Hawkeye roared across the sky. They were circling all day doing touch and goes on the runway, practicing landing on aircraft carriers. I went to the visitors center and signed in for the media gathering. There were press conferences planned for that day, as well as a tour of the facilities, and I also took a quick tour of the visitors center. I highly recommend you take the family there for a tour of this facility during a launch. There are fascinating displays of the history of NASA.
Everyone met and then we loaded onto a bus and went to the launch facilities. We were taken on a tour of the HIF … Horizontal Integration Facility. The rocket is put together here, loaded with fuel, and readied for the launch pad. We were allowed to check out the different engines. We met a few rocket scientists and astronauts, there were engineers all over the place. It was rather surreal. The best part was seeing the different tools and devices used in these processes. It was like being in a seriously high tech body shop and service station. We were given a tour of the different sections and allowed to ask questions. You would think there should be a ton of stuff to take pictures of but the room was rather void of things to shoot. We were told to not bring our key fobs and cell phones in case the signals set anything off. I could not imagine being in a room when that rocket activated. We loaded back up on the bus and were taken to the launch pad. We could only get so close since there was an active rocket on the pad. Everyone took a lot of pictures and we headed back to the visitors center. The launch was scheduled for 1:31 pm the next afternoon. Everyone attended a prelaunch press conference and then I headed back to Delaware, I was very excited all day, and still felt like a kid in a candy shop.
The next morning the launch was canceled and we would not know until 5 pm if it would happen the next day. A solar flare had created too much radiation in space and NASA was worried it could effect the rocket’s launch. Very understandable considering the amount of time and money put into a launch. There were press conferences that morning with the students involved in the launch. Groups of students were sending experiments up on the resupply mission to the International space station. Basically the ISS is a giant laboratory in space. Many different experiments are done up there and they make new discoveries all of the time. It was nice to hear about hands on work being done in space compared to the daily doldrums and drama we seem to be occupied with these days. NASA has a lot of really cool things happening in space and here on earth. It certainly was refreshing to hear about many of these projects. Honestly it was overwhelming in some cases to hear about all of the things going on at Wallops Island. I could spend hours describing everything. I suggest you get down to NASA and check the visitors center out. I think it is awesome we have a facility here on the east coast. Seeing the launches from afar is fun, but being there makes it that much more real. I checked out the different conferences and then headed back home eagerly hoping at 5 pm the launch would be a go …
Back to NASA the next day, by now I could drive there with my eyes closed, it is a simple drive with only 2 turns. I could definitely tell they were anticipating a launch. There were NASA police everywhere, and tour buses ready to take the media to the viewing area. I checked in and made ready to load up on a bus. Everyone was excited, we were getting updates every twenty minutes, and at one point they told us had to check the DFO. No one had a clue what that meant, when it was explained to us I think it sank in how serious these guys were. Basically the DFO is a term to measure just how bad the blow back would be if the rocket blew up during launch. That really sank in with a few of us. Before that we were all talking shop about photography. One guy mentioned he wanted to shoot today in the raw. I had images of a naked guy running around the launch pad, until someone explained what that meant. I learned a lot that day to say the least. Everyone with the social media group were very nice people and fun to hang out with. We all loaded the buses and proceeded to head to the launch viewing area for the media. Our buses had a police escort, we felt rather special.
Before we headed to the launch area, we were read some rules and regulations. Most of these dealt with what to do in case of a launch failure. Meaning if the rocket blew up on the pad we were told to immediately head to our bus. Do not stand around waiting for instructions, and certainly don’t stand there taking pictures. Of course we all joked about the fact these days people will whip out a phone and take pictures of an event before thinking about safety. We were also told to avoid areas that were marked off near radar facilities due to high amounts of transmission radiation. Anyone who violated these spaces would be escorted off the property immediately. Everyone found a nice spot to set up their gear. At this point I was in total camera envy. Some of these folks had some serious gear with them, lenses that could see the planet mars. There were a few TV reporters there and a tent was set up with heat for people to await the launch in comfort. I met Steven Serdikoff an avid photographer from the Barrel Distortion site he took some amazing pictures you can see on his site. We found a good spot to set up and then hit the tent for hot coffee. When we were down to ten minutes left to launch everyone was outside all set up and ready to observe the Antares. There was a helicopter checking the perimeter, it was all black, I guess they do exist. We were at the four minute mark when an alert came in to stop the countdown, everyone groaned. We were so close to launch,what was the problem? Duck hunters were too close to the launch area in the marsh. The jokes started flying, “Now what we are going to do is wait for that rocket to blast off and flush these ducks right to us.” The hunters were cleared out in a matter of minutes and the countdown resumed. Three days of anticipation from the crowd, months of planning by NASA and Orbital, all boiled down to these last few minutes. We arrived at the ten count and you could hear a few people counting off, then that rocket was lit. WOW! Seeing a launch in the distance is one thing, but this was amazing. We saw the rocket light up and start to lift off, for a split second, but what seemed like forever, it just sat there with flames and smoke everywhere. It takes a lot of thrust to get that much weight off the ground. When it started to lift off you couldn’t hear anything for the first second, the sound took a minute to travel that far. Once that rocket lifted off, the sound made it to our area, at first it was just a slow rumble and then the shock wave hit. That was loud, shook the ground, and you could feel it in your chest. The rocket was 44,000 thousand feet in the air in a matter of seconds. The sound was unbelievable, everyone was cheering and “woo hooing” For a solid 2 minutes you could see and hear the rocket, and then it was over. Three days of anticipation led up to that one moment and it was spectacular to see. I have a video of the launch of it on the DSF you Tube channel We went back to the Wallops visitors center for the post launch briefing. The folks at Orbital and NASA were very happy with the launch and anticipated docking with the ISS in a few days. I had an amazing time at this launch, meeting people and learning a great deal about the International Space Station and the Antares rockets. I am looking forward to the launch in May. I want to thank the folks at NASA and Orbital for allowing social media groups to participate in this launch as the media, it was very exciting.