Sunday, March 3, 2013

NASA Social for SpaceX Dragon Launch: Day 2 - LAUNCH DAY!!

I checked out of my hotel around 6:15 am.  The cloud cover looked ominous, I hoped that wasn't a bad sign.  I arrived at the KSC gate early, and the security guard told me to come back at 7:30.  I clarified with him, because we were told we could get in at 7 am, and had to be at the Annex by 7:30, and he said no, 7:30.  I turned around and headed to the Astronaut Hall of Fame to kill time, tweeting to Jason and the other NASA Social-ites that we couldn't get in yet.  Jason must have made some calls, because he soon tweeted to try again, and I was able to successfully gain entry around 7:15.  

Did I mention I'm directionally challenged?  Once on base, I thought it would be relatively obvious on how to get back to the Annex.  No such luck; I missed a turn and was crossing the causeway, going away from the VAB instead of towards it, before I started to realize I was probably not going the right way.  When I arrived at the Navy base, I was sure of it.  I made a quick U-turn and headed back down the causeway.  There were bleachers set up and the ticketed general public were already arriving to get their seats for the launch viewing.  I was a little late to the parking lot, but all in all, not too bad considering how lost I was.  

The countdown clock indicated less than 3 hours to launch.  It was getting exciting!  First on our agenda was to meet NASA's Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver.  Lori was obviously passionate, supporting the ideas of exploring asteroids and going back to the moon.  She also made some pretty big statements about women, saying, "NASA needs women, Aerospace needs women, STEM needs women."  We then heard from Ken Carr of NASA's Launch Services Program and Lisa Colloredo from NASA's Commercial Crew Program.  

In no time, we were boarding the bus for the big event: the launch of SpaceX CRS2.  On our way, Jason talked a little bit more about the wildlife preserve at KSC.  Indeed, there were unique birds everywhere you look.  We slowed down to check out a bald eagle's nest, and as we were watching, the bald eagle returned to the nest with a breakfast squirrel.  I didn't capture a picture, but I definitely saw it and it was stunning!  

At the causeway, photographers and videographers of the media were already getting set up, some up higher on the hill and some down by the water.  I was asking questions about what the various buildings were in our landscape of NASA icons, getting my nerd on, when a dolphin fin popped up.  I watched the dolphin for a bit, and then got distracted by the diving pelicans.  It was quite a juxtaposition from the engineering feat we were about to witness.

Knowing that there would be plenty of amazing photography and video shot by my fellow NASA Social-ites, I decided to take the advice to relax and enjoy the launch - kind of.  I still felt obligated to do something, so I set my phone up for video, and lowered it below my sightline so that I was still mainly watching the launch, but I could be a part of recording history, too.  

The countdown was loud and clear over the speaker.  Right on time, smoke started pouring out of the bottom of the rocket, and then the fiery orange flame was visible.  As the Dragon lifted off of the launch pad, I whispered an uncontrollable "woooooooooooow", and then I don't think I breathed for another 30 seconds.  The wonder and amazement literally took my breath away; my chest felt like it was collapsing.  A few people let out a scream of excitement.  I didn't know if I should whoop or clap or cry.  

I had no idea the Dragon would come towards us, until the guy next to me said, "Here it comes," and sure enough, it arched towards us.  I got scared for a moment, and then realized this was probably supposed to happen, and was just utterly thrilled.  The last amazing part of the launch, which my video unfortunately didn't capture, was the warm glow as the rocket disappeared into the clouds.  The second video posted below does have a good visualization of this.

Better video (by the guy standing next to me): 
Awesome video (by the guy in our group who got to stand on the roof of the VAB):

If pictures are worth 1000 words, videos are probably worth 4000 at least, but no number of words can truly describe the feeling of being there at the launch and seeing it with your own eyes, feeling the vibrations, hearing the engines roar.  Again, Floridians are a little spoiled in this way, because they have launches going off all the time.  But my advice to anyone remotely interested is to go; it's totally worth it!  

After the launch, there really wasn't much else to do on the causeway, so we boarded the bus pretty quickly and headed back to the Press Site, where we would take a group picture in front of the countdown clock.  There was a little mishap with the "jump" shot, and we got to see a KSC fire truck as a result.  When we got back to the Annex, we were just kind of scattered and going about our own thing.  

And then 30 Seconds to Mars, the band, walked in.  I knew it was them as soon as I saw them, not because I know them all that well, but because I knew their next single was on the Dragon and the context instantly clicked in my head.  I asked to take a picture with them before everyone else figured out who they were, and then asked if they would sing some of the new single for us (to which they replied, "Not a chance").  Once I had my picture with them, I volunteered the information I knew to the people sitting around me.  The high school science teacher took her picture with them, and tweeted it out to her students, which was instantly met with comments from her students.  She was so excited!  They started grilling the guy wearing the Google Glass, obviously not thrilled about the new technology.  

After they took off, Jason came back and informed us that we were now going to the KSC Visitor Complex, where we would get a hard hat tour of the new Atlantis exhibit opening in May.  We met in the parking lot of the visitor center and then walked in together with our comped tickets.  Before the hard hat tour, we attempted a group photosphere shot.  

We split into three groups, and I was part of group 2, so we had to come back in about 20 minutes before we could start our tour.  So I opted to go shopping and get my mandatory souvenir glass.  The majority of my group came with me.  I also ended up buying some of that astronaut ice cream, because I've heard of kids eating it and I never had that experience, so I figured no time was better than the present.  I totally thought everyone would make fun of me for buying it, but they were all very supportive of the idea, comically so actually.  

The hard hat tour was really rugged, but afforded us the chance to see Atlantis, wrapped in plastic to protect it from the construction hazards, in all her glory!  The tour guide made a joke about it being tilted at exactly 43.21 degrees, and none of us caught that it was a reference to the count down.  Either it was a bad joke or we were all really tired.  Regardless, it was really cool to get a sneak peak of the new exhibit, and it's going to be a really cool place to visit and inspire future astronauts and engineers.  

After the hard hat tour, I didn't have much time left before I had to make my way to the airport, but I did want to take Jason's suggestion and try the shuttle launch experience simulator ride.  Four others from my group joined me, and we were looking like bad asses with our NASA badges still around our necks.  The simulator was pretty cool, and had the (desirable?) affect of making us a little uneasy and dizzy.  I just remember the skin of my face being shaken to death and pretty much cracking up the whole time.  I tried to imagine I really was on a shuttle, going to Mars to set up a brewery for the new colony there.  How freakin' cool would that be?  

The ride was supposedly 5 1/2 minutes, but it felt like 2 minutes tops.  Once it was over, we headed back down to our meeting area and we bid our goodbyes.  It was a little sad to say good bye to everyone, but I think more than the saddness of departure was the excitement of all we had seen and experienced over the last two days, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves.  So the overwhelming feeling, at least for me, was a mix of peaceful exhaustion and utter joy.  

I slept so good that night.

For LOTS more photos, including the ones I took on this trip, check out our Flickr group: 
And check out the storify page:  

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