Early in the morning on July 2, 2014, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 was launched into space from Vandenberg AFB on a Delta-II rocket. Once positioned in orbit OCO2’s mission will be studying the carbon cycle on earth–watching Earth breathe. It’s measurements will be key to the science community’s understanding of climate change and will help inform future global environmental policy. But only if we get good data. Early Wednesday morning, after a scrubbed launch the day before, the mission made its 30-second launch window, achieved separation, polar orbit, and deployed its solar arrays. And I got to be there with a crew of #NASASocial observers, or pretty close anyway.
Back in 2009 that didn’t happen. The original observatory failed to separate from the payload fairing, you know, “the rocket,” and never achieved orbit. After it reentered our atmosphere it crashed into the Indian Ocean. I wasn’t there that night but I know it took only 17 minutes to go from a perfect launch to a really wet landing, and I know the loss to science was felt deeply across the Earth.
So when I was invited to participate in the NASA Social event covering the new mission I was pretty darn excited. Cue my Muppet flail. Participants were allowed to ask the project engineers and scientists ANYTHING we wanted during the social press conference. After that we all got to take a tour of Vandenberg AFB, viewing each of the Space Launch Complexes, called “SLICKS”, and the Space and Missile Heritage Center, which includes an exhibit on the chronology of the cold war. Pretty much everyone took at least one #RocketSelfie and pretty much everyone felt some form of gratitude that the folks sitting at “the button” were surrounded my soothing sea-foam green and never had to push it.
Then we all headed up to the public viewing area for the 2:56 AM launch. In the dark. In the cold. All together. I think we were expecting to see something like this:
Well, that video was taken A LOT closer to Space Launch Complex 2, where the Delta II rocket was launched. Our gracious tour guides let us know that we wouldn’t WANT to be right up close during launch. That if we were standing where the camera was… we would probably go deaf and definitely be arrested.
What we saw was this… a whole lotta fog. Everybody there started hysterically laughing once we realized that was ALL we were going to see.
So why were we all there, in the cold and the dark, if we weren’t going to SEE anything? Listen to that audio. AFTER our hysterical laughter you can hear everybody say, WHOA!
We didn’t see anything, but we FELT something. The rumbling vibration of sound that takes several seconds to travel across the Earth and up into the sky. Up into us. We felt that.
NASA Administrator and former astronaut, Charles Bolden, invited all the NASA Social attendees to do two things: enjoy ourselves and tell people how the launch made us feel.
That distant rumble that washed like waves over all of us made me feel like something is being done to steward our planet and that everyone who was watching and listening, whether they were at Vandenberg, or in their backyard, or leaning out their window, looking up at that sky, were feeling it too.
Now we are all still leaning out our windows and looking up at the sky, waiting for the data to come back to Earth.
*NASA HQ PHOTOS