Live Launch Off the Bucket List!

I don’t know if you all know I keep my bucket list online.  I haven’t updated it in ages, but at one point it was a publicly editable wiki (I know Ferf knew… nothing like putting things on someone else’s bucket list, is there?).  Now I lock it down a bit just to avoid putting temptation out to the rest of the world.

On Dec. 5th, 2006 (12 years ago!), I added “Watch a shuttle launch” to the list, where it lingered until Feb. 2012, when, due to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, I marked the Bucket List item forever “Failed”.

This past weekend Mary Ann and I got to watch the SpaceX launch of the SAOCOM 1A satellite, near Vandenberg Air Force Base. and I have now crossed watching a launch off of the bucket list!  (Also, I belatedly crossed off writing a novel, which I did for NaNoWriMo a while back).

Here’s the teaser pic:

Awesome atmospheric effect of the M-Vac firing into the atmosphere.

People who have worked at SpaceX far longer than me keep saying that you don’t get tired of these happenings, and I’m certainly no where close to tiring of it myself.  The launches and the plans we have never cease to amaze me, but being up close and in person was absolutely astounding.

About 1000 people gathered in a high school soccer field a few miles from the launch for the show.


We couldn’t see the launch pad — a trade off for having a large crowd — but the moment the rocket fired up the lower sky was filled with light…

Silhouette of some people climbing the fence to see the launch, back lit by the ignition.

We watched the bright light of the ascent for a good 30 seconds before we could hear the roar of the engines, but given how far away we were it was still super loud; not quite the shake-you-to-your-bones it would be on base, but it gave the heart a good rattle.  Unfortunately, my photography wasn’t quite up to the task.  That’s fine, I need practice, but man these things are difficult to expose!

Not great, but the best rocket flame I got.

I did manage to get a little video, though, both of the late ascent:

And of the comet-like trail that the second stage left as it slowly moved across the sky minutes later:

But, the absolute best part was the huge light show that happened when the stages separated and the first stage began its descent and the second stage fired up and all the exhaust and rocket-goodness mixed up in the atmosphere… the picture at the top of the page is my favorite, but I managed to pluck a few good shots from the sky:

What I like most about these is the various phases that the first stage as it’s starting its descent.  The first stage is the fun thing at the top of the image with the weird exhaust.  I’m actually not sure why it’s bilateral – I assume it’s due to the number of engines we light up (3 I think, out of 9), but as it starts to ignite as the rocket is falling backwards, the atmosphere buffets the rocket exhaust and you get these nice staccato exhaust plumes.  At least I think that’s what’s happening.  Crazy cool anyway.

It’s an interesting look into our atmosphere — to see a rocket go in three minutes straight through it.  Mary Ann quipped at one point that for the first time she realized how thin the atmosphere is, and how were on a little marble with a very thin blanket protecting us.  Definitely a good reason to go to Mars after all.  🙂

The first stage landed without a hitch…. again my photos failed, but worst of all I didn’t have video running 10 seconds after landing when the sonic boom (it sounded like 2, really… one and an echo I suppose) completely rocked the park we were in.

Awesome night.  If you’ve never seen one, you should add it to YOUR bucket list.

(Also, this guys video is pretty cool:)

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