View Full Version : Moon Launch from Wallops Island

2013-09-06, 11:54 PM
NASA had a lunar satellite scheduled for launch tonight (http://www.space.com/22695-nasa-moon-mission-launches-ladee-spacecraft.html) from Wallops Island, not too far to the north of me. I was checking in on the launch-control streaming feed starting about an hour beforehand, listening to them going through their extremely long, extremely detailed checklist.

Then outside, about ten minutes before launch, beneath a hazy-dark sky with blue-white stars, hardly a stray wisp of cloud, with porchlights and streetlamps the only real inconvenience. Scanning the sky to the north and northeast, above the neighborhood trees; and then, right on the minute, not the tiny yellow-white spark I was expecting, but a rich fiery-orange gout of flame with a fierce bright head, curving upward like a dragon-comet rising through the sky.

Then a glowing puff of sparks, and the second stage kicked in, well out over the Atlantic; still a fiery-orange streak, rising briefly above the nearer trees and curving along the horizon; and then another splash of sparks, and a long, long trail of smoke or vapor behind a steady-burning ember, receding far and low into the east, gradually diminishing to a faint red mote that vanished in the distance between the trees.

I've seen shuttle launches, from many miles away, and I've seen a Delta launch from the guest bleachers at Canaveral, and this was more brilliant and spectacular than either. The fiery-curving tail was brighter and more intense than I'd ever imagined; and watching it dwindle and disappear downrange was amazing, for the sense of speed and distance it conveyed. Absolutely fantastic to see.

2013-09-07, 01:06 AM
That's awesome! Did you get to hear the roar too?

2013-09-07, 09:35 AM
No, I was too far south to hear anything, although it felt like I'd be hearing the thunder at any moment, once I first saw the fiery tail. It was some dozens of miles to the north, and I have a lot of trees in my area, so any faint echoes would have been buffered and absorbed.

What's amazing is that even though it seemed to level out and follow the horizon, it was actually rising over the curve of the earth as it ascended across the Atlantic. I couldn't explain the geometry in any detail; I'm just happy to marvel at it.

Space.com has a couple excellent photos in this morning's article (http://www.space.com/22699-nasa-moon-launch-jaw-dropping-photos.html). The second photo, from Nags Head, is very close to what I saw, and clearly shows the difference in brightness and color between the brief launch phase, close to the horizon, and the much longer second-stage burn.