Traveling on the Space Coast to watch a rocket launch is not your normal vacation. My trip to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to see the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon started more than a month ago.
In April, NASA released the planned May 27 launch date. It was time for decision-making. If I was going to go there, I had to take flights right away before they were full or they got too expensive.
Traveling for a launch isn’t as simple as a typical vacation. On the one hand, there is no guarantee that the launch will take place on the scheduled date. A rocket launch can be delayed due to technical issues, astronauts’ health, or even rubbed a few seconds before the launch due to weather conditions. Anyway, I decided to book my tickets with Southwest Airlines. Southwest has a no-fee change policy. Therefore, I would be protected if NASA postponed the launch before my departure or if adverse weather conditions caused delays after my arrival.
After booking my flight, the month went by and the launch (luckily) stayed on schedule. I took an early morning flight from California on May 25, flying to Florida late Monday evening. It gave me a day delay between arrival and launch on Wednesday to capture some photos of Starman and the Rocket.
Then launch day. The days leading up to the launch, the weather forecast was bleak. Weather reports predicted a (ahem) 100% chance of thunderstorms during the launch window. Yes. Trying to keep hoping, I woke up the morning of the launch, checked the weather on my phone and it (again) didn’t look right.
I call my insiders and they say that SpaceX is still planning the launch. ” What how? ” I said. Well … insiders added, “This is Florida time for you. It can be a storm for a minute and then be clear the next. The weather in Florida is changing faster than meteorologists can track it. “
To me it seemed crazy. I live in California where the weather is predictable – especially on the same day of a forecast. Nevertheless, they were right. An hour before the 4:33 p.m. EST launch window, the sky around the Kennedy Space Center began to brighten.
Astronauts Bob and Doug were loaded into the Dragon crew capsule by men in black suits (who looked like ninjas), the door was closed, and the access door was retracted. The tension was mounting. We check our phones every 15 seconds to confirm the time and make sure we don’t miss any NASA updates. Then 10 minutes before launch, it was canceled. There was lightning within 10 miles of the launch pad, which violated NASA’s launch requirements for crewed space flights.
Then, in heavy traffic, we brought an Uber home to the beach. Bummer. On the way back, we discovered that the weather criteria were met barely 10 minutes after the launch window. So close! You would think: Why didn’t they wait 10 more minutes? This is not how it works with NASA. With a NASA mission, it’s either a timely launch or an exfoliation. There are a variety of government reasons for this, but specific to an ISS mission – the launch must line up exactly with the orbit of the ISS to limit the amount of time that astronauts are in the capsule between entering orbit and docking.
Either way, the second launch window looked more promising than the first. It was still a 50/50 chance, but real-time satellite imagery showed the storm was going to break out. SpaceX and NASA have both said they are launching. The excitement was in the air. We could all feel it. It was finally going to happen. It was nine long years since the last time the astronauts had gone into space from American soil. NASA and SpaceX were to go down in history. Together.
May 30, 3:20 p.m.
2 minutes before launch: the Falcon 9 is fully powered.
94 seconds before launch: LOX (liquid oxygen) charging is complete.
60 seconds before launch: Falcon 9 starts up
35 seconds: SpaceX Dragon is ready for launch: “Let’s light this candle!” “
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 …
Guest contributor: Eli Burton is proud to be friends with the Real Life Starman. He is also president and founder of the My Tesla Adventure Tesla Owner Club. Eli is also co-host of the Tesla Geeks Show podcast and creator of the comic book series The Adventures of Starman.