What does it mean to go to a Rocket Launch?

NASA Social Media Event – Launch of CRS-NG-12 to the International Space Station on Nov 2, 2019 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA, USA

“I went to M.A.R.S. last year”

“No you didn’t…”

“Yes, I did. I was invited to the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport (M.A.R.S) to attend a NASA Social Media event!”

Wallops Island Pad0A

Wallops Island Pad0A – Photo Credit: Pierce Johnson

I went to MARS last year. The inspiration and desire to experience, even second hand, what is arguably one of the most important endeavors that human-kind has ever embarked on is something, I think most humans can relate to. It was a person goal of mine and was an experience that truly was out of the world.

Why space? Why spend the time and resources (carbon and dollars) to go? I constantly asked myself this question in the lead up to my trip as did friends and family, with great skepticism in some cases. To boldly go, where no one has gone before, is one of the most fantastic things humans can do, I think. There’s still so much about our world and universe that we don’t know. From the deep ocean, to the moon, to mars, to moons of Saturn and Titan and further beyond our local system to exoplanets beyond… it’s worth going, in my humble opinion, to visit, explore, and venture further. It’s curiosity that drives many of us, including myself. So, although I didn’t actually go into space, I went to M.A.R.S. last month and it almost felt like I did! This gave me a window and connection to folks who are working in space aboard the ISS, and truly was inspirational.

For me, just getting down to Chincoteague, Virginia was going to be my own challenge. The anticipation, the build-up, “pre-launch sequence” if you will, is undeniable and just like what one would expect from a mundane level in arranging travel to the extreme excitement of actually hearing the countdown announcement and rocket liftoff. As I drove the highways through Maryland and Virginia, passing through local areas, I could only think of what was to come for me later in the weekend. The thought of an actual rocket launch from a small island on  the Virginia coast and how what we would see, would soon (hopefully) be launched beyond the earthly bounds that hold most (but not all) humans… to have a week of anticipation, looking towards a single weekend where cargo would be sent to space, is a really interesting and incredible feeling.

Antares Rocket

Antares Rocket at Wallops Island Integration Facility (Staff giving us a tour)

The feel of a NASA base is something quite unique – akin to what many American’s experience on a US military base, there’s the usual “G-agents” – for Government Protective Services and security checks, who do this important job of installation security and control. Buildings have an austere quality to them, not unlike other university research stations I’ve visited at Woods Hole, MA, Narragansett, RI, Great Bay, NH, or Palisades, NY. Building and structure had names like Pad 0A or Building X1 make for exciting yet austere surroundings, with a federal govt. feel to them. Meeting the people was really the best part. Dedicated NASA and base personnel and the many different kinds of folks who were attending the event itself made for some truly great conversations and a strange but wonderful Sci-Stem camaraderie. Social Media was only the vessel by which our NASA enthusiast group would in a small way commune with space and history. The weekend was fantastic and an event I’ll never forget.

If you ever get a chance, it’s worth watching a Rocket Launch! I was awe struck by the amazing technology, human ingenuity and tenacity that allowed us to break the bonds of gravity and to boldly go beyond our planet to research and explore the unknown.

CRS-NG-12 Nov 2, 2019

Dedicated to my grandfather Sergeant EAD – Flight Instructor for Strategic Air Command