LADEE Launch Recap Part 3: Touring Wallops Flight Facility

Day two of our NASA Social Meetup began with lunch at the cafeteria, which was a good thing since that meant we didn’t have to begin until 11:30 on Friday. Afterward, we began a tour of Wallops Flight Facility which was super cool. Wallops does a lot more than launch rockets and all of them are cool in their own unique way.

At the balloon shop. Photo courtesy Tom Wof
At the balloon shop. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf, a professional photographer and a fantastic guy. See his full photo set at SmugMug. When you’re done, be sure to hire him.

Our first stop was to the Scientific Balloon Shop. The balloons made here can stay aloft from days to months at a time at altitudes of 100,000+ feet – right at the edge of space itself. And these things are huge, sometimes inflating to be the size of the Superdome!

Best of all, balloon teams launch all over the world, including Antarctica. Good work if you can get it!

Balloons will take you all the way up to the top of Earth’s atmosphere, but if your science requires you to be in space, you may need to fit your payload into one of these babies:

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Bristol Aerospace Sounding Rocket

Suffice to say, this bit was pretty cool, and we had a lot of fun taking pictures of this particular rocket.

Constance and Amanda taking pics while Ulysses looks on like a Steely-Eyed Missile Man. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf
Constance and Amanda taking pics while Ariel looks on like a Steely-Eyed Missile Man. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

Here I am doing my best impression of a Steely-Eyed Missile Man.

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#RocketsF&*kYeah #AmericaF&*kYeah

Our tour continued to the shop where science payloads are assembled, integrated, and tested. Following that, we went into what at first looks like a machine shop, except it’s one where they turn stuff like this:

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Boring aluminum tubing

…into stuff like this!

Rocket Parts, F&*k Yeah! Photo courtesy Tom Wolf
Rocket Parts, F&*k Yeah! Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

The whole time people were taking selfies, and Jim Way decided to go all meta on me:

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#MetaRocketShopSelfie Photo by Jim Way

By this point, we were starting to run a little late so we made a quick stop at the Launch Control Center

People who launch rockets sit here.

Our final stop on today’s tour was to a hangar that were housing both of NASA’s Global Hawk aircraft. If you’re not familiar with NASA uses these two vehicles for their Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel missions.

One of NASA's two Global Hawk UAVs
One of NASA’s two Global Hawk UAVs

Unlike traditional manned Hurricane Hunters, these aircraft are capable of flying well above the storm and can take data of the entire atmospheric column all the way through to the ground.

It takes two crews to fly the Hawks, one stationed at wherever they are based from (in this case, Wallops) to handle takeoff and landing. Once aloft, control is transferred to the science team in Ohio who fly the mission from there. Very impressive stuff!

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That’s a friggen Global Hawk behind me. You’re damn right I’m impressed! Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

With our tour complete, it was time to head back to the Visitor’s Center for a series of briefings from the instrument scientists, engineers, range safety officers, and all sort of people we would have loved to have heard from if it wasn’t so late in the day and we were getting hungry.

One highlight though was a team of engineers from Navajo Technical University who 3-D printed an amazing model of LADEE:

Cutaway model of LADEE, 3D printed by Navajo Tech. I want one of these. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf
Cutaway model of LADEE, 3D printed by Navajo Tech. I want one of these. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

Even better, the model came apart into segments, which really showed off the Common Spacecraft Bus design!

After the briefings, we broke for dinner. But we had to hurry back because the parking lot was going to be packed with VIPs.

It turns out there was a rocket launch happening that night.

3 Replies to “LADEE Launch Recap Part 3: Touring Wallops Flight Facility”

    1. Thanks Ariel. I wouldn’t normally use language like that, but it really captured the energy and excitement I was getting from everyone. Also, Constance told me to use that hashtag. I blame her ­čÖé

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