LADEE Launch Recap Part 4: 3…2…1…

With two solid days of briefings and tours under our belt, it suddenly began to feel very real. There was going to be a launch tonight, and we were going to see it. After dinner, we returned to the NASA Visitors Center at Wallops. It was early in the evening and VIP guests were starting to come in. With four hours to go before launch, it felt like the calm before a storm.

Monitor at the Visitors Center
LADEE on the launch pad at L-4 hours, 37 minutes

What might have seemed like an eternal wait was pleasantly shortened for me when I ran into Dana Berry, an old friend from the Space Telescope Science Institute days. If you don’t know who Dana is, I can guarantee you’ve seen his work. Dana is a highly sought-after digital artist whose work has been used to visualize many of NASA’s missions, including Hubble, Chandra, and now LADEE.

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Admiring some of Dana’s handiwork. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

At 7:45, we returned to the press room to get ready to head out to the viewing area. By this time, it was becoming less of a calm and more of a storm.

NASA Social is GO for launch.

But we had one more briefing to go, by none other than the NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden!

NASA Administrator (and former Shuttle astronaut) Charles Bolen. DUDE!

Bolen thanked us for coming to the launch and for spreading the word. He told us that for all of NASA’s public outreach assets, they still don’t communicate with the public very well. But NASA Social allows NASA to enlist the public as citizen journalists to spread the word in a personal way that no amount of media power can do.

You all are now part of the NASA team, whether you like it or not.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (we liked)

Then he did something that was incredibly amazing. He asked for Kim Alix, a K-5th-grade science lab teacher from North Carolina. After her selection to come to the NASA launch, she sent Bolen an email thanking him for the opportunity. He was so moved by her message that he wanted to thank her personally in the only way he knew how:

Bolden leads from the top, and does what we need to do more of as a country.

Bolden told us that as the son of two teachers, he laments the lack of respect (and compensation) teachers get from the public. As luck would have it, there were several teachers in our group who were particularly appreciative of his comments. As the son of a teacher myself, I thanked him in return.

Bragging rights: I was sitting right in the front for this bit. Photo courtesy Tom Wolf

With our final pre-launch briefing out of the way, it was time to board the bus and head out to the viewing area. Escorted by police, we were taken to a location just 2 miles from the launch pad, adjacent to the VIP viewing area. There in the distance, but plain as day, stood the Minotaur V rocket. My iPhone’s camera hardly does the view justice, but you might be able to get an idea just of how close we were to the launch pad:

My binoculars are set up!
See that white blob just above my binoculars? That’s it, baby!

The next 2 hours may as well have seemed like two minutes. The excitement, and nervousness, were palpable. But there was one more surprise left. Jessica from NASA Ames asked me if I would like to appear on NASA Edge’s coverage of the launch. Um, okay…

Jessica took Kimberly Knight and myself to the VIP viewing area. There we met up with fellow NASA Social members Kim Alix and iVy Deliz who themselves were getting ready to be interviewed on NASA Edge.

NASA Edge is an unscripted video podcast that has all of the production values of a proper TV show. Best of all, these guys get paid to cover launches!

Good work if you can get it.

In between interviews, they’d cut to a pre-recorded segment, or the live feed of the launch pad, giving the next interview a chance to set up. Kim and iVy went next, and they knocked right out of the park:

Chris from NASA Edge interviews Kim and iVy.

Now, by this point, we were in the final 1/2 hour before launch. My excitement and nervous energy were already pretty high, and this is what I saw next:

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As if I wasn’t nervous enough.

In 5…4…3…

Blair from NASA Edge interviews Kimberly and myself.

With just a few minutes to go before launch, we were quickly driven back to the viewing area. And then this happened:

Richard Drumm‘s brilliant video of the launch. Set this to high definition and go full screen. You’ll be glad you did.

I mean, how cool is that? The cheers following the initial launch were for the successful ignitions of the Minotaur’s second and third stages. The vehicle was right on the money!

Afterward, we got back on the bus to return to the visitors center for the last time. The bus was filled with the glow of cell phones showing their pictures, the sounds of videos, and shouts of “My friend saw it from New Jersey!”, “My buddy posted an amazing picture from Brooklyn!“, and so-on.

It was a party bus.

We got back to the Visitors center and by this point, most of our group had gone home. But a few of us die-hards stuck around for the post-launch briefing at 2:30 am.

Post launch briefing about to begin

The briefing ended, we said our goodbyes, and headed back to our hotels.

LADEE was on its way to the Moon.

Afterword

The two days of our NASA Social flew by in a blink. I met some really great people there, and if I have one regret it’s not getting a chance to meet every single one of them.

I did get to meet several of the hard working people behind the scenes at NASA Social. It takes a lot of work to organize and run these events, and their professionalism was exceeded only by their enthusiasm.

I’m extremely grateful for those whose videos and images I used, especially to Tom Wolf who makes my camera phone images look like, well, camera phone images. Thanks man.

LADEE is on its way to the Moon to study the lunar atmosphere, for no other reason than because we are curious. A lot of brilliant people worked together to pull off this launch, and will continue to do so to make this mission a success. Yes, there was a big ol’ American flag and a NASA meatball on the side of the rocket, and I’m certainly proud of that. But this doesn’t just represent what NASA can do, or what the United States can do, but what we as human beings can do when we really want to explore our universe.

This is Humanity at its best.

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