Sometimes when traveling we inadvertently wind up in the right place at the right time to experience something extraordinary. While in Delaware this weekend just such a “happystance” occurs. We are dining at the home of Captain Morgan and Rufus (always an extraordinary experience in itself) when Rufus informs me that NASA plans to launch a rocket from Wallops Island at 7:30am the next morning.
A pre-dawn hour and a half drive down the Cape after partying late with the Morgans is out of the question. Instead we resolve to abandon our warm cocoon in time to stumble out of the RV in the morning at 7:25am. We hope to at least see the rocket as it zooms over our heads on its journey to the International Space Station.
Our plans progress nicely as we awaken in time to monitor NASA’s live launch feed on my phone while still snuggling in our warm bed. With a minute or two to spare, we bundle up and burst out of the RV door searching the sky for a rocket. But at T-1.5 and counting, a small plane wanders into the restricted airspace around Wallops Island. The launch is scrubbed. We return immediately to our toasty abode.
With the safe zone violated, the rocket remains stoically on the pad. The launch is rescheduled for Sunday giving us plenty of time to gather cold weather gear and blankets for a trip down to see it. After a couple of preparatory naps on Saturday afternoon, we set our alarms for 4am.
Arriving one hour before the launch, we are light-wanded right into the dark parking area at Wallops Island Visitor Center. We hike with blankets and chairs in hand to a “fair” spot for the launch. There is no traffic jam, the bleachers are empty and the crowd is light (probably inside the visitor center trying to stay warm). Guess we did not really have to be here 3 hours before the launch (see launch viewing instructions). Glad we ignored that advice! According to the murmurs of gossip wafting around us at the launch viewing site, the rescheduled launch is more lightly attended than the original one. Lucky us!
The launch site is so far away from the viewing area that I have no equipment capable of capturing a clear picture or video of the rocket. We can only see the rocket clearly with our binoculars. I attempt to stabalize my tripod in the spongy marsh. Then I hurl invectives at my camera which is determined to focus on nearby seagrass rather than the teeny rocket way off in the distance. Losing both contests, I surrender to imperfection.
In spite of the blurriness of our video and photos, I want to share this experience. So I compile a video using the footage that Storm got with his phone. Then I dig through our archives to find the sound recording and crisp launch photos we took when our WONDERFUL friend Kim arranged for us to be VIP guests at a shuttle launch.
We are about 4 miles from the Wallops Island rocket. We were only 2-3 miles from the shuttle launch. This is a huge difference in distance and size of rocketry! Compare the two launches in the video below. Especially note how very long it takes the sound to reach us from the tiny rocket at Wallops Island. We were much closer to the ginormous shuttle and once they lit the burners on it, the ground shaking noise boomed across the sound washing over us before the shuttle even left the ground.