InSight: Away She Goes

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As planned, InSight launched this past Saturday at 4:05am PT … as expected.

My plans didn’t got as planned … which is also as expected.

If you remember last week’s post, Cinco de InSight, or more likely saw on the news (because y’all “trust” those people more than me for some reason … and don’t say integrity because that’s not a fair comparison) the Mars bound mission was set to launch on May 5th out of Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) just north of Santa Barbara.  A couple friends and I planned to head up, spend the night in a hotel, then watch the launch from just down the street.  As with any launch, you have to be a little bit lucky to catch it – because there are certain conditions they don’t launch in.  As we drew closer to the date, the conditions were deteriorating.

On Thursday, it was announced that the weather for the launch window was unfavorable.  There was fog predicted for the area.  VAFB is right on the coast, in fact, the launch pad is within a half mile of ocean.  This time of year, morning fog is common to typical all the way up and down the coast, and that could be problems for a launch.  In fact, they stated it was 80% likely that the weather would “violate launch conditions” for both Saturday & Sunday.  Not wanting to take the 3 hour drive up for a lousy amount of sleep just to find out that the candle won’t light didn’t seem like my kind of party.  So we went into “winging it” mode … which basically meant we would keep an ear to the ground on how things will go.

On Friday, the weather report hadn’t changed, but the interpretation of what meant had changed.  Visibility on the launch pad was going to be minimal at best, but seconds after launch the vehicle will clear the fog and all other visuals would be on full display.  Following the Launch Readiness Review on Friday, the team made the statement, they would attempt a launch Saturday morning.

After a week of audits on the East Coast, and a Friday that actually began at 11pm on Thursday in California, followed by a 5 hour flight, followed by a two hour commute home, followed by still some hours of work to do, followed by needing to buy a grill to prep for a get-together … I was in no mood to make the run to VAFB.  So I didn’t.

I did set the alarm for 3am, which is a lot easier when you are still on East Coast time, and set-up the laptop on the back deck to watch the live feed and look to the sky.  Shortly before 4am, they gave the final rundown with all the project managers – they asked first the booster team, then the upper stage team, then the payload … and it went:
“Atlas?”
“Atlas is Go for Launch”
“Centaur?”
“Centaur is Go for Launch”
“InSight?”
InSight is Go For Launch”

Folks in the area said they could feel the ground shake.  They said they could hear the rumble.  Some thought they could see a bit of a glow through the thick fog.  They saw nothing.

At about 1 minute after launch, I saw the red light appear over the Vendugos.  InSight was about a hundred miles from my position, but already 50 miles down range and climbing.  I have seen the SpaceX Falcon9 launches out of VAFB, but this Atlas rocket was a monster.  That thing cooked across the sky and finished with it’s first stage in what seemed like no time what so ever.  Daybreak launches like this are much harder to see from LA and places south.  You basically are looking for a dot going across the sky.  Twilight launches are way more interesting as you can see the contrail through the setting sun.  But InSight was mine … that was my first JPL launch.

After the launched, InSight continued on.  As I type this, InSight is 365 Thousand Miles from Earth (or 587 thousand kilometers … for you Canadians). That’s already 15 thousand more miles than it was a couple hours ago, so she is making good time.  She’s on track to make a landing in November as planned.  All systems are good, all communication good.

After the launch, I continued on as well, but moving way less slowly.  It got hot here, and I had a grill to build and a house to clean.  I officially opened my deck, in probably the closest thing to a house warming … just a mere 10 months after moving in.  We drank cervesa, grilled carne, and spit out chili covered watermelon candies.  I didn’t nap Saturday, so I dragged by the time the night ended … dragged even more on Sunday … dragging today.

Moreso, I am back at it today.  InSights launched, but we got more projects to come, and I got work to do.

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