Sunday Story: Rocket Launch!

I sure hope you’re enjoying this beautiful weather! I got out and ran the St. Paddy’s Day race in Nashville yesterday. The race benefited ALS research, etc. for ALS victims. We raised a ton of money and had a great time! I missed placing in the race by 17 seconds (ha). So close, so close…..

Our next chance of showers comes Wednesday night and Thursday but that’s only a slight chance.

As you all know, I was recently at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to cover the launch of DEMO-1, the last test launch before we start sending American Astronauts back into space from American soil on a commercially built rocket. This is the first time in history that NASA has relied on a commercial company (SpaceX) to help them build a launch vehicle that will take people to space. It’s an exciting time in space exploration!

As I wrote my weekly articles for the local papers last week, I made a note to them that this was an especially hard article to write. Normally, I have to say what needs to be said in 300 words or less. That simply wasn’t possible with this experience!

Thankfully, they wrote back and told me to forget the word limit this time; this was too cool not to share with their readers. I was even asked to send pictures, which I did. Both the Fentress Courier and Livingston Enterprise published this full version and they did an outstanding job! I am very grateful to them for that.

Here’s that story. I hope you enjoy!

DEMO-1

For the first time since 2011, the U.S. is poised to send astronauts back into space, from American soil, as early as this summer. The ultimate goal is to get humans to Mars.

NASA hosts events called NASA Socials, where they invite members of the social media community to cover certain events. With a social media following of over 65,000 people, weatherTAP was chosen to cover the launch of DEMO-1 on March 2nd.

DEMO-1 was a test flight to see if the commercially built rocket and cargo ship, built primarily by SpaceX, could carry astronauts into space. The entire mission was a success!

This event allowed me to walk on the launch pad that shuttles flew from. This is also the same launchpad we will leave from Mars on. I was in awe!

We visited the Veggie Lab, where agriculture researchers grow food in zero gravity. We will need to grow our own food as we travel deeper into space. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Fans have to be used to blow the oxygen that plants produce away from the leaves, or the zero gravity environment will cause pure oxygen to build up around the plant, making it explosive.

There’s also the challenge of preventing water from pooling around the plants’ roots. In zero gravity, there’s nothing to pull the water downward into the ground.

We learned of experimental communications methods being tested that may use x-rays to help us communicate faster in space, since those rays travel quickly through most any substance.

We left the Veggie Lab and headed to the launch pad where our rocket stood so proudly. As we stood in awe of that Falcon rocket we noticed a car pulling up. To our surprise, an astronaut decided to come out and talk with us! He was so inspiring, telling us of how amazing the space program is and all the incredible opportunities that are coming. I shook his hand so proudly and I’m still feeling honored to have stood in his presence. Not surprisingly, he had one of the firmest handshakes I have ever felt.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also met with us. He told us of all the new possibilities for space exploration. He told us of how the NASA-SpaceX relationship is a good one. We no longer rely 100% on the government for funding; private companies are getting on board. Another change is that if we lose astronauts on our missions we will no longer shut down the program for a period of time. We will memorialize those fine men and women, and then we will quickly move on.

Emotions were high the night of the launch. In order to safely dock with the International Space Station, the launch would have to take place at 2:48 in the morning. As we were bused to the viewing sight, we anxiously wondered what we would see. For many of us on that bus, the experience of a night launch was completely new!

Then, as the clock counted down, we noticed a distant thunderstorm. Its lightning flashes were beautiful in the night sky, but it made us nervous that it might somehow affect the launch. Thankfully, the storm was moving slowly away, giving us quite the light show in the meantime.

The clock continued counting and then we all noticed a beautiful shooting star. It streaked right across the sky right over the launch sight. It had to mean good luck!

…5…4…3…2…1!

The flame ignited under the Falcon rocket and she light up the sky like a small atomic bomb. Liftoff! She lifted off that pad with such ease and lifted into the sky. Seconds later, the sound waves hit us and jarred us to our core; the ground even shook.

As we watched the rocket rise higher and higher into the sky, the light become dimmer and dimmer. Then, we saw the booster that had carried the capsule into space refire and begin coming back to earth. Using the best space-age technology, SpaceX has figured out how to get rockets to return, which creates an enormous savings to the program.

As we watched the booster return and head to its landing platform out at sea, we all marveled at how far we’ve come over the past few decades. Think about how far we come since those fateful days of the Wright Brothers flying their plane for 59 seconds and 852 feet. That was just a little over 100 years ago.

Can you imagine where the next 100 years are taking us?

The Dragon capsule successfully docked with the ISS and then safely undocked several days later. The splashdown occurred on March 8 and all went perfectly.

This mission’s success proves that we’re ready to go back to space from American soil. The space program is being restored and the depressing days of when the shuttle program was shut down are over.

The future of space exploration is exciting! Already, we have NASA to thank for cell phones, satellite TV, the Jaws of Life, home insulation, CAT scans…. I could go on and on. With a federal budget that is less than one half of one percent, we can certainly say we’ve gotten our money’s worth from NASA!

The future of space exploration is exciting. We’ll soon be going back to the Moon and this time we intend to stay. Then, when we’re comfortable with living on the Moon, we’ll be off to Mars.

If you’re not already excited about the new direction our space program is going you need to be! The sky is literally the limit these days, and I can’t wait to see what we discover next!

 

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