A Saturday night treat: My NASA Wallops Story

Since my story has now been published in the Fentress Courier, Livingston Enterprise, and now the Crossville Chronicle, I feel like it’s fine to share it here with you all now. There are pics added here that I haven’t shared before. I hope you enjoy!

A NASA Trip to Wallops Island

The International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously occupied by humans for 19 years. That means that today’s teenagers have never lived on an earth occupied by all humans currently living. What an interesting time we live in! 

Of course, the ISS must be resupplied from time to time. This requires a rocket to take supplies up to it. Such a launch was planned for November 2nd and NASA sent out applications for those who would like to exclusively watch it with them. 

I, of course, applied. These invites are called NASA Socials and the competition to get invited is fierce. Hundreds of people apply, but only 50 are chosen. 

When I found out I was selected, I was “over the moon” with excitement. Us NASA nerds like to say that a lot. We’re always “over the moon” about something. 

This launch would take place at Wallops Island, Virginia. I was so anxious to visit this place, as I had never been there before. 

For these NASA Social events, a full day of activities are planned the day before the launch, filled with tours, press conferences, and interviews. 

I might also add how incredibly blessed I am with these invitations. Many people apply for these NASA events dozens of times just to get into one, if they ever get into one at all. This was my fourth NASA Social invitation!

We were to meet at the Wallops Visitor Center bright and early on November 1st, where we would be briefed on the day’s events. 

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The first tour was of the Horizontal Integration Facility. This building is similar to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, with the biggest difference being that this building is horizontal and the VAB building is vertical. 

Inside this building was an Antares rocket that we were allowed to get within feet of. What a sight! It is always so humbling to stand next to something so incredibly powerful. After lots of pictures and talking with those who work in this facility, we headed out to the launch pad. 

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The rocket had been lowered and was horizontal when we arrived at the pad. This is actually something unique to Wallops. They can, in rather short notice, lower rockets on the launch pad and lay them on their side. This allows the last-minute loading of supplies to the ISS, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. That was the case for this rocket, but they were also loading mice onto this rocket. This is only the second time mice have been sent to the ISS. 

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In all, more than 8,000 pounds of supplies and experiments were taken up on this rocket launch. It keeps the astronauts busy performing experiments. The ISS is arguably the most unique research lab in the universe. Some experiments are medical in nature, leading to improved treatments back here on earth. On this particular launch, several experiments by students at various schools were onboard.

One particular item on board this launch has garnered more attention than anything else. That item is an oven. Nothing has ever been baked in an oven in space before. We’re not even sure how that will work in a microgravity environment. As we travel deeper into space, food growing and preparation techniques must be improved. What an improvement to be able to bake something!

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The first thing the astronauts will bake is five chocolate chip cookies. Three of those cookies will be sent back to earth for testing, while the other two will be enjoyed by the astronauts. How “homey” it would feel to smell the aroma of baking cookies on the ISS. 

It is believed that cookies baked in space will bake into spheres. The truth is, we’re just not sure until we do it. Like I said, nothing has ever been baked in an oven in space before.

I am so incredibly blessed to be invited by NASA to see all the things they’ve been so good to show me. We were allowed to view this rocket launch from only three miles away. The sights and sounds of the launch will never get old. Because the speed of sound travels slower than that of light, every mile between you and the launch pad equals one second until sound arrives. Three seconds after the rocket left the pad, we hear that thunderous roar. There’s just nothing like it. In that moment, nothing else matters in the world. It’s just you and the rocket.

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We were also incredibly lucky to have been in a location where the winds were blowing toward us from the rocket. A few minutes after the launch, we smelled the rocket fuel. It was amazing! 

In spite of all this, there’s another side of these NASA Socials that is equally as important. That’s the people I meet on these trips. Lifelong friendships are forged, with each of us bonding over our love for science and all things related to space and NASA. Nothing else matters to us, just our love of space. 

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What a world we could have if we could all just unite over a single passion. 

Space is truly inspiring and there’s so, so much left to learn. We will never get it all figured out but let’s enjoy the journey of discovery! Who knows what we’ll learn next about or magnificent universe!

The photos below are extra ones I took.

Pictured below are the folks working on getting the rocket loaded with last-minute supplies. We could only see them on a monitor.

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This  monitor showed just how close to the coast the launch pad is.

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This is something that has been to space. We were all allowed to touch it.

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This is part of testing. That big tarp looking thing in the back is made from the same material as a bullet proof vest. You could say that’s the largest bullet proof vest you’ve ever seen.

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We were taken to a field of satellite dishes that communicate with satellites in space. DSCN0607

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One of the many places we visited, with tour guides in tow.

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A plaque I snapped a pic of.

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Coolest thing I’ve ever seen hang over a door. haha

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Another tour.

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This is a wheel that has every tool you’ll ever need around it. Just spin it around and find what you need. I think he said there is one like this on the ISS.

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Now, till the next NASA adventure! 🙂

 

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2 thoughts on “A Saturday night treat: My NASA Wallops Story

  1. Mark, Did you hear if you were accepted for the last event you applied for?  I am afraid I might have missed the post! Have a blessed Sabbath.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Like

  2. I finally got word that I had not been accepted. It’s not a huge deal. I mean, I am disappointed, but it was another resupply mission like what I just saw at Wallops. I have applied for some others and I’ll keep you all posted. Fingers crossed!

    Like

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