Thursday, September 22, 2011

GRAIL NASA Tweetup Part IX-The Launch Days

After all of the tours and speakers the next day it was time to watch the Delta II 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 003Heavy launch of the GRAIL mission. NASA was nice enough to setup a seating area for us Tweetup participants on a causeway. Other then the oppressive humidity the weather appeared to be great. Limited amount of clouds, great sunrise and slight breezes where we were sitting. Other then waking up early to be in time to catch the busses at 6 am the day was shaping up to be a successful one. I guess a benefit of waking up early was catching the sunrise. The sunsets I normally see come at a much more convenient hour, since I’m usually up nearly year round when they happen.

From the causeway we 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 005could spy numerous NASA and Air Force launch facilities. I took especial note of being able to take a picture of one launch facility and a port-a-potty. I like to think that the without the port-a-potty the launch pad in the background couldn’t have been constructed. Now if you think that’s not true try to build a project without them, if reported OSHA will come down and shut the project down. You could say it’s the most important part of a construction project because its one of the first things to show up on the site.

Everyone got set up in their spot to watch the launch. Once 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 007set up people where milling about. One individual seemed to gather a crowd around him while he held court. It seems that Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t want to sit in the VIP section, but wanted to hang out with all us Tweeps. What was great is that he spent most of the time answering questions about the universe and what ever other topics us Tweeps could come up with. For the most part I felt the interaction between the Tweeps and Mr. Tyson was like watching TV. You could ask a question and hear is response, want to hear more about it ask another question on the topic. Tired of the topic? Ask a question on a different topic and it was like the channel was changed. For the most part there wasn’t much back and forth. It truly felt like a one way discussion happening.

That was until a third grader started asking questions. It’s almost like the same social contract between Mr. Tyson and the third grader didn’t exist as it did with the Tweeps. The perceived rules on how to interact with Mr. Tyson appeared to be different. The interaction was different because the third grader was willing to interact with the answers, not content to just wait for the next topic. Mr. Tyson was espousing on number and factors of numbers. Providing the young person a concept of the size of the various numbers from the tens to googol. It seems that the youngster had issues with one of the large number characterized by the number of stars in the universe. The youngster took issue with the number of stars, since the universe is still creating stars on a daily basis (and destroying them). I could hardly see a socially adept Tweeter doing the same thing. Especially seeing the reaction of the crowd to the interaction. It seemed to be one of amazement and surprise that a third grader would challenge a well respected astrophysics expert on how many stars are in the sky.

Unfortunately the while we where waiting patiently for the first launch window of the morning we got word that the upper level winds where red, or too fast, so the first launch attempt would be scrubbed. A half hour later the second launch window was thwarted by the upper level winds as well. It appeared that we would have to wait one more day for an attempt. Later on the next day, late in the evening, the launch attempt for the next day was scrubbed to allow for more time to inspect the rocket. It appeared that the rocket fuel removal from the rocket after the launch attempt may had some issues. Fortunately for me I was up late enough to get word of the scrub. I heard later that another person wasn’t so lucky and awoke early in the morning to head to the busses unnecessarily.

Finally 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 017the next day the launch would be attempted again. Once again there was a nice sunrise, but this time we were at a different location. The viewing area was at the Kars Park, a bit further away from the previous launch attempt. This time we didn’t have Mr. Tyson to provide entertainment. We did get to see some of the 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 023local wild life. I learned that manatees aren’t photogenic above water, though you can see them pop up every once in a while. Can’t you see the great shot of one in the picture to the left?

In addition to the manatee we spied an alligator. @Fidget02, the person shown in the picture above with Mr. Tyson, got up close and personal with a nest of red ants. I got familiar with the various biting insects flying around.

Unfortunately the first launch window of the morning was scrubbed once again due to high winds. As the 2011-09-13 GRAIL NASATweetup 037second launch window approached it appeared that cloud cover may thwart the next launch window. Fortunately the clouds where the kind that the cameras could see through, so the launch was a go, in regard to cloud cover. As the last launch window approached it appeared that the launch may get upset by upper level winds being too high. Fortunately the last weather balloon to go up came back green so the launch was a go. The rocket took off in a white glow from the solid rocket boosters. The sound of the rocket didn’t catch up with the visuals for quite a time. The rocket was off. Hopefully it makes it to the moon safely and is able to complete the journey. 

The experience of the NASA Tweetup was great. I’d like to thank NASA for holding the event and for my wife to let me go. If you ever have a chance to attend one, I’d recommend it. Hopefully NASA continues to hold these events.

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