(If you want to start with Part 1, click HERE.)
Orion didn’t launch today. Perhaps by the time that you read this, Orion will have orbited the Earth twice, completing its mission, but as of about 9:00pm Pacific Time on Thursday, it hasn’t done so.
At one point during the countdown, a ship entered an area of the ocean off the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It might have been a cruise ship, or possibly it was a cargo ship. Further delays in the countdown were caused by high winds. Finally, the EFT-1 mission was scrubbed for today when some fill/drain valves in the Delta IV Heavy’s hydrogen fuel loop failed. Most of these details were discussed in today’s post-scrub news conference from Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
The Lofty Duo couldn’t venture to KSC—it’s the penultimate week of regular classes at our university—and so, like many others, we followed the details of today’s launch through NASA TV, social media, and our favorite websites. And Doug attended the NASASocial yesterday at JPL.
During the news conference today, a journalist who should know better referred to the activities that led to the scrub as an “ordeal” and asked the panel if their confidence in the Delta rocket was undermined by the event. The journalist went even further to suggest that today’s scrub might somehow also cast future missions using Atlas rockets in an unflattering light (though today’s mission has nothing to do with Atlas rockets). This journalist seemed to think that launches go on time all the time, though, as we’ve said before on this blog, the space shuttle had an on-time-launch rate of about 40%.
The countdown clock used for decades for such shuttles launches is no longer there. The old countdown clock was rightly considered iconic. The voice counting down to liftoff is familiar to many. Taken together, the clock and calm voice reassure us that everything is going according to plan. KSC’s spiffy new clock has attracted some attention this week. Some have referred to the new clock as an electronic billboard, but it strikes us as a giant smartwatch, that au courant gadget, that might lull many of us into believing that missions go off like clockwork. They don’t.
In following the end of the space shuttle program in 2010-2011, one lesson that the Lofty Duo learned time and again is that rockets go when they’re ready. Scrubs—that means a delay after the tank is filled—are just a part of the rocket business. Lots of people were lamenting the scrub today on social media. Undoubtedly some number of people we know and know of were saddened because they only had enough time in their schedules for a quick trip to the Cape, and now they’ve returned home without seeing a launch.
Being able to keep up with friends’ actions and reactions in more-or-less real time is one reason why NASA has chosen to invest time and energy in maintaining a robust social media presence. This is why NASA has Socials, like yesterday’s multisite event that Doug was lucky enough to attend.
Yesterday’s Armstrong/JPL event that Doug attended was full of excitement. How could it not be? After a quick round of introductions, the event began with a live stream of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Director of Kennedy Space Center Bob Cabana. Former astronauts themselves, Bolden and Cabana could hardly contain their excitement for this new chapter in NASA’s history, the chapter which was supposed to have begun, officially, earlier today, though, of course, the Orion launch will be also a culmination of effort.
On several occasions, Administrator Bolden referred to the Orion mission as a BFD, most assuredly meaning Big Freaking Deal (or some such even more colorful version of the phrase). We’ve seen Director Cabana in person on several occasions (once on the same flight as Anna from the Space Coast to the nation’s capital), and, in the past, he has generally come across as a serious-minded, sober man. But he was clearly drawn in by Bolden’s enthusiasm. We all were. This launch is a BFD!
Bolden and Cabana reminded Doug of schoolboys on the first day of classes after a happy summer, full of energy and ready for a new year. This is a new school year. NASA is learning how to go Mars, and Orion is our first-period class. Or, as another of yesterday’s speakers, John Miller said: “All journeys start with one step. All space journeys start with getting off of the Earth. Orion is that step.”
Part 3 now available HERE!