Smoke And Fire

The gallery is just random pictures. If there’s anything you’d like an explanation for, just ask.

I can’t do it justice. I wish I could write something meaningful about the Ares I-X launch, but all you’re going to get is just random observations.

She was beautiful. Wow. After trips down and seeing the shuttle peeking over the pad, Ares I-X was majestic, amazing. She towered over the pad. And the pictures I’ve seen of her all along the development process didn’t begin to do justice to how she looked waiting for launch. Just beautiful. My first sight of her, stacked and ready, was when we arrived Monday afternoon, while it was still light, from “my” pier in Titusville across the river from KSC. And, yeah, she was amazing. After dinner, we went back to the pier in the dark. And — wow! With the xenon lights piercing the sky, she was incredible.

And that was the first time I really began to understand how glad I was I went. Because there has not been a sight like that in decades, and likely won’t for decades. In pictures, the white-with-black I-X looks a little plain compared with the more colorful Ares I. On the pad, though, I can’t help but think that the white upperstage is going to have looked for more regal than the orange. Add to that, Ares I won’t be rising alone out of the launch complex in quite the same way as I-X. I may have been there for what will be the most beautiful pad view for a half-century or more.

The cool thing about the trip was, even the scrub was fortuitous. It meant she was still on the pad Tuesday afternoon for me to see her from closer up (though not nearly as close as I would have liked) on a KSC tour, and meant that the actual launch weather on Wednesday was much better than it would have been on Tuesday. That photo gallery up there has MUCH better pictures than it would have if there hadn’t been a scrub. And, really, how much can I complain that I had to spend an extra day in sunny Florida?

So, the launch then. I was going for history. I was going to be about twice as far from the pad as I had been for the STS-125 launch in May, watching a vehicle with less than half the power. So, mathematically, it should be, what, a quarter as awesome as the shuttle launch? So I was there because I wanted to have been there when she flew.

The reality, though — it was better than STS-125. Even farther away, even with less power. A lot of that was the weather, to be sure — we could see her for far longer than we were able to see Atlantis. And it was a beautiful launch. I was shocked at how slowly she rose from the pad. I’ll admit I haven’t looked at the numbers, but off the top of my head, I was expecting a thrust-to-weight ratio that would cause her to shoot off the pad much more quickly. Instead, she rose gloriously and luxuriantly. Again, amazing. And, something that BIG, that tall, flying like that — she looked … unlikely. A bold defiance of physics. Phenomenal.

And it was history. The first of her kind. In a way, the only of her kind. Sui generis. And she flew brilliantly. All of the naysayers, all of the criticisms that she was too tall, too thin, too top-heavy, whatever, became obsolete. She flew. She flew.

And it made me proud to wear my badge. To be a part, however small, of NASA. To be a part of Marshall Space Flight Center. It’s an honor. An incredible honor.

There was a moment after the launch, on the way to lunch, when I realized just how much the way I think has been shaped by my time with the agency, by working on the book, by the company I’ve kept. There were a lot of adjectives that came to my mind over the preceding two days, a lot of which I’ve used here — beautiful, amazing, incredible, majestic, historic, phenomenal, etc. But there was one adjective that just really summed everything up for me. That gave me goosebumps just thinking it, that’ll give me goosebumps now writing it. And it turned out to be not completely true, but it was certainly close enough. The highest praise you could give Ares I-X and her flight.

It was nominal.