Saturday, February 27, 2010

Getting a little space, part 2

As luck would have it, there was an Atlas V rocket launch scheduled just two days after the STS-130 launch, at a more reasonable hour of the day. The rocket was carrying NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) into orbit. SDO is designed to give us a better-than-ever view of the star that is the engine of life on earth (the only life we've yet encountered in the universe). See? The romance of it! I was sure the SDO launch couldn't match the wow factor of Endeavour's night launch, but I knew I would love it, and I hoped the kids wouldn't yawn at it.

All five of us went to Kennedy for the scheduled launch, which was scrubbed with less than 4 minutes to go because of winds >20mph. The next day I brought just the two older boys out for the second try, and we had our rocket launch. As expected, there was the drama of the countdown, and the glory of a giant fancy pencil with a flare for an eraser, driving itself into the sky. By chance, there was a layer of clouds that produced a nice sun dog effect in the path of the rocket. And best of all, we witnessed a stunning atmospheric effect that looked like ripples on a pond as the rocket went supersonic on its way up, up, and away. The sundog blew away in the wake of the rocket. It was just so neat. Videos of the launch tend to impress even veteran rocket watchers. Explanations of the effect are also neat to read.

Just two hours later, as the boys and I toured the Space Center, we were amazed to read (@NASA) that SDO was orbiting on her own. Our newest satellite, silently (as things are done in space) unfolded her mechanical leaves to collect solar power, and prepared to stare at the sun for years, to send back to the inhabitants of this little blue planet all sorts of data that we can't detect with any of our ground-based eyes. And we had just watched her launch! Don't you ever just say "Wow!"?

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