Seeing my First Rocket Launch

ULS Delta V Launch - small 2016-06-24by Robert Brand

ULA Atlas V Launch – June 24th 2016

Now, I’m not talking about the little stuff that gets to a couple of kilometres. I’m talking about launches to orbit. I missed the largest modern launch earlier in June, but I was at Spacefest – the biggest and best every – and I aimed for later in June – an Atlas V with fewer boosters. I was not disappointed.

Let’s go back a bit. I was 17 when I had a small role in Apollo 11. July 1969 – a bit of wiring for the NASA Video Center in Sydney – it switched the feeds from the Honeysuckle Creek dish and the Parkes dish. It also did some of the media conversion from the Lunar video standard to the US NTSC standard. It was simple work but fun. I worked support of almost every US launch from then into 1986. Mostly very minor, but a few big jobs that counted. None the less, after a lifetime of support for space flight, I had never seen a launch

This trip would be different. I was a speaker at Spacefest in Tucson and then I had planned a 2 week tour of the US space sites in preparation for the our US Insiders Space Tours and so I made it fit in with my flights and travel plans. This is something that we will try to organise on future trips.

This tour of the US would be a space flight dream. It would include seeing all three of the remaining shuttles; the 747 shuttle ferry and replica shuttle on top; two Saturn Vs; numerous Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules; a Soyuz capsule and lots of space suits. There is a huge list of unflown items such as testing rovers, backups, experiments, and a huge number of miscellaneous items. Add to that all that I saw at Spacefest – flown and unflown items – some that went to the moon and back ad so many astronauts that it left me speechless. I’ll add a video of that soon to this website. Of course the final item – The ULA Atlas V Launch. ULA: United Launch Alliance.

+5 Miles (+8Km) from the Launch

Seems a long way away from the action, but it isn’t. The closest place NASA allows anyone is 3.5 miles – 5Km and the view isn’t too different than +5 miles by that stage. I timed my arrival at the NASA Kennedy Space Center pretty well. It was terribly hot. The average temperature for this time of year is 90F / 32C, but this was way hotter than that and very humid. I can be thankful that it was sunny with few clouds.

I hurried through the Visitor Center’s gates and set up under a tree with a clear view to the direction for the launch pad. Smart phones and GPS are a fabulous asset. I had about 5 minutes to spare and running had turn my dry shirt into a real mess with the temperature and humidity. None the less, the launch was proceeding on time and this was not an issue. I readied my camera and unfortunately I did  not have a tripod, but the result was okay considered that I was getting jostled.

There was almost no warning. The sound of the rockets would take about half a minute to reach us. A bright rocket flare suddenly appeared above the trees. It was intense and followed by a tight black plume of exhaust. Dark from the booster exhaust. For the first 30 seconds of the launch there was silence and then the sound hit – the roar and the crackle. The spacecraft was well into the sky when the roar hit from the tree line. I filmed a littler bit of the rapid climb, then I decided to experience it without the viewfinder and finally I filmed the last remnants of the launch. Given the increasing distance to the rocket, the sound lingered long after the vehicle was impossible to see.

DSCF5118Launch Control

The previous day I had been to Launch Control and visited the room that they were preparing for the private launches from KSC. The Launch Room for the ULA launch was out of bounds this close to the launch. There were 4 areas in the lower section for each of the companies to occupy while the higher levels of the procedure were for KSC staff such as the various directors and the Launch Control Director and Assistant Director.

TKSC Launch Control Glasshe picture (above right) is a view of the KSC area with the crawler tracks leading away from the Vehicle Assembly Building. The launch site for the ULA rocket was to the right. The glass (left) is no flimsy bit of material.. It is thick and of course, reinforced being this close to the launch site.

Now just to clarify, this is not mission control for NASA flights. That is in Houston and I will have a story about that visit shortly. This is launch control that gets the rockets on their way to space. In fact when KSC was launching the Space Shuttle, one the roll procedure had taken place or around that time, Launch Control would hand over to Mission Control for the rest of the flight to orbit. Launch Control is basically about getting the Rocket airborne.

KSC Launch Control - Launch Directors Chair.This is one of the strictest procedures that you can imagine. There is a launch procedure manual and it is thick and every task in the book has to be signed off. There are intentional “holds” in the countdown at various times to allow a variety of things to be fixed or checked and these are all included to ensure that the rocket can meet the launch window on time if all goes well.

That is me (right) standing in front of the Launch Directors position. and the Assistant Director is immediately to the right. I forget the name of the launch procedure book, but that is one such book open on the desk. It takes a lot of days to work through the folder and get right up to launch time. You will note that there are no big screens on the wall like at Mission Control. It happens all to fast and during the short few seconds of the launch, there is no time to be watching big screens. Everyone must concentrate of their aspects of the launch.


Firstly an apology. As mentioned earlier, I did not video the whole launch. I was greedy and wanted to watch and feel the launch without a viewfinder in the way. So there are two videos. The first was the initial launch and the second video is the last part of the flight until is was out of site.

The second part of the launch

From the ULA website:

MUOS-5 completes the five-satellite constellation and acts as an on-orbit spare

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., (June 24, 2016) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched the MUOS-5 satellite for the U.S. Navy. The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 June 24 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

MUOS-5 is the final satellite in the five-satellite constellation, which provides war fighters with significantly improved and assured communications worldwide.

Click here to view the ULA Story and website.

Was it Worth the Effort to see this Event?


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