Notes from the Space Coast

On September 5th, 1977, as I was preparing to leave my home in the Midwest to begin work in a distant city, NASA launched the Voyager I spacecraft from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. For the past 43 years, 8 months and 12 days (as of this writing) Voyager has sped on its way into deep space. Now far past our solar system and deep into interstellar space, Voyager is even further away from earth than its predecessor, Voyager 2, which was launched a couple of weeks earlier. Don’t ask me how that happened, I’m not a space nerd, but I have always been fascinated by far time and deep space, so occasionally I like to check the mission clock to see just where Voyager is right now. Check it yourself here. I am amazed at how fast the miles just seem to keep piling up as this piece of man made machinery hauls some serious ass into very deep, deep space.

I live on a section of Florida’s Space Coast that is relatively undisturbed and for the most part, remote. The beach I walk every day is twenty miles distant from Launch Complex 41 where Voyager lifted off nearly half a century ago. In the 60s and 70s, rocket launches from the Cape were a big deal. The networks carried coverage live and launches were watched around the world. Walter Cronkite announced the launches. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley covered the launches.

America watched.

All that has changed. There is a launch from Canaveral nearly every week. Sometimes a couple of times a week. There is no national coverage, but the local cable channel covers it and we get updates sent directly to our cell phones, so who needs the frigging networks anyway. Space flights are not as commonplace as the 8 AM Delta flight to Atlanta, but they are not the stuff of years past either. They don’t demand the attention of the Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo missions. 

We gather on the beach, those of us who live here, downrange from the Cape to watch the rockets  go up.  We watch the Falcon rockets and the Falcon Heavy launches. I know the difference now. The second stage now lands on a drone barge called, appropriately: Of  Course, I Still Love You

The launches draw local crowds, and a manned launch draws a lot more viewers than an unmanned launch. People drive out from Orlando and park across the river from the Space Center to watch them go up, and it’s a hell of a sight no matter how many times you see it.

Knowing that human beings are on board adds a special element of interest, so those launches draw the biggest crowds. We haven’t gone to Mars yet, but we are going.  Soon we will launch a billionaire into space and he and his companions will circle the moon.

Enough said. Once we put a billionaire into outer space, it is a safe bet we are going to Mars.

Today, as I was writing this blog, a sonic boom shook my house, followed shortly thereafter by another, and then another. It was 1:41 PM, and I’d forgotten about the scheduled launch. At 1:37 an Atlas 5 lifted off from pad 41 over at Canaveral. According to NASA, it hit the speed of sound in 47 seconds. That is about 760 miles per  hour in these parts.

On board was a 1-billion-dollar, missile defense satellite, and by the time I pushed back from my chair and made my way outside to squint into the early afternoon Florida sky, it was gone, leaving only a white vapor tail in its wake. It was moving unbelievably fast over the Atlantic. Unbelievably fast.