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A launch experience (sept 29th)

Posted by: majik - Thu Sep 30, 2004 5:20 pm
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A launch experience (sept 29th) 
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Spaceflight Enthusiast
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Joined: Thu Sep 30, 2004 4:08 pm
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Post A launch experience (sept 29th)   Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 5:20 pm
Hi, I just made an account and I figured that I would introduce myself by giving a personal account of yesterday's launch. I hope people don't mind a little negativity at a few points. I'm writing it all from memory, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the times were a little off.

I'm from San Diego, about 300+ miles south of Mojave. I went to the launch with a friend from work and my girlfriend (who joined us at the last minute). We had read that the flight was planned for 6am, with gates opening at 3am. From what I heard from the test flight, it was pretty packed. So, we decided to get there early. We left just after midnight and drove up, to join the line of cars entering the Mojave Airport at around 330am. It was $20 for our car to get in the gate. We had like 4 or 5 volunteer ppl ask us if we had our parking pass. They were not very organized, sad to say. Traffic was split, VIP one way, general the other. More on VIP later.

Kids from the civil air patrol were directing traffic in a very strange manner to fill the parking lot. Half the people parked up front, other half directed to the back. We were directed to and end up parking at the far end of the lot, which had us quite confused, with all the free space closer to the runway.

We get out of the car and into COLD. If you attend a morning launch I suggest you bring 1) a good chair 2) warm clothes (dress in layers!) 3) blanket or sleeping bag. We were dressed warmly, but the wind has a way of biting through them. I was wishing more than once that I had my leather jacket. I had a flashlight with me which was handy in the dark, as well as some snacks and of course water.

We walk towards the runway. There are 2 runways parallel to each other. The taxi'ing runway, and the takeoff runway. The general viewing area is on the side of the taxi'ing runway at one end. The VIP area is at the other end.

1111111111111111111111111

2222222222222222222222222
VVVVVV ------------- GGGGGG

So 1 is the actual takeoff runway, 2 is the taxi'ing runway, V is the VIP area, and G is general public.

We stake our claim with our chairs as far to the left of the G area as we could and settle in. It's still around 330am at this point. Luckily I'm with good company so the time passes quickly. We check out the vendor stuff as they get set up. Food isn't too expensive for what you'd expect. The merchandise crowd has their stuff set up. Most t-shirts looked to be around $20, with some polo shirts going up to $100!!

The PA system starts announcing stuff. But quickly you realize, its just for the VIP ppl. They're broadcasting lots of information for the VIPs about nice things we don't have in our area (like free soda and bottled water for example). That was kinda mean. Eventually its obvious that the PA system is just telling us whats happing in the area we all wished we could be in. The speeches are all there, the models, etc.

Around 530 or so, the VIP croud is in a tight group, looks like white knight and space ship one are available for viewing. Sadly we we can't even see it from a distance. I think the TV trucks were in the way, but I can only speculate. Our first glimpse of the planes doesn't occur until they are taxi'ing for takeoff. xprize.org page said 6am takeoff, but its closer to 7 when they take off. I've read that white knight doesn't have the equipment for night flight, so it makes sense to me that they'd wait for sunrise. At this point we realize its definitely not going to be as crowded as the test flight was. We could have arrived at 6 and gotten 2nd or 3rd "row" seating.

Taxi and takeoff are beautiful. There are 3 chase planes, 2 of which take off before white knight and one after. The sky has plenty of action to look at. As most of you know by now, its a 1 hr wait while white knight loops higher and higher. It eventually gets to the point where you're watching what looks like 2 dots playing a game of tag. My binoculars come in handy. The sun starting to warm us up at this point, so I lose the sweater. Kinda wish I'd had a long sleeve t-shirt layer too. Most people are not even watching, just waiting for seperation. Even I get distracted and lose them in the sky.

The PA annouces "2 minutes to seperation". The entire crowd comes alive and quickly realizes that no one knows where the planes are! Someone nearby has a radio tuned to receive on the channel they're using so we can hear the seperation prep. It takes a little longer than 2 minutes but still we can't find the planes. The crowd is actually getting frantic :cry:

Just after seperation some shouts "there to the left of the sun!" and we see the contrail. It was much lower on the horizon than we'd expect, but quickly covers plenty of distance. Its incredible to watch, but only I guess for a certain perspective. It's just a contrail after all, but when you think about how fast its going, and about the person inside, you hold your breath, and hope it all turns out well. We have an idea that something wasn't quite right but I actually didn't know about the spiraling until I get home and read it online!

There is a long tense wait as they announce SSO's apex, which actually seems to get more tense up until they annouce he's switched to glider configuration. After that, people start relaxing. Everyone is grinning and looking up at the sky waiting. White Knight comes back down, and circles past. And then we see SSO and a chase plane coming down together. They get into formation, SSO and the 3 chase planes. I had hoped that white knight would join them, but it never did. Thought that was kind of strange. They loop down and SSO comes in for a perfect landing. At this point everyone is cheering. Its about 845 I guess? They announce that SSO will come over to our area after the VIPs get a look at it. But, we have to get home (and actually go to work!) so we start packing up. Our last treat is to see white knight do a swooping turn just above the runaway. That was the icing on the cake.


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Rocket Constructor
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Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 4:05 am
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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 7:03 pm


Last edited by CzarDerivative on Sun Sep 16, 2007 10:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 11:55 pm
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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 02, 2004 12:00 am
I was there, too. What an incredible experience! One suggestion for the announcer: Instead of saying "Look in that direction," please give the direction, such as "Look NorthEast." Those of us in the cheap seats can't see where you're pointing.


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