Wonder Wednesday

It may seem incongruous to see a congratulatory text at the bottom of a screen showing a big pile of flaming wreckage… and indeed, this first flight test of SpaceX’s new Starship did end in one of their patented Rapid Unscheduled Disassemblies, aka a RUD, aka “A loud boom and parts everywhere.”

BUT! This was in so many ways an amazing test and a crazy success.  The thing took off, held aloft by three fully burning Raptor engines (making this the first flight of a Methane/LOX engine, perhaps?), soaring upward to 12.5km or nearly 8 miles in altitude (the view from the downward camera was intense), then “skydiving” gracefully back down towards the landing pad before, in the ultimate pièce de résistance, flipping itself back vertical with an engine relight, all well aimed for a pad touchdown.  Not everything went perfect (looks at the image above again… clearly) but for a first try this was incredible.

Unfortunately, I missed watching it it live (I watched live yesterday when they had their last second abort, and I swear earlier I saw that the next attempt wasn’t going to be today but apparently it was) but I’ve watched the replay a couple of times now and it was still intense.  WordPress tends to strips out the proper time link, so go to about 1 hour, 46 minutes into the video to arrive just before the launch :

Even if you’re not interested in space and rockets I still invite you to check it out, it’s impressive enough and there are a couple of moments that’ll make your brain try and figure out what crazy thing it is watching.  And if you really aren’t interested, then I submit to you at least to watch the landing flip, which is captured even more amazingly from this on-the-pad camera:

As for the destruction of the test vehicle, well, not a problem.  They’ve got the next one just about complete, and two more readied right up behind it.  I can’t wait to see them hit orbit.

Wonder Saturday

I have almost no regrets in life.

One regret I do have though is that I once, through a friend who had an astronaut friend going up in the shuttle, had an opportunity to go and watch that shuttle launch, from NASA grounds, in front of that iconic countdown clock.  Yet for a series of reasons I did not do the work to make it all work out so that I could go.  I missed the launch.

That was an err.

This morning, however, I did at least partially rectify that:

Yes!  I headed down to Vandenberg to watch SpaceX launch a Falcon 9… and then bring that first stage right back for a landing a mere couple of hundred feet from where it started.

And it. Was. GLORIOUS.  The skies were (as you can see) almost perfectly clear, and were treated to a grand view of the takeoff (once it cleared the hills the pad sits behind), the ascent, the beautiful fan tail as it hit altitude, the stage separation, the boostback burn, the entry burn, and then the giddiness-inducing landing burn all the way back behind that hill.  Followed a moment later by one heck of a grand sonic boom.  We all were cheering like crazy.

Hours later I’m still all fired up (pun intended).  That flame is bright in a way that no camera can do justice to.  It just sears into you (in a good way).  And those 9 Merlin engines make an absolutely delicious growl — deep thrumming, with a slight crackle, oh it’s divine.  The whole ascent also feels so much quicker than it does watching the webcast; the two minutes until first stage sep goes by so fast.  And coming back, wow, right from the entry burn that booster grew in size in the binocular’s field of view at an amazing rate.  That thing comes back hard and fast and it really gives a sense of what that landing burn is accomplishing to set down so gently onto the pad.

With the pièce de résistence being the sonic krackthoom that rolls across the landscape.

Want to hear it?  Well feast your ears on this audio capture of the whole event! (Quick content note: there is some very excited swearing throughout, because, well, excitement!)

Great day.  Totally loved it.  I’m 100% convinced I need to go watch another launch.  With the reduced cadence at Vandenberg (especially now that polar launches are a thing from Cape Canaveral) I don’t know when that might be, but I will make it out again.

photo above taken by Calvin, who was standing beside me as we marveled in awe at the flight

 

Philosophy Tuesday

Watching the spectacular return of the Crew Dragon capsule over the weekend, reminded me of a few things I love about the space program.

First is the amazing appreciative and acknowledgement culture that exists within NASA.  Back when the ISS was under construction and a friend and I would watch it happening live, we would often joke with each other to say, “they’re thanking each other again.”  And they do thank each other, often and in self-effacing ways, always claiming that the other team or partners “had the hard jobs” and “made our tasks easy.”  It’s really great.  I spoke about it here under the vastly different context of movie credits, but in a way it is the same thing:  Everyone in the program knows, deeply, that they are part of a larger whole and that it takes everyone in that whole putting in maximum effort to pull off a successful mission.  Space is hard™, and things can go awry very quickly (and often have, with visibly disastrous consequences).  And so they value everyone’s contribution and, even more so, celebrate the amazing thing they are accomplishing by working together in a collaborative fashion.  They remove the “but” out of a phrase like “I am but a…”, and instead recognize that their role, and everyone’s role, is vital.  They take no one for granted and they acknowledge it and each other with profuse thank yous.

Second is that within the various space programs a glorious blend of newness and traditions.  For certain, space is the new, with sci-fi rockets and slick technology and exploration to be had and discovery to be made and so much learning.  But the whole thing is also coupled with deep, and fun, traditions, whether they be wholly enclosed within the space program, such as a traditional pre-launch meal (or peeing on the wheel of the transport vehicle), to something with even deeper roots, such as the ringing of the bell at the docking or departing of a ship.  Neither the new nor the old is better than the other, nor is one less or more necessary, both from a technical as well as a human standpoint.  And it is just that – as humans, we can and are often at our greatest when we synthesize the two, bringing forth that which empowers us and others and leaving behind that which does not and causes harm.  We exist in multitudes, and this is one of them.

And lastly is that multitude, that of the international, global, and humanistic endeavour that is slipping the surly bonds of earth, to dance among the stars and the glory of the universe we inhabit on our tiny blue mote of dust.

Wonder Wednesday

An amazing video of the sun that spans a decade!  Every frame encompasses about an hour, capturing our local star and all of its changing glory.

The video description has some links to some really cool moments, including the transits of Venus and Mercury, sunspot clusters, as well as some very prominent flares.  Mesmerizing.

Space X Crew Capsule: Orbit, attained!

Another awesome and exciting launch, the first crewed Dragon 2 mission!  Flawless launch, flawless separation, and she’s flying free, en route to the ISS.  Oh, and stage 1 booster landed successfully as well.  I’m as giddy as all get go.

Best of all?  One of the two astronauts saying, “Let’s light this candle” several minutes before launch.  Classic words.