When I was four and five, my father would drag my butt out of bed at O’Dark Thirty and set me in front of the television to watch the first US astronauts get launched on their “tiny” Redstone and Atlas rockets. (Usually after hours of delays, which was tough at that time of the morning, but I digress.)
Decades later, I wasn’t shy about dragging my kids out of bed before dark, or letting them stay up way too late on a school night, to watch a Shuttle launch or the landing of a rover on Mars.
Tomorrow morning (maybe) there will be a SpaceX launch which will, with any luck, blow to smithereens just over a minute into the launch. It will be at “max Q”, the point of maximum dynamic pressure, when the air pressure on the vehicle will be at its highest and the vehicle will be supersonic and speeding up. It will be spectacular.
Now, of course, it’s unusual to be looking forward to a massive failure of the first stage on launch. Generally that means a “bad day.” But not in this case.
On the nose of the Falcon 9 booster will be a Dragon spacecraft, which SpaceX and NASA hope to start using this year to take astronauts to ISS. It’s been nine years since the Shuttles were retired in 2011 and ever since then we’ve paid for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get us up to and back down from ISS. (These nine years will forever be known in the vernacular as “too God damn long!“)
One of the final tests that Dragon has to pass before being certified to have humans on board is this launch abort test. What happens if there are people in that spacecraft (there won’t be tomorrow) and the booster fails? The system is designed to have Dragon detach from the booster and have its own emergency escape system fire, carrying it away from the booster to where it can simply deploy its parachutes and land in the ocean. Tomorrow we see if that system works in the real world.
I had my alarms set for 04:30 tonight for a potential 05:00 launch (08:00 in Florida) and I was thinking a lot about getting dragged out of bed to watch Shepherd and Grissom and Glenn. It’s been a really long, busy, tough couple of weeks and going into a three-day weekend with some spare time at last, sleeping in until about 09:00 was sounding like an excellent plan. But I set the alarms anyway.
Late word from SpaceX (thanks, guys, really do appreciate the update!) is that weather concerns are going to having them target the end of the four hour launch window, so launch, if it gets off at all tomorrow, will be more like 11:30 to noon in Florida, 8:30 to 9:00 here on the West Coast. If the weather is too rough to go at all, Sunday looks worse, but Monday looks better. So follow SpaceX on Twitter for the latest.
Whenever it occurs, I’ll be thinking about Dad and Mercury and how far we’ve come. We didn’t have Twitter then to tell us we could sleep in and skip those delays. We also didn’t ever root for a booster to go “boom!”
This one time we will. And then we never want to see it again. But if it does…