Go Delta II! Go Kepler!

NASA Kepler Mission Launch—March, 2009

I've been working in the Science Office Center (SOC) for the NASA Kepler mission the past two and half years. The long awaited time for launch had finally arrived.

Attending a launch is an overwhelming experience, especially when you're involved with the payload. The photos do not capture this emotion, but you might get a feel for it from the spectator's reactions in the videos.

One of the most striking aspects of the launch for me was the brightness of the rocket's exhaust. Pictures show the flames as yellow, but in person, the light is perfectly white. If you've ever watched magnesium burn, you get the idea. And then there's the noise of the rocket, which doesn't reach you until the rocket has climbed high into the sky. It wasn't as loud as I had expected, nor did it shake the ground, but it was still quite loud.

Time moves fast. And slow. All at the same time. It seemed like the rocket was gone in seconds, but watching the recording clock on my camera, I saw that minutes had actually gone by.

You can see the photos below in a slideshow, view them on a map, or download the GPS tracks for the flight out or the the flight back. You can also view more photos of the assembly of the Delta II rocket at the Kennedy Space Center's Media Gallery and read the Kepler launch blog.

L-2: Chill and Kepler Reception (Wednesday, 2009-03-04)

Ron Jons, a Cocoa Beach institution

Ron Jons, a Cocoa Beach institution

After a great night's sleep, Lori and I pretty much vegged around the hotel room during the day. Lori worked, while I configured my new ThinkPad T500.

We attended the L-2 Kepler Reception that evening at the Marriot Courtyard hotel. Bill Borucki and Dave Koch were there of course, as well as project management Jim Fanson and Leslie Livesay, and participating scientists including Geoff Marcy. The Science Operations Center (SOC) were there in force in their blue hats (thanks, Jon!), as well as a whole bunch of people from the other units we had never met before.

We stopped by Ron Jons on the way to the reception. Dave raved about it. While we could miss the launch, he said, we couldn't miss going into Ron Jons. It's an enormous surf shop in an odd building. On the other hand, many of the buildings are odd.

You can download the GPS tracks.

L-1: Kennedy Space Center (Thursday, 2009-03-05)

We toured the Kennedy Space Center today starting from the Kennedy Visitor Complex. There is a lot to see and do here. The tickets are valid for a couple of days, and you really need two days to see everything. The tour alone takes most of the day. The Saturn 5 exhibit along the way is amazing. You have no idea of the scale of this rocket until you're right underneath it. We had to skip the International Space Station (ISS) exhibit to get back to the Kepler mission briefing.

Towards the end of the day, we attended the Kepler mission briefing, geared towards family and guests. However, I learned a lot about the Delta II and the launch sequence.

You can download the GPS tracks.

L-0: Launch Day (Friday, 2009-03-06)

After lunch, I checked out Jetty Park where the SOC was going to meet for a picnic dinner and watch the launch. Afterward, Lori and I took a walk on the beach.

You can download the GPS tracks.

L-0: Launch! (Friday, 2009-03-06)

In the evening, we headed back out to Jetty Park and had dinner with the rest of the SOC. While the kids played in the playground, illuminated by the lights of our cars, some of us established our position on the jetty early on to beat the descending hordes and set up our tripods.

The jetty is 2.9 miles from launch pad 17B and is the closest the public can view a launch anywhere in the world.

You can download the GPS tracks.


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