This was supposed to be the last goal accomplished on my 30 Before 30 list. SpaceX had scheduled the third flight of it’s Falcon Heavy rocket to take place on June 24th at 11:30 PM, exactly 30 minutes before my 30th birthday. It almost seemed like fate, as if the universe was aligning so I could complete one last goal. I was hesitant to book a flight, though, as we were packing up our things and moving to Boston in less than a week.
Why did I want to see this rocket launch?
In February 2018, I watched the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy online. It was a successful launch, sending Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into orbit around the sun. The two side boosters then returned to Earth and simultaneously landed vertically. It was absurd to watch on the live stream. Fifty years ago we landed a man on the moon, and this seemed like the most significant progress in space flight since. I was disappointed I didn’t see it in person.
So I bit. I bought a ticket the day before the launch and flew to Orlando the next day. I got to viewing site early only to find that the launch was delayed three hours. Bummer. I guess it won’t make it on my 30 Before 30 list. I went to my motel and took a nap.
At 1:30 AM, I returned to the viewing site. I’d purchased a ticket for Exploration Tower which is ideally situated 14 miles from Launch Pad 39A and seven miles from Landing Zones 1 & 2. Exploration Tower is seven stories tall with two outdoor launch viewing decks.
I wasn’t the only nerd who thought this was a good idea. It felt like going to a midnight premiere of Star Wars. Lots of enthusiasm waiting for the launch to commence. Through my binoculars, I could barely make out the rocket on the launch pad in the distance.
The official live stream was playing on a TV inside. It was great to get the color commentary narrating the entire event. We listened to the countdown, “3…2…1…liftoff!”
Light travels much faster than sound, a phenomenon most evident at rocket launches. You see the rocket take off, but it’s several seconds before you hear it.
It started off as a rumble and then turned into a crackle, the sound conveying the savageness of the energy being released to accelerate a 1,500 ton rocket to 16,000 mph. It’s a visceral feeling that can only be truly appreciated in person.
The rocket slowly ascended, gaining speed quickly as it turned into a comet streaking across the night sky.
Three minutes in, their fuel spent, the side boosters broke away from the rocket. They then twirled around in the sky and repositioned for the descent back to Earth, like some atmospheric ballet. It was magical to watch and difficult to comprehend the sheer magnitude. Each side booster is over 10 stories tall, and the rocket combined over 20 stories.
The side boosters looked like two asteroids hurtling towards Earth.
As the side boosters approached the landing pad, there was a flash of light and then…KA-BOOM….KA-BOOM. I shrieked, assuming the boosters had just exploded on the landing pad. Foolish me, It was just the delayed sound of the supersonic boosters returning to Earth.
Overall, it was a successful launch. The side boosters landed on their respective pads and the 24 satellite cargo made it to orbit.
This blog post does a poor job describing just how cool this whole experience was. It was an out of this world, double-rainbow kind of moment. I imagine this is what it felt like to watch the Wright brothers as they perfected their first airplanes in the fields of Ohio. It felt like watching the future. In a couple decades, this sight will be commonplace.
Watching this launch further increased my admiration for Elon Musk. He embodies the American dream – immigrating to the United States, creating a billion dollar company in PayPal, and then risking his entire fortune attempting to create a rocket company and an electric car company, both of which he thought had little chance of succeeding, but considered worth pursuing anyways.
I was unable to complete this goal in time for my 30 Before 30 List, but don’t fret…I just added it to the 31 Before 31 List, and immediately crossed it off.