June 11th, 2008

Delta Rising

It's a mere 50 miles from Orlando to the Cape. Roll over the curve of the globe on the straight BeeLine toll road, and you leave behind the theme parks and chain restaurants of the tourist city, heading for the Space Coast and the towering launch pads.

I didn't have time to make that drive today, so I stood in the sweltering heat of an Orlando noon, waiting for the lights in the sky. Orlando's conference centre runs east-west, so I made my way to the platforms on the east edge, and peered eagerly into the haze.

A couple of other folk joined me as we waited for the Delta II Heavy that was launching a gamma ray telescope for NASA from the Cape Canaveral military pads. Insects buzzed past as we waited, hoping there'd be enough of a gap in the cloud to at least see something.

The ten minute hold went on for twenty minutes, and an 11.45 lift-off moved to 12.05. We moved to the shade.

The clock ticked off the minutes, and a web browser on a phone kept us up to date.

"It should be now..."

And there it was, through a fortuitous gap in the clouds, a bright bright yellow dot rushing up the sky, burning its way to learn more about the stars. A moment later it was gone, lost in the high altitude haze of a tropical afternoon. We waited a little longer, but the rocket was lost from view, heading east out across the Atlantic, taking advantage of the Earth's spin.

I walked slowly back out of the heat and humidity, into the cool halls of the air-conditioned conference centre.

Fifty miles away it was impressive. Up close it must have been awesome, 9 solid rocket boosters firing at once. No wonder it was gone in a blink...