I know I’ve been writing quite a bit about space lately (including my visit to the Kennedy Space Center and yesterday’s entry about the failure of Mars One), but there are two more things I have to mention.
In the early 1980s, when the space shuttle program was brand new, I was doing mornings on WHCN/Hartford, an ABC Radio affiliate. Whenever the timing of a NASA launch coincided with my show, I would carry the coverage from ABC reporter Vic Ratner, who was at Cape Canaveral.
In retrospect, it may sound like an odd event to merely listen to, but the whole thing was quite cinematic thanks to Ratner’s choice of words. As the shuttle lifted off the pad, he would always exclaim, “You can hear the roar!” — and we could. He’d then go into some obviously pre-scripted remarks describing the mission, whether the sky was cloudy or clear, who was on board, and the “orange plume.” Frankly, I didn’t care whether any of my listeners cared about the launches. I did, it was my show, and I got en enormous kick out of Ratner’s play-by-play.
The modern equivalent is watching SpaceX launches, like this morning’s mission to add sixty more satellites to Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation which, working with ground receivers, will provide internet access to many places on Earth that don’t have it now. Since these launches have become so commonplace, they don’t get live coverage on any broadcast or cable outlet that I’m aware of — not even NASA TV. Only if the rocket turned sideways and crashed into the Trump impeachment trial would the networks even bother.
Fortunately, SpaceX has lots of its own cameras pointed at, and even onboard, the spacecraft as they lift away from the Kennedy Space Center — and supplies a live feed on both the company’s website and YouTube, complete with its own commentators. I love hearing the hundreds of SpaceX employees who are always gathered around mission control cheering on every successful stage of the expedition, from the tower to deployment of the payload or docking with the International Space Station.
As fun as that is to watch, it’s even better seeing the first stage boosters return to Earth. Having grown up in an era when American spacecraft only returned with a splashdown in the ocean, it’s amazing to see those boosters come back and land — vertically! — at a predetermined site at the Cape or on a drone ship at sea. Hell, there are some mornings when it takes me more effort than that to get out of bed and stand up straight. Many of those boosters have been reused again and again for other SpaceX missions. Today, the company went further, catching one of the Falcon 9’s two fairings (external pieces discarded as the craft gains altitude) in a net on one of those drone ships. For decades, boosters and fairings were considered waste to be discarded, but SpaceX has turned them into a recycling success never before seen.
The most remarkable of those was on April 11, 2019, when two side boosters from the Falcon Heavy landed side-by-side, followed by the core booster landing at sea, all standing up and ready to be put back to work. You can’t hear the roar, but it is still quite thrilling…