The Artemis Caper
Greetings from Florida where Black Friday is still sprawling all around us and Thanksgiving is just a lingering bit of indigestion. I would like to tell you about an incredible experience from last week – Tuesday, November 15, to be precise: the first launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket, the biggest rocket of all time, propelling the Orion spacecraft into orbit around the moon. While this Orion is unmanned, the next one won’t be and a human being (and an American) will set foot on the moon for the first time in over 50 years.
While you may ho-hum all of this, what we’re doing in space is preparation for whatever might happen in the earth’s future, most of which these days centers on issues of overpopulation and so-called “climate change.” But that’s a topic for another day.
So it is November 14, Monday afternoon, and my wife and I are returning from the Kennedy Space Center, driving north up Florida Route 1 toward Titusville. The Artemis 1 rocket was going to be launched just after midnight, at precisely 1:08 Tuesday morning. We had seen the Artemis being fueled while at the KSC and were looking forward to watching the launch, even though it would keep us awake far into the night. Now, the Indian River flows between the continental land mass and Merritt Island which is where Kennedy Space Center is located, so any spot beside the would be good.
I’d been following the Artemis 1, this biggest and most powerful rocket on earth, for four or five years. My neighbor and friend across the street works in the space industry and had been close to the action pretty much from the get-go, so he had fed me regular portions of unclassified info. But this wasn’t my first time watching a rocket go up; I’d seen several SpaceX Falcons and the Falcon 9, which is a big rocket itself. We both knew it would not only be something to see, but something we would hear, and feel, because these rockets mightily shake the earth. We would not be disappointed.
Having viewed a few launches from the Shiloh’s Restaurant parking lot, I homed in on it – but they were charging $30 to park your car to view the launch. (Most of the time I’d ridden my bike there.) We’d passed another pullover charging $40! After a quick economic what-if analysis, we determined it was an OK deal for the two of us, $15 apiece, plus we’d have dinner at Shiloh’s, plus we could sit in the car to watch while we waited for the rocket to take off – which is never a sure thing. The Artemis launch had been scrubbed three times before.
We headed into the restaurant around 6PM, and had a wonderful dinner, which we dragged out until the restaurant closed at 9. Then we hung out in the bar for another hour and a half before going out to sit in our car and await the launch – with fingers crossed. I listened to old time radio dramas on SiriusXM while my wife snoozed and pretty soon it was nearly time. The parking lot was full of cars and people were everywhere along the river’s edge, many with cameras or telescopes. We got into conversations with several of them. I like to watch the countdowns and launches on my phone but was having a lot of trouble connecting to the Internet, for the simple reason a massive number of people were also trying to do the same thing, but we live humans kept each other abreast with the action. Fortunately, us viewers created our own human network, shouting out updates to one another.
Minutes from blastoff, the launch was put on hold. We didn’t know why, but we decided to wait it out. You never know about these things. One I watched was scrubbed because the wind up 250 miles above the ground was blowing like crazy, which would have diverted the rocket’s flight. Well, this one was just a delay of only 45 minutes and with rocket-engine light as bright as the sun, there went Artemis off into space, which you can see in this video link from Space.com.
A few days later, we had breakfast with our neighbors and in due course I had to ask him if he knew what had caused the delay. Of course he knew, and he told me. But I can’t tell you, for the usual reason. Suffice to say there are an awful lot of systems and moving parts to a rocket launch? It could be a big something wrong, like Challenger, or something so minor you had to wonder. But these space program engineers won’t let a rocket go up unless everything is five by five.
Which is their way of saying it has to be a hundred percent perfect. And that night, the Artemis flight was a beautiful thing indeed.