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Excursions - VIP Tours

Fire, roar, aborted takeoff - and a fabulous sunrise
31.08.2022, Cocoa Beach, Ralf Heckel

photos Cosmas blog  Rovernauts Launchreports  Raumfahrt Concret  Werner-Heisenberg-School  

slsmorningFinally, the queue of cars is coming to an end. It is raining. The driver waves us onto the airstrip of the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville. This is a bit north of Cape Canaveral on the mainland. Long lines of cars hobble across the grassy field past the numerous ushers until the car is parked. Our car is a brand new V6 cylinder Ford 15-passenger bus, which you can drive here with a regular car license. It is nevertheless a brute and sluggish like the W50, on which I was fortunately still allowed to learn to drive. It all has something of the ILA in the early years. So off we go to the buses. It is dark, humid and warm with 28 degrees and the grass of the airfield is damp and soft. 2 participants did not make it through the pre-registration. They had no badge and their hearts were up to their necks. Now there was no turning back. But no problem. The controllers still had a "last minute stand" with badges. Relief, saved!

The passengers in the buses are counted and then the column starts to move, while another column of empty buses already arrives again with escort. One can only see something through the front window. All the other windows are fogged up from the air conditioning inside, and from the warm, humid air outside. "Dew point undershoot" is what they call it, and you can't wipe it away. So, we continue through the night. Only dimly do we pass the Visitor Complex, the KSC guardhouse and the large assembly hall (VAB), crushed into water droplets.

boardingThen the bus convoy turns onto the Saturn V Center and we already have to get off. It had stopped raining. On the horizon, Artemis towers brightly illuminated. It is now the size of a fist and only 3 km away in the black of the night. It is a majestic sight! A calming feeling spreads. "We are Going" becomes "We are here!". All tension and fatigue fall away. We enter the grandstand and take our seats. There are still more than 4 hours until the start. The balmy summer air is very pleasant and very clean. The arriving visitors behave quietly. Now and then you see someone sleeping on one of the aluminum benches. Our little Jesco is already one of them.

Helicopters rattle, the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis arrives. VIPs are escorted. A large TV screen occasionally switches on to right of us, only to black out again. Living this moment, with the fueled largest rocket in the world in front of you is, awesome. Rumbling chirps. Suddenly murmurs and uneasiness burst into the silence.

"There is a Fire"! Everyone cranks their necks, pulls out their cameras, shouting. I had just finished installing my tripod with a large telephoto lens and looked through it. Indeed - a huge dark red flame is flickering right out of the side of the launch tower. It's right where the hydrogen and oxygen tanks are. Oh sh.... ! The rocket is filled to the brim with fuel. That's will lead to a bigger explosion than Challenger 1986! And that was already huge!

fireI quickly point all cameras at it and hold the tripod so that it doesn't get knocked over from the soon approaching shock wave. I press myself into the bench, so as not to be knocked over myself, just as the commentator gives the all-clear. At the back of the rocket, a vaporizing hydrogen is being burned off in a controlled manner. There is a video of this from the side. It just looks like .... from our position. He also explains that hydrogen actually burns colorlessly, but the flame here appears reddish because of the gases from the atmosphere. I take a breath of relief! Phew...

The shock slowly subsides, the digital clock with the countdown counts down, and it quiets down again as another murmur goes round: "Ahhh......, Awesome, Amazing". The first rays of sunlight illuminate the various layers of clouds on the horizon in dark red, while above us it is starry and black. This spectacle changes every minute now. Orange hues are added and the clouds keep forming new black sculptures. In the center stands, blazing and steaming the new moon rocket - a breathtaking sight. It all looks like a work of art and yet it is a natural spectacle.

The sun comes out and immediately it gets hot on my forehead. Now there will be a dry period where you just have to grit your teeth. It does not help anything; everyone has to go through it now! It becomes dazzlingly bright and hot. Suddenly, the rocket turns black and is standing there, like a silhouette in the backlight, with the fireball of our solar system to the right of it. This rocket could easily reach it, too. It is a great feeling to be allowed to stand at the side pillar of such an interplanetary bridge.

groupThe pupils and students are busy with photos and interviews. Little Jesco also wants to film the event and I give him a Go-Pro that he should point high into the sky, where the rocket is supposed to fly. He stands there, focused and looking intently at the opposite side, for half an hour. By then, even he had noticed that the countdown had stopped at 40 minutes and wonders why.

Sure enough, there's an unscheduled stop. The commentator explains that one of the engines isn’t cooling enough and that this "bleeding" is just being extrapolated by scientists with data. His voice pitch is unchanged as if this is a planned routine, so no one is really taking it seriously here either. But the countdown stops. Jesco loses patience with his camera and runs away to get a higher vantage point, from which he can see the clock better.

nixI make another short video, just as one sentence comes out of the loudspeakers: "Start aborted". Immediately, the previously amused crowd starts to move. Everything stands up and flocks to the buses. Yes, we are familiar with that. And that should happen quickly, nobody knows what technical problems there are and before everything blows up, you want to have the people in the waiting buses. But we also know the now questioning faces of the students. "What's going on?" The disappointed Jesco, whose dream will not come true today after all, and also a group of younger students from Miami from the AIAA could not believe it. Only the old-timers with hats, canes and their camera equipment were the first to scramble from the high stands onto the buses.

The mood on the bus was low, with only Kenneth, a 66-year-old teacher from Washington, continuing to take pictures on the bus and catching the only sunny photos of the rocket. The day had barely begun, but for us it was coming to an end. We checked into the new hotel and the 30 hours without sleep were made up for.

After waking up it said: Start on Friday. I didn't even know what day it was, with 2 nights awake in just one week and a 6-hour time difference.

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