Elusive Orion

We came all this way to explore the moon, but the most important thing is we discovered the Earth
—- William Anders, Apollo 8

“T-6 minutes”
“T&E Launch enable to enable”
“GE Launch enable to enable”
“OSM Launch enable to enable”
“T-5 minutes”
“Coming up to our hold in 5,4,3,2,1”
“Four minutes and holding, this is a 15 minute built-in hold.”
“Vehicle transferred to internal”
“3 minutes 32 seconds and holding”
“Hold, Hold, Hold”
“We have a hold. ALC reason for hold?”
“Ground winds”

This past week, I and maybe half the country and more from around the world converged on the Florida Space Coast at Kennedy Space Center for the scheduled launch of Orion Spacecraft, the future shuttle for manned space flight to Mars and beyond.

NASA’s Orion  is a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle built to transport humans farther than they have ever been, to Mars and beyond. It will serve as an exploration vehicle that will carry and sustain the crew in space, and provide safe re-entry back to Earth. It’s design is similar to the cone shaped capsule used during Apollo missions, only Orion is bigger and better. Orion can carry 6 crew members and is built with the latest avionics–glass cockpit digital control systems and advanced computer systems. Originally scheduled to fly on December 4th atop the Delta IV heavy rocket from launch pad 37A in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Orion flawless flew on December 5th instead on first attempt at 7:05am and after 4 1/2 hours of testing, executing two loops around the Earth in different orbits, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean to a faultless and precise re-entry point. This concluded the first unmanned mission to test the heat shields and other aspects of the capsule. Ultimately, Orion will be launched atop NASA’s new heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The next flight test is not planned until 2018 and the first manned flight tests are not expected until at least 2021.


It was a beautiful Florida fall day, akin to an Indian Summer day, with a few clouds but mostly clear skies. The temperature was a balmy 72 degrees, a tad bit chilly during the pre dawn morning with a gentle breeze blowing. Although it was the middle of the night, the crowd was alert and there was plenty of enthusiasm and energy. It was heartening to see so many kids, I mean, future astronauts, wide awake on a school night and excited 🙂

Four years ago I planned, waited and missed watching a Shuttle launch. Each day, the launch was postponed to the next day, and finally delayed for several months, so I actually never made it to Kennedy Space Center (KSC).  This time arriving at KSC at 2:30 am on the destined day, I saw a steady stream of people already queuing up to catch the bus to the Launch viewing site. There were two advertized launch viewing sites for this launch that the public could purchase tickets: Apollo/Saturn V Rocket facility and NASA Causeway. Orion was scheduled to lift-off from Launchpad 37A at the Cape Canaveral Air Station. Media and special guests of NASA and Lockheed Martin were placed closer to the launch site. Launchpad 37A is 8 miles from the Apollo/Saturn V viewing site that I ended up selecting. There are bleachers and if you get there early, you can find a seat.  The wait time can be any where from 5 to 7 hours or as wide as the launch window plus an additional 4-6 hours.


Suffice it to say, over a period of 2 hours and 44 minutes, a launch was attempted at least 5-6 times and each time even as the countdown was initiated, the launch was scrubbed first due to a stray boat, several times due to winds and finally due to a fuel value issue that was identified during the several attempts. The launch was finally canceled for the day at 9:44am at the end of the launch window. By that time, I and the rest of the crowds had been waiting a patient 8 hours. It took us a further 1-2 hours to return to the KSC Visitor Center.

The prognosis for a December 5th launch looked bleak. Forecast weather only afforded a 40 percent chance of launch. There were rumors that the fuel valve problems might require more time for fixing. This close to the launch site, I missed it again.  It was cloudy and raining where I was, almost 40 miles south of KSC, and I was loath to wake up again at midnight and drive over to KSC and spend another 12 hours waiting for a launch that might not happen! Who knew, on Day 2 that a launch would happen without a glitch on first attempt? I have the worst luck when it comes to viewing rocket launches, at least NASA launches. On the other hand viewing the first manned test flight of SpaceShipOne was a piece of cake.


So yeah, it is still in my bucket list 🙂


NASA Orion
Wikipedia Orion Page