Last night I was at the shop relatively late doing some modeling for our next generation vehicle (now that we’ve got all the parts ordered for the current generation vehicle and are just finishing up the assembly and moving into testing). The guys had set up a grill outside to make some food since Taco Bell loses its novelty way too fast. Dave had mentioned that the NRO was going to be launching a bird on a Delta IV hopefully sometime last night, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Vandenburg is probably around 200 miles from Mojave, so I figured you wouldn’t likely be able to see much of anything without binoculars or a telescope. I had just grabbed a sausage off the grill, and had stepped inside to grab a bottle of water when the other guys started shouting for me to come outside.
I’m glad I did.
Apparently I was completely wrong. The view was absolutely amazing. The timing of the launch couldn’t have been better (from a spectator in Mojave’s standpoint). The contrails from the first part of the first-stage burn, prior to the start of the gravity turn, were clearly visible, and happened to catch the light from the sunset just right to look like a several mile high pillar of fire. We all just stood there watching for at least a minute or so, all the way to the shutoff for the first stage, at which point the trajectory passed behind some clouds and we lost sight of the vehicle.
Dang that was cool! Boeing may not know how to make a low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicle, but at least they know how to put on quite an amazing show. I’d pay at least $10 to see something like that again.