Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-06-22
  Flying past the sky
So monday was the Scaled space launch, and we were there. The drive out the day before was great, Max was excited, the van did great (34 mpg the whole way), we got to the hotel, grabbed a quick pancake and settled down. Well, ok, we had to watch a night-night movie, the we had to go get the lady bugs and the night time flashlight from the van, then we had to cover up the clock because it was keeping the sink awake, then we had to change the pajamas because they got a drip on them, then we needed some more covers, then we got to sleep. Ok, no more blueberry syrup right before bed anymore.

So we woke up the next morning at 3am, hopped in the van, and hit the road again. Made it to Mojave in about 80 minutes and things were pretty quiet. Got right to the airport before we hit any traffic. All the cars were coming from the other direction, so it was an easy turn in for us, then hurry up and wait in a very long line for parking. Sadly, these guys did not know what they were doing. About 30 minutes later, we were parked, and we gathered together our gear and headed to the flight line.

First bit of advise for future viewings: either get a spot in front, or don't bother. We placed our seat behind about four rows of other people, and right up until they rolled out the plane we could see everything. But as soon as there was something to see, there were suddenly four rows of people standing on their folding chairs, blocking our view. David got a great shot of the back of some girl's hat while trying for a picture of the takeoff.
I got some videos of the planes taxing out (the 20x optical zoom on the Cannon GL-1 is great), and then Max was bored. At this point, everything that was going to happen was going to happen up in the air, so we headed back to the van. Max got to sit down, relax in the shade and watch a movie, while David and I watched the planes do wide circles gaining altitude. You can really track them up there for quite a while, first because they're pretty close and the one dual prop plane makes a lot of noise; then later WhiteKnight makes jet trails which are easy to see.

So about seventy five minutes later, they were at altitude (we were hearing the reports on FM radio of the car next to us, ours was playing into Bugs Life), and we searched the sky. I don't know why, but the rocket from our position was about twenty degrees directly below the sun. It fired straight up (through the sun), and then up into space. I don't know of anybody on the ground there that got a good picture of that. But boy did it move fast. I couldn't see anything besides the exhaust plume, but it was still impressive.

Then it was sit and wait. Unfortunately they couldn't verify the altitude in real time, so we were all sitting around guessing. They didn't report apogee on the radio either. But eventually it started coming back down, and after finishing braking, it started flying in formation with all the chase planes. Pretty soon it was big enough to make out, and it came lower and lower. Finally riding in and landing, with one chase plane about ten feet behind it, and the rest a more respectful distance back. The landing gear was fine, and it landed without a hitch. Even for this part, the view was great from the parking lot (we had moved our van closer to the flight line). A lot of other people were out on the roofs of their cars, and in the backs of their trucks. This is the way to go.

Finally, Mike came out, riding on top of the rocket and waved to the crowd. Everyone was very excited. He even took pictures of the crowd for the scrap book, and Burt came out and grabbed one of the signs the crowd was holding up and gave it to Mike to hold. Besides the overhead flights and the landing, this was the best part of being there, because I finally got a real sense of the size and brawn of spaceShipOne. The pictures just don't properly capture the strength in its wings and its presence on the runway (even being towed). Its a great space ship.

I'll see if David has any photos that turned out, and I may eventually dump the video off my DV tape, but for now, the even lives in my memory (and hopefully in Max's as well). It was a great (if tiring) time.

 
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Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
SnowDeal
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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