I am catching up on about a week of activities as I write this because I’ve spent much of my spare time since Monday sleeping! I traveled 6 hours round trip TWICE to witness the launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite at Vandenburg AFB. The first attempt to hit the 30-second launch window at 2:56 A.M. Pacific Time on Tuesday morning (7/1/14) was going great; I and my sleepless, exhilarated new friends (along with about 30 other space enthusiasts from near and far) listened intently to our phones and radios on the dark shoulder of a mountain road overlooking Vandenburg as mission control counted down and completed the final systems checks. About a minute from launch I felt twinges of euphoria and wonder as I reflected on the technological progress we have made as a species. Had our ancestors, the discoverers of fire and the wheel been next to me that night I dare say they would have experienced a vague pride, and probably then quite a bit of fear, and finally very likely some violent territorial anger and primal bloodlust.
15 seconds later I was snapped out of my reverie when it became apparent that something had gone wrong… words like “shut down” and “depressurize” came floating through the fog to my ears in disbelief; apparently there was a failure with water flow on the launch pad. When rockets are launched there is enormous heat directed downward to the pad, and to protect the pad and diffuse some of the acoustic energy the pad is flooded with water, which then is vaporized and rises in massive plumes as the rocket lifts off. “Oh well,” I later thought. “If you haven’t witnessed a launch delay, you aren’t getting the whole space program.”
The launch was rescheduled for the same time on the very next day. All of Tuesday my zombie-like mind just barely had the wherewithal to help organize a second expedition to Vandenburg (only this time I did not volunteer to drive back, special thanks to Leah Ginsberg for her intrepid commitment to science!) So at 2:56 on Wednesday morning I and a new group of interns waited expectantly (with a few less local enthusiasts this time) for what we (or at least I) imagined would be a glorious fireball ascending to the stars… unfortunately and anticlimactically, the marine fog layer between us and the base just barely brightened as mission control counted down past zero and reported a successful launch. Another 6 hours of driving and we got the audio-only version! No matter, life is in the journey. I closed my eyes and felt the roar, and was thankful to be alive.
Here is some info about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, and here are some dark, murky pictures of the rocket launch friends. I didn’t snap any stills of the first trip; these are from the second one:
Wednesday and Thursday were interesting at work to say the least… I projected that my alertness and performance levels would probably drop as the day went on, but apparently I have greater stores of adrenaline than I realized. Their account can wait, though; for now I must travel backwards in spacetime and relive the preceding weekend’s sporadic and tornadic activites…
Standard procedure for some employees at JPL, this most excellent of national research laboratories, is a 9 day/80 hour work week, with every other Friday off. The 6/27-6/29 weekend was the first 3-day of my 10-week stay, and I and the other interns were well prepared to recreate and/or vacate. Some went to Las Vegas, others to Six Flags Magic Mountain. I instead saved some money and checked out a local natural attraction, Eaton Canyon Falls Trail.
Brief summary: A long dusty trail followed by a shaded walk along the rocky canyon bottom, winding around outcroppings and boulders, and finally ending up at a cold pool of clear water where a few families were splashing around. Along the way I befriended some natives, including a mom and dad geologist trailing a much smaller geologist-in-training, then a Grateful Dead fan whose voice, guitar and tambourine could be heard echoing through the canyon, and later a group of rappelling enthusiasts.
When I got back to the dorm a few hours later, I was invited to a stand-up comedy show at the Pasadena Icehouse, the oldest comedy club in the US (verified). The 4 opening acts did a great job warming us up for the headliner: Joe Rogan. He apparently makes regular appearances here, and he would have killed even all by himself.
Following this (and a completely uneventful and hardly even mentionable drive/walk back to the William Carey dorms, where a hearty and restful slumber was had by all), on Saturday morning a group of us decided to head to Venice Beach and check out the Boardwalk, also celebrating our Puerto Rican friend Nicole’s 25th birthday with Trader Joe’s cupcakes and tap water. Lots of interesting people everywhere there, street acrobats, musicians, tattoo parlors and dispensaries… no worries, Seabolt!
It was a really nice day at the beach. Enough said. The rest of my weekend was spent exploring a place called The Museum of Jurassic Technology, the inside of which I was not permitted to take pictures of. But if you are ever in L.A., it’s worth a visit. I also ate at Gloria’s Cafe, a fantastic Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant that was on Guy Fieri’s show. I’m not sure that the word “bomb-tastic” translates well into Caliche, and I didn’t ask.
I hope you have enjoyed this latest installment, whoever you are, and that your Independence Day celebrations (or whatever) are filled with the love and laughter of family and friends. Shout out to my women back home: Vania, Aubrey, Athena, and Aurora. I love and miss you.