The long awaited launch of the rocket that will carry supplies and science experiments was successfully launched from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia July 13, 2014. The mission, dubbed Orb-2, was originally going to launch in May, but problems caused it to be pushed back over two months. Over 3000 pounds of supplies are in route to the International Space Station as well as some experiments involving photographic capabilities of satellites.
When most people think of a NASA launch, they think of Florida and reminisce about the Apollo program. Most people do not know that rockets launch from Virginia as well. in fact, the Wallops facility is the most active, with over 15000 missions completed there.
This launch took place on a Sunday, in the middle of summer and it was free to watch. That meant that traffic was heavy around route 175 which is the road that contains the base. State Police were detailed around the Visitors Center to control the thousands of cars and people that wanted to see this in person.
The NASA Visitors Center sits away from the base and is free and open to the public. Sunday, early goers were afforded the prime parking spots for their vehicles on the grounds of the facility. The vantage point is about four miles away. The weather was hazy which meant that viewing the rocket was difficult unless you were within a few miles of it. When conditions are clear, rocket launches are clearly viable from the Philadelphia area. In fact, some rockets are visable over the New England sky. They are clear and unmistakeable.
The rocket was manufactured by the Orbital Company. It will stay docked at the space station for as many as 42 days. after which it will disengage and may be allowed to stay in flight for about two more weeks conducting tests for future missions , before it is maneuvered to burn up over the South Pacific, as it re enters the earths atmosphere. This rocket will carry away with it about 3000 pounds of trash which has been accumulated by the astronauts .
It takes a lot of precision engineering to get this rocket to dock with the space station. On it's final day of approach to the space station, the rocket, named Cygnus will do an engine burn that will bring it to a holding pattern about 2.5 miles away. The a go/no go poll will be done by mission control in Houston. Then thruster burns will bring it less than a mile away. Assuming that is a go, it will then be flown to a position of 825 feet directly below the space station. From there, after making sure everything is perfect it will then fly to within 36 feet which is the capture point. From there, astronauts will use the robotic arm to guide the rocket to the station where it will be berthed at the station.
A lot of science and engineering went into this. The head of NASA Charles Bolden spoke to some 7th grade students before the launch. These kids conducted an experiment to see the similarities of Jelly Fish and humans in space, relating to balance and vertigo. "When I was in 7th grade, I was doing volcanoes",Bolden laughed. Bolden promised "We are going to send men to mars and back to the moon. We do not have to use the moon as a base, we can orbit around it", he said.
Most people who showed up came with binoculars or cameras. from that vantage point, they will come away with souvenir photos. However, with the advent of social media and the ability to share, these images, it helps to spread the word about what NASA is doing,which is what Bolden wants done.
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