The Spaceship

Written by larry on September 15th, 2013

If you live in Florida, especially the central east coast, you can watch a space launch pretty much whenever you want. Not so up here at 41°35’N/70°32’W. In fact, the last time I saw one I had to travel down to Florida, to watch STS-133, the final launch of Discovery. A long trek, with several false starts, but well worth it.

A few weeks ago, NASA published this graphic, showing where the September 6 LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) launch would be visible.


Fifteen degrees above the horizon? That should be doable. When the appointed day arrived, I was pleased to see a cloudless sky, and got ready to head for the backyard. Then I though it over and headed to the beach instead. Might as well experience all this has to offer.

The prediction was for the ship to become visible at about 11:28 PM, so I arrived about 10 minutes earlier. There were three other cars there, for the same reason. Nice to know I wasn’t the only one to think this was worthwhile.

LADEE appeared on schedule, working its way west to east, pretty much the way NASA predicted.


Guess the math doesn’t lie.

A spectacular sight? Not really. From up in MA, all I could see was a distinctively orange point of light with some sparkles behind it. Nothing like STS-133. I watched the second stage flame out, tracked where the ship ought to be, based on its trajectory, and then saw the third stage light up. When that went out, I was able to watch for a while with the binoculars, but just barely.

The photo below isn’t mine (HT Sean Sullivan,, but it shows the approximate trajectory.


Knowing what I was watching made all the difference, of course. To a random observer, it was just a point of light. But I’m thinking about what it must feel like to be part of the team that put it up there. Years of work, and then in the space of a few minutes, you’ll know whether it was all for naught… or whether you were going to the moon.

I’ll steal a small bit of vicarious pleasure, knowing that it was my country that lobbed that little rocket up there that evening. Yeah, I know I didn’t participate directly. But my tax dollars helped.


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