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Excursions - NASA Tour

antares.steamTranslator: Mathilda Drews
The day starts off with a false start. We have an invitation to the German School Washington. This is a secondary school for children of German employees working in the capital of the U.S. As in all German schools outside the country it is taught after the Baden-Württemberg curriculum. Nevertheless, this is not a public high school like you would expect at home, but rather a mixture of a Private- and International School. We enjoy visiting these German schools abroad, like for example frequently the German School in Moscow on the Wernadskowo Prospectus. The head of DLR's Washington office, Mr. Jürgen Drescher, is invited to Wednesdays talk and in return, has invited us.

So we get up early, because this day is important. The plan is the start of the Antares rocket in Wallopps-Iceland, which is a 3.5 hours' drive from Washington. The kids are still tired and do not want to get out of bed. This is due to the jet lag. So Yvonne must remain with them at the hotel. I set off on my own to Potomac and either have to go right through the capitals center or completely avoid it. I decide to bypass it.  First, it is going well. However, on the northern half of the ring road is closing – traffic jam at dawn. In the next 20 minutes I manage to advance less than 2 miles. Heavy hearted I turn around at the next exit, so as not to jeopardize the start date of the Antares. It is 8 o’clock and it promises to be a hot day.

After 4 long hours in the car and a pint of French Vanilla Capuchino at the board-bar we reach Wallopps Iceland. This is a peaceful holiday island with a lagoon in the mud flat. Small wooden hostels with surf and diving schools slightly remind of the 20s Baltic flair. The difference, they are more colorful. Without the navy you would never suspect a Space Center here.

autoschlangewerkstor-wallopsMr. Garmin however leads us to a factory gate: "MARS: Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport". So here we are. There's a space station in the midst of a holiday paradise. It is the fulfillment of all science fiction novels read in youth. Now the adventure begins. NASA gave us a few secret locations which are not known to our navigation system. We go into the unknown and arrive at the end of a lane, the Arbuckle Road. Here is the oyster lake surrounded by a lot of mud and shells. The mud flat produces its own smell. But all this is secondary, because only 2 kilometers before us raises the white Antares rocket into the sky. It shines in the afternoon sun and is topped only by a huge water tower. It has already been worth all the effort.

We are 4 hours early, but already an Indian family with chairs sits on the shore and a man in a white jeep. It is Darrell, the launch manager. We get talking and quickly realize that we share common friends at Cape Canaveral. This could now be an endless conversation. But the kids nag. I had promised them a beach. From what they have here they are disappointed. So we drive once more to the huge white sand beach at the Atlantic. But after 30 minutes it gets uncomfortable there. It comes down to a strong wind. The waves lash high and it is cool - even though the sun shines constantly. We decide to return to the quieter Oyster Lake.

It is jam-packed all of the sudden. The line of cars reaches across the full lane. Everywhere are camping chairs, tripods and people with picnic baskets. These are the railway-fans of the USA. Here one simply watches rocket launches. Many come from far away. The other half consists of the engineers’ family members there at the launch site. There are women, children and grandparents. They all eagerly await the start and have their fingers crossed. I’m not worried about getting the most recent news. Every second has a mobile phone or walkie-talkie to contact anyone over there at the controls. We spread the picnic blanket, put on stands and have the kids play tag with other kids.

I stick to Darrell, the launch manager. He is a veteran and spent 30 years working in the shuttle program. He is from Titusville at Cape Canaveral. All his life he successfully handled the tension of preparation stress, the pressure to succeed and the fear of the failure of a small part of the complex machine handles, and adding to that lived through hard times during the shuttle disasters. Today he is calm and relaxed; no nervous agitation can be felt. His tanned face has a wide smile. He is the complete opposite of all the other visitors to this little, now hectic, shore. I'm interviewing him.

Dim lights

The sheriff loses the most sweat. He has never experienced anything like this. His safe resort island was once sleepy and almost forgotten. He knows everyone by name and their history. Now half the world focuses on this field within 2 hours and looks forward to the white rocket on the other side of the lake. No one takes him seriously. I also get to talk with him. Distribute parking tickets? Pointless. He will be glad when this is all over. Then he drives his with broad hat and rested elbow up and down the lane to keep at least a kind of escape route free. Rapid parking on both sides.

The tension rises. White clouds rise along the rocket. It gets refueled. The super-cold oxygen evaporates at the connection points that lead to the rocket. It's T-22nd. Cameras are set up. Last portraits are made with the rocket in the background. The tension continues to rise. It is now focused silence on the field.

viewers01viewer02At T-12 a large white cloud silently escapes slightly left off the rocket. It rises rapidly to be then quickly drawn long by the wind. A big "Ohhhh" whispers through the crowd. The first turn around and go already. The message of a torn tube quickly makes rounds and in 15 minutes the field is empty again. Only a few remain on their blankets, as well as Darrell and we.

What happened?

Like in the 50's, the rocket is connected with an "umbilical cord" to the outside world. This is a data cable that establishes a connection to the control computer. This cable is cut-off 3 seconds before launch and thus passing control to the personal computer of the missile. Due to the strong wind with which we were suddenly hit, one of these cables solved early. The danger of an error existed and therefore the countdown was aborted. There are security programs that shut down all systems in such cases in a prescribed sequence to "No Go".

Darrell is still calmness in person. I speak with him again and we, after having experienced several shuttle launches before, agree that this problem is a mosquito bite in comparison with the shivering before a Space Shuttle launch. It will be solved. We part after exchanging goodbyes.

The rest of the evening we spend in the nearby seafood restaurant. Like to be expected after a start at Cape Canaveral on the pier everyone is fussing around. We now contribute to the manifestation of Apollo traditions here. This was put to us by Jesco von Puttkamer.

The next launch attempt will be on the 20th April at 5 p.m., so two days later.


Supplement of 21 April 2013, 17:15:

Start was successful today after the 3rd attempt, payload cast-off in orbit n calculated trajectory. Both stages worked successfully. The launch was a great success. This was a great performance! The German media, in particular the mirror-online, may be ashamed of their misplaced cynicism towards the COTS program. We repeat this in the wake of numerous different observed space shuttle launches of the 2010s. We recommend a direct line for a clean journalistic work to keep record on spot, rather than passing on third-party information incorrect and vilified. This way one not only cuts their own branch but goes against the future of their own country.

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