My family is not rich, but they did what they could to help us develop our passions: They bought my brother a computer and they sent me to Space Camp. My brother is now a computer programmer, and I am a writer and comedian in New York, so one of us obviously failed to meet his destiny.
While at Space Camp, I had the good fortune to observe the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-55) with the other campers from across Cape Canaveral. For a 10-year-old space nerd, this was about as good as life got. I watched the shuttle — the same one I’d seen take off a dozen times on TV — throw off its Earth-bound shackles and triumphantly take off for outer space. What I remember most is the flaming inch of light driving the shuttle up towards the heavens, so bright it was almost hard to look at against the clear April sky.
I, unfortunately, did not get to experience that moment again. The “marine layer,” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_layer) as they call it in Southern California, created a dense wall of fog that rendered the May 5 launch of the Atlas V rocket containing the Mars Insight lander totally invisible from my vantage point a couple miles away at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
And, yeah, that was a bit of a letdown after having traveled 3,000 miles to see it. But the most important part was that the rocket took off successfully and is currently making its way to Mars, where the hard work by some of the world’s finest scientists, for the better part of a decade, will help us learn more not only about Mars but potentially the formation of our own Earth. This is how I console myself when I realize I crossed the country and got very sick in my unsuccessful pursuit of actually seeing the launch. The landing, by the way, is November 26, 2018.
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This is not to say the trip was a bust. I had the opportunity to speak with some extremely knowledgeable and excited scientists from NASA and JPL about their areas of specialty aboard the Mars Insight lander and its companion mission: the Mars Cube One, the first interplanetary CubeSats. It was a pleasure to engage with the scientists about the potential for discovery that awaits us when the Insight lander arrives on Mars Nov. 26.
I was also able to see the Atlas V-401 rocket up close during the tower pullback. While invisible to me during its launch, a nearly 200-foot-tall rocket is completely and totally awe-inspiring when you’re only 300 feet away. Of course, this dream wouldn’t have become a reality without the labor of hundreds of brilliant scientists and engineers working in concert for years, and I’d like to believe they all would’ve like to be there to watch it begin its journey to Mars.
I met some of the team while we were watching the tower pullback, and they were as excited as you’d imagine watching it take off. I hope, for their sakes, they got to see it.