Terra Satellite Launch
Vandenberg AFB, CA
16-18 December 1999
Developed by a cast of thousands, years late, hundreds of millions over budget, and with the world’s most elaborate scientific data processing system waiting for its downlinks, the Terra satellite – formerly called EOS AM-1 – lifted off from Vandenberg AFB, CA, at 10:57 AM PST on December 18.  Rich served a 2-year stint as manager of the contractor Science Data Support Team, developing the data processing software for the one of the instruments on the spacecraft.   Our reward for that was a collection of emotional scars typical of NASA project veterans, plus an invitation to attend the launch. 

We arrived in Los Angeles at 6 PM on Wednesday, December 16th, and worked our way 100 painful miles up the coast to Santa Barbara, through Los Angeles traffic at its finest.  (LA, you may be aware, has been rated as the only place in the country with worse traffic than Washington DC.  Believe it.)  Launch was scheduled for 10:33 AM on Thursday the 16th; we were to rendezvous with the 750 other pseudo-VIPs at a Marriott hotel in the town of Buellton, about 20 miles from Vandenberg.  There, NASA would bus us to the launch site.

The mood was festive.  The Public Affairs people had done their job: just about everyone had his share of EOS tee shirts, baseball caps, and posters.  There were enough telephoto lenses to stock a large camera store.  And the excitement only grew as the buses drew closer to the site.  The weather was cloudless and cool, about 50 F: perfect for the launch.
The viewing site was a parking on a shallow hillside, with a broad valley separating us from the rocket about 2 miles away.  Conversation stopped as the countdown drew down to a minute, then 50 seconds, then 40 seconds…and stopped.  Word spread quickly: a power surge had tripped a red limit, and the countdown was on hold.  Which is where it stayed, for the next half hour, until the launch window passed and the attempt was scrubbed.  The bus ride back to Buellton was not a happy one.
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