Terra Satellite Launch
Vandenberg AFB, CA
...Last-Minute Success
By the next morning (Thursday, Dec. 17) the problem was not yet solved, and so no launch attempt was even made.  (Unfortunately, no one had told us this, so we had already made the 40 mile drive from Santa Barbara to Buellton.)  But Saturday would be the last opportunity for the month of December for both us and Terra.  And so the next morning, with crossed fingers and set jaws, we repeated the process.  The crowd was down to less than half its original strength; the tee shirts were much less in evidence, and the mood was decidedly more nervous than festive….  There was a fair amount of grumbling at the fact that the viewing area on this day was much further from the rocket than the Thursday site.  (It did, however, offer an unobstructed view, which the first site had not.) 

The tension, barely tolerable at the first launch attempt, was even higher this time around, and became more even so as the countdown held once again, this time because of unacceptably high winds aloft.  Finally, with five minutes left in the last launch window, the count resumed… at T-5 minutes!  Finally, with literally seconds left in the window, the tower lit with a piercing orange flame and, to the sounds of clicking cameras and clapping hands, we watched years of our lives climb skyward. 

Ignition!  Interestingly, because we were a good 3-4 miles from the rocket, the liftoff took place in eerie silence while the sound wave made its way across the plain.  (Just like thunder following lightning.)  So it was a good 15-20 seconds before the roar hit us! 

Photos and TV do not do the sight justice.  Even in broad daylight the flame is almost painfully bright.

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