No matter how many times I hear “3-2-1-liftoff” it is always exciting (and suspenseful) to witness a missile launch. Just a few days ago tourists and locals had gathered at 4th Street South in Cocoa Beach to watch the newest SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and my family and I were among them. Liftoff was scheduled for 10:21 a.m. and the launch window was brief. If the missile failed to launch, the second opportunity would not be until the next day.
As the morning sun beat down on us, we listened to my dad’s short wave radio that kept us up to date on the pre-launch news and countdown. Soon we heard “3-2-1- liftoff” Success!
We could clearly see the white missile slowly lift up, with its massive bright yellow flame beneath it. It was picture perfect against the sky blue sky. It seemed there was only one cloud in the sky, and the Falcon disappeared for a moment as it pierced that cloud and continued to win against earth’s gravity. Northerly wind blew away from us, so we couldn’t enjoy the thunderous roar of the engines. Nevertheless, I still felt awed.
Binoculars would have been helpful for a moment, but having grown up watching launches seemingly all the time – and thus having lots and lots of viewing experience – I chose not to use them. Then puff, a lot of white stuff billowed out – like a halo – from the missile and while it looked different, I assumed it was just a different type of stage separation; after all, it was my first Falcon 9 launch! We turned our backs and headed home.
A few minutes later, we watched the replay on NASA TV which was eerily quiet. Eventually the commentator explained there had been a launch failure at the 2:19 mark, and it dawned on us that we had seen the explosion but from our 12 mile vantage point, we had misdiagnosed the big white puff. Ooops.
We wish the SpaceX team great success both in solving the problems that occurred and for all future launches. Success does not exist without failure, so onwards! And next time, I’ll use binoculars.