On the evening pre launch NASA tour we were privileged to stand within 150 yards of the Atlas V with MSL perched on top. Silhouetted against the sun this 191 foot assemblly of scientific ambition stood a little less than half the height of the Apollo Saturn V. At 363 feet The Saturn V was the largest rocket ever built and is more comparable height wise to the familiar stainless street sculpture the Spire of Dublin which is 398 feet.
After an unlimited photographic bonanza we left the launch pad to head back toward the Vehicle Assembly Building. On our journey groups of red haired hogs appeared , munching in the evening grass as the sun set on an unforgettable day.
Ahead, an invite to a Marstini party and a visit to an Observatory. The party was in a suburban house were everyone seemed to take it for granted that there was a swimming pool in the patio.
The Gale House (named in honour of the landing place for MSL Gale Crater ) was occupied by a large group of Tweeps who had somehow managed to put a very cool party together. It was nice to meet up with other folks who had been in touch with me via Twitter before I left Ireland. @TashaVerse such a good welcome , Jen Scheer @flyingjenny said hi because @commanderbyrne had told her too oh !! what a twangled world the Twitterverse is. 🙂 @Joi_the_Artist showed me some of her richly coloured drawings while I sipped my Marstini before being introduced to @MarsCuriosity and several others whose @ names have escaped me. After some delicious food, I headed to the BCC Planetarium and Observatory with Jane @jhjones for to join in the public evening. The indoor Moon set up impressed me, I wanted to bring it home to Ireland.
In the observatory we looked at Jupiter through a 24 inch scope, while soft spoken astronomers called out the positions of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. On the roof I looked at Orion rising on its side, the words of Robert Frost’s poem never rang so clear and true. The constellation looked like it had fallen down the sky, or perhaps it was me who had tumbled down the planet. The sideways view caused by the clockwork artistry of the workings of the night sky.
Next morning I was picked up at 6am on the dot by @Stephist and was twittering away by 06:25.
@TheScienceGuy Bill Nye looking very dapper spoke about everything . The chief administrator of NASA Charles Bolden gave an impassioned talk about MSL being the precursor of future human Mars missions. Lori Garver the deputy administrator of NASA spoke with great excitment. Astronauts Leyland Melvin @Astro_Flow and Doug Wheelock @Astro_Wheels conducted the astronaut only sport of 'let’s have a midair chest crash just because we can' , and William James Adams @iamwill joined them to speak about education . The Black Eyed Pea star has invested millions of his own dollars in educational programs for young people. @Camilla_SDO said hello to me at the mornings Eyes on the Solar System demo. During the launch group photo that cheeky chicken came flying through the air for me to catch so it could preen its feathers bang on centre of the photo front row.
At T minus 30 I hugged the blow up MSL beside the countdown clock and was then asked to give my thoughts to camera by Lou Braga @Photog4NY so I did. It was very surreal to be there beside this iconic digital clock as I had watched it for years on TV following various launches from Apollo to that pending moment. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the moment was real, the Atlas V with MSL ascended in silence. I looked at it rise and in that muted moment my past present and future merged. The sound followed and engulfed me totally. I watched till the smoke trail dissipated into imperceptible particles before returning to continue tweeting. After spacecraft separation and a huge cheer in the twent, I sat down at my table. 54 years of tears decided to pick that moment to flow. I knew then I was in the right place in my life.
On the plane home as I eased back time to my reality the winder came off in my hand, a timeless moment but for me time had truly stood still when the silent rocket left this planet for Mars.