Saturday, February 26, 2011

Discovery Goes Up and a War Story

Occasional Reader Rob sent along a link to this video of Thursday's Space Shuttle launch...

Pretty cool, eh?  Watching this video fired off some long-dormant synapses about other such launches I saw in the way-back.  From my reply to Rob:
Today's (very short) war story...  The video reminded me of watching missile launches at Vandenberg AFB, where I was stationed for a lil over three years.  I arrived there as a jeep two-striper back in '64 and moved into the barracks, as all young troops do.  The first week I was there I was awakened around 0200 hrs by some violent shaking, accompanied by a dull rumble-roar.  Now, I'd been in a few earthquakes as a child and recognized the feeling...  I lept out of bed and literally ran out of the barracks on to the lawn in my underwear, yelling "EARTHQUAKE" at the top of my lungs to wake up the other guys who might be sleeping through this.  And all I got for my concern was angry shouts of derision (and worse) from my fellow airmen, who were NONE too kind.
One of the guys did take pity on me as I walked back in, extremely red-faced and about to fuckin' DIE from embarrassment.  "That was a Titan," he explained.  "You won't feel the Minutemen or even hear 'em until long after they're gone, and the Atlas launches aren't nearly as bad... but yeah, a Titan launch feels just like an earthquake."  The launch pads were about three or four miles from our barracks.
I saw hundreds of launches over the course of the next three years and was also involved in a project to see if our air defense radars could pick up ballistic missile launches (they couldn't and didn't, but that was long ago and radars have changed, along with the times).  That was pretty cool because I was tied into the Vandenberg launch control center in order to start my scope camera three minutes before launch.  I then got to step outside and watch the missile go from our mountain top, which looked exactly like the shuttle launch from that airplane.  Pretty cool, in other words.
You can't possibly imagine how embarrassed I was about that "earthquake" thing, Gentle Reader.  Military guys ain't supposed to panic, for starters, and we're supposed to know every-damned-thing about our service, on top of that.  I betrayed both principles in that episode and it took me quite a while to live that down.

Discovery launch photo from the Daily Mail link, above.


  1. That is totally super cool. I cannot imagine seeing that from an airplane...
    Thanks Buck!

    I hate that real science is taking a back seat to the green agenda... what is it... another year and 9 months to go...

  2. Blame The One for the back seat, Marc. He gutted NASA's budget this year in favor of "alternative energy" boondoggles. Yet another reason I detest that dude.

  3. Great story Buck, thanks for sharing.I'm sure you have seen and done things in the Air Force, many of us can only imagine.

  4. Wowwww. Im assuming that is a a military plane right? Amazingly beautiful. I saw Discovery launch when I was 22 and on hols in Florida. Cried my eyes out!

    Funny story :) Though truthfully? I think you could be entirely forgiven for thinking it was an earthquake

  5. Ed: Thanks. I've done some stuff you wouldn't WANT to imagine, too. ;-)

    Alison: I think the vid was shot from a commercial jet. I also think it's just pretty danged cool you got to watch a space shuttle launch. That's something most Americans haven't had the opportunity to see!

  6. Fusée en Corée du Nord27 February, 2011 13:47

    An Thermal Nuclear ICBM from North Dakota to North Korea or Iran will look the same way...

    Nord à Nord??

    The best Air Force Fighter ever designed, is a rocket out of the Dakota's!

  7. Love this post and the war story. Never seen a missile launch, but I've been close to an MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) unloading, and plenty of hellfire rockets being fired, and I think that one of the things that Hollywood can never do justice to when it comes to the military, is the friggin NOISE. There is so much power in these things that you cannot even guess at unless you've been near it. Beautiful.

  8. That was a cool video. I assume that was the pilots saying "not to be mad if they were late." It reminded me of when I was flying commercially and the pilot took us over a stadium where the Pope was speaking - so that we could say we had seen the Pope. Well, it is not as good as your war story, but such is my life.

  9. Fusée: Back when I was stationed up in NoDak we used to joke that if the state seceded from the Union they'd be the world's third largest nuclear power. There are silos ALL over the freakin' state!

    Andy: No pun, but... I hear ya about the noise. And it IS beautiful.

    Lou: You had a pretty considerate pilot on your Pope-flight. ;-)

  10. Nukes in the Backyard28 February, 2011 15:22

    Ah but...

    North Dakota, having all those fine rockets, would be called a target rich environment by the Ruskies and Chicoms.


    Still, I tell people, I would rather die in the first nuke attack on America, because I certainly don't want to have to kill people for food and water.


Just be polite... that's all I ask.