Saturday, January 21, 2006

Antigua Tracking Station

We sat in the viewing stands and waited anxiously for the launch. The sky was blue with only a few clouds. The sun was warm, but a chilly wind out of the southeast was kicking up whitecaps on the water.

The target launch time slipped several times. Ground winds were gusting out of limits. A valve on the rockets seemed to be misbehaving. High altitude winds were too strong. And then there was a report that Antigua tracking station had fallen offline.

When I was a child we had a children's record album with short audio skits of great moments in American history. One of them was of Werner von Braun launching a rocket in which von Braun played himself.

Hello, adventurer, he said in a thick German accent as he invited us to witness the first launch of an American rocket.

As the countdown was nearing, he ran thru a checklist of all the tracking stations. I only remember one of them, and I can hear his voice clearly even now.

Antigua Tracking Station, come in, von Braun said. Antigua Tracking Station, come in.

I told this story to Trudy and Ben as we sat in the stands waiting for NASA to get Antigua back online. As we sat there one row from the top of the viewing stands, I shared that childhood memory with them and with the woman in front of us who was clearly listening.

Antigua Tracking Station, come in, I said with a German accent. Antigua Tracking Station, come in!

Ben and Trudy chuckled. The woman in front of us smiled.

I assume they got Antigua back, because a few minutes later the launch slipped again, but this time it was because of something else.

At Cape Canaveral for the New Horizons/Pluto launch

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