Of Rockets, Sand and Oceans: A Trip to Vandenberg

The top of a Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Greetings from Lompoc.

Ken Brown and I drove over from Mojave today for the Falcon 9 launch of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite on Saturday morning. Launch is scheduled for 9:17 a.m. PST. As always, your local time may vary. You can catch all the action on NASA TV.

The European environmental satellite, which NASA and NOAA are supporting, will study the oceans. That’s something we saw a good bit of today.

Surf Beach (Credit: Douglas Messier)

We got to the coast in early afternoon and went out to Surf Beach. There’s a small Amtrak train station overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Cross the tracks and there are sand dunes and a path leading down to a long stretch of undeveloped beach.

A warning sign at Surf Beach (Credit: Douglas Messier)

I sat on one of the dunes and ate the lunch I had packed. Somehow, no matter how hard I tried, the sand got everywhere. In the food bags and onto my jacket. Needless to say, lunch was a bit extra crunch.

Looking north on Surf Beach. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The rhythmic sound of the waves crashing ashore were calming. I missed it so much. The desert is a vast ocean of sand, but there are no large bodies of water for miles and miles.

The closest we get to the sound of waves crashing ashore in Mojave is when the winds really get going. But, it’s not quite the same, if for no other reason that you’re worried about what the winds will do to the roof.

Standing on the shore line, the ocean seems to go on forever. Our time on Earth is measured in decades. But, the oceans are eternal. The were here long before us; and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. There’s something comforting in that thought.

A couple and their dog wall along Surf Beach under a cloudy sky. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

A solid deck of clouds frustrated the sun’s efforts to warm the beach. It had been solidly overcast since we left the High Desert. Mojave really doesn’t have weather, it’s mostly temperatures and wind speeds.. It was an odd experience to drive for hours without really seeing the sun.

The ocean was not the only reason we were at Surf Beach. Ken hoped to photograph Falcon 9 on the launch pad some miles to the south of us. But, there was no rocket to be seen, just a construction crane.

Soon it was time to go. We drove to Vandenberg’s main gate where we received out passes. We then joined a caravan out to the launch site. The rocket was lying on its side, which is probably why we couldn’t see it earlier.

We made our way up to a hill overlooking the launch complex where the photographers set up remote cameras to record the launch. Since the Falcon 9’s engines were facing us, there were no pictures allowed. A SpaceX rep told us that they wouldn’t raise the booster into launch position until after dark.

The yellow construction crane was actually on the landing pad where Falcon 9’s first stage will touch down tomorrow. It wasn’t clear why it was there. But, it would definitely have to move soon.

The author at the SpaceX launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

We were able to take some pictures at the second remote camera setup location on the other side of the launch complex. All we could see was the top of the rocket, but it was enough. We also took some selfies with the SpaceX building in the background adorned with the company name.

All in all, it was a good day. If everything goes as planned, Saturday will be a great day.