American Heirlooms - December 2019




On Saturday, Nov. 2, my family left the house around 4:30 a.m. and made a 2 1/2-hour drive to Wallops Island, Virginia, for a rare opportunity. I heard from a few friends that we would see a rocket flying over the ocean near Delaware after it launched on its way to the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman was launching a resupply rocket toward the station, and it was set to take off less than three hours away from our home. Saturday was supposed to be a clear day, and it looked promising to have a good view of the rocket launch. So, rather than wait for it to fly near us in Delaware, we made the trek! We had to ensure we arrived at the visitors center about three hours before the 9:59 a.m. launch to get a good spot to watch all the action. The temperature hovered in the mid-30s, so all the coats, beanies, gloves, and blankets we brought were not overkill. When we first arrived at the station, the amount of security at the visitors center surprised us. A couple of men were walking around with large guns, they had dogs sniffing around the vehicles, and any bags carried in had to be checked. Once inside, we saw a live-view screen of the rocket, and there was a field for viewing the rocket outside from about 4 miles away. To pass the time, we had a foursquare ball and sidewalk chalk. I think the people sitting in their cars watching us had as much entertainment as we did! We didn’t go hungry either. There was a food trailer with breakfast sandwiches, hot chocolate, fries, soda, and burgers. Ultimately, everyone agreed that the hot chocolate was very good, and eating was a great way to pass the time. As the hours ticked away, our anticipation grew. Crew members’ voices rang out from loudspeakers with updates. We heard the actual checklist talk, but the most fun part was the countdown. They called close to 10 men’s names, and we heard their replies saying they were ready. Then they gave the two-minute warning. We all grinned. The boys had been asking all morning, “How long until the launch?” Their answer was just moments away, and then it was one minute … 30 seconds ... 10 seconds … 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... and then we didn’t hear anything.

The steam started to roll, and the rocket slowly lifted. We could see the fire underneath the shuttle, and it went faster. Then we heard the sound of a shot and a roar, and we could feel the rumble. We saw the shuttle lift off several seconds before we heard it, and the sound added to the experience. As the rocket soared, it sounded and looked like a huge torch. It got pretty high up and headed left toward the sun. By that point, we really had to shade our eyes to see the rocket moving. Still, the entire experience was memorable and incredible. People clapped and cheered when we couldn’t see it any longer. We brought a pretty good camera along, but it captured nothing in comparison to what we saw there. And while photos of the event have been great to capture, experiencing something like this with my family and creating those memories was much more valuable. On our way back home, we stopped at a hobby shop and purchased a toy rocket for the boys to shoot off in the backyard. Perhaps we’ll recreate the memory of watching Northrop Grumman Antares take off for space. –Ethan Zimmerman

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