WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Wilmoth: We are go for launch

Posted November 20, 2016

It was election night. I was hanging out with my family around our fire pit, discussing the voting process and how they probably would not get to know who our next president would be prior to bedtime, when my phone rang. The caller ID said “Nate Johnson,” and I immediately wondered who I would need to be filling in for at work. Many times, a call or a text from Nate means I’ll be picking up some more work hours. I declined the call, as I was entrenched in our family conversation, but then I got a text. It was from Nate:

“Can you call me? Need to discuss a potential opportunity but time may be of the essence.”

And my wheels start turning. I excused myself from our family discussion to make the call. All I can remember is hearing him ask me if I’d be interested in going down to Florida to cover the launch of GOES-R (the newest weather satellite). Umm, easy answer -- yes!

I stepped back outside to join my family while my eyes swelled up with tears. I filled them in on the possibility and how exciting this news was. In that moment, I went back to my childhood and remembered sitting outside with my parents telling them I wanted to become an astronaut.

That was a childhood dream of mine, and, now, I would get to go to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the first time. Once I found out that my special credentials were approved, I booked my flight and hotel and began counting down the days.

First days

Upon my arrival to KSC, I was once again filled with emotion. I was so excited to see what the next few days had in store for me. The days leading to the launch, I met some amazing people (we began to call them VVIPs, or very very important people).

I met people with NASA, NOAA, United Launch Alliance, Lockheed, government dignitaries…basically anyone who was involved with GOES-R.

I, along with some other meteorologists from across the country, had an exclusive, behind the scenes tour of the iconic NASA Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

Wilmoth: We are go for launch

I knew I was going to get to go inside the VAB, but a surprise awaited us all when we were told we would be taking an elevator to the roof! We gathered together, 52 stories high, and took in the amazing view of crystal clear blue skies and all the launch pads at KSC. We were then driven down to see the Mission to Mars launch pad -- another incredible moment.

The next day, now one day to launch, we met our NASA escort who drove us to a location to watch the rollout of GOES-R (packed inside the large Atlas V rocket) to the launch pad.

After the rollout was complete, we got back in the bus and were driven right up to the launch pad. So, there I stood, my eyes huge and my smile as big as can be, just 150 meters from the rocket and GOES-R! Humbling.

The rest of the day was spent learning all about GOES-R from more of the “VVIPs,” and the excitement was building amongst us all. Tomorrow was the day we had all been waiting for.

Launch day

While many of my fellow meteorologist friends spent this day relaxing at the beach, I couldn’t resist just hanging out at KSC and just taking it all in. Here, I was able to stand right in front of the Shuttle Atlantis for the first time -- another tearful moment for me. It was huge!

With just three hours until launch, it was time to go through the special credentials gate to meet up with our NASA escort. Then, we drove down to the causeway to get ready to view the launch.

We were about three miles away, and the weather could not be more perfect. The launch window was between 5:42 and 6:42 p.m. 5:32 came, and there was an announcement over a loud speaker. There was a problem with the vehicle launch machine, and there would be a delay. In fact, there were multiple delays while they tried to resolve the issue.

During this time, the mood was quite somber. It was fairly silent, too (this is a strange occurrence when you are surrounded by broadcasters).

Finally, another announcement was made at around 6:12. Problem solved…go for launch! But then another announcement said there was an issue in the eastern range. A boat managed to get in the range, and we all started talking about contingencies, thinking we just might have to wait until Sunday for launch. But then another announcement said the eastern range was clear and WE WERE GO FOR LAUNCH!

The cheers rang out, and we all gathered our cameras and prepared for launch. I couldn’t believe it. The new launch time was 6:42 p.m. - the very end of the window.

Wilmoth: We are go for launch

We started the countdown, and I fully anticipated snapping pictures, but I was simply overcome with awe as GOES-R headed up. I stood there watching this amazing night launch and could not believe what I was witnessing. I’m not sure how to put into words just how incredible it was to witness in person. I grabbed my tissue as I knew there would be tears. Emotions sure can be funny. I had tears of joy, and the girl next to me was scared to death! She was convinced that the rocket was going to explode and fall on top of us. That was how close we were.

But the rocket did not explode and GOES-R made it to space.

We have to wait a few months to start getting back some of the data, but I have no doubt we are all in for a treat once the images start coming in!

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  • Charles Boyer Nov 20, 2016
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    "There was a problem with the vehicle launch machine" -- I think you mean "Atlas V."