April 12, 2023

Meet Elena! Team Laika

Have you ever seen a shooting star? Or a supernova? While I can’t say I have — quite unfortunately — I’ve gotten pretty close with the 2023 SpaceX CRS-27 launch.

Of course, I know you can see such rocket launches from the comfort of your homes, all with a quick Google search. Honestly, it’s likely you’d get a better view than anything you’d see viewing such launches in person. But there’s something about viewing rocket launches in the flesh that you simply won’t get when viewing through a screen. The lashing wind you can feel from miles away, the resonance of the rocket roaring as it rips through the sky, burning its mark into your eyes; and although you may be blinded by the retina burn the images seared into your mind aren’t ones so easily erased.

However, before I get ahead of myself, perhaps it’d be prudent for me to provide a little more information as to how I got here. The summer of 2022, the start of it all. During the days of June 28-30, I attended Go For Launch! KSCVC. At this 3-day program we were to create and pitch an experiment idea, which had the chance to be created and launched into space. Of course, this would only be after competing against other idea pitches by other teams, the ultimate experiment of which would be chosen and launched. Yet the idea that an experiment I designed could turn from a figment of my imagination, something existing only on paper, into an actual experiment and fly all the way into the chasms of space — you must admit that the idea is exhilarating.

And so began what I fondly call the three-day boot camp. Days spent learning about space and the jobs of those affiliated with that field, wandering around Kennedy Space Center, completing activities and earning space swag, and thinking over our possible experiment, nights spent in the hotel lobby once again brainstorming our experiment. Pondering over problems encountered in space and possible solutions, coming up with possible ideas and just as quickly discarding them, researching for hours about topic after topic; all I can say is I’m certain those two nights my sleep couldn’t have totaled up to more than 8 hours. All our efforts and sleepless nights were rewarded however, when our team was chosen on the final day.

Unfortunately, our stressing wasn’t over quite yet. Although we’d been chosen this time, we still needed to compete against two other teams to decide whose experiment would ultimately be taking a trip to space. I won’t bore you with the details,

Finally, came the fateful day. Would our experiment be chosen? Would our hard work pay off? So many days and nights of relentless work, put to trial in this moment. I told myself that even if our team wasn’t chosen this would’ve been a wonderful experience I would look back fondly on in the future, one that I would be proud to have been a part of. Even if our team wasn’t chosen, we did all we could, and the fate of our experiment was out of our hands now. With bated breath I shifted nervously in my seat as I waited for the winning team to be announced.

I cannot describe the pure relief and simultaneous elation that swept through my veins when I heard the words, “The team chosen is Team Laika!”.

Soon, it was decided our project would be flying on the SpaceX CRS-27 launch. With this announcement we dived back into work, meeting with different people, finalizing different details, and contacting Space Tango who was in charge of creating our experiment. Before I knew it, the day finally arrived. A three-hour drive later, I arrived in KSCVC. Unlike usual Florida weather, that day was particularly chilly, made worse by the biting winds. I shivered on the rooftop, as the timer slowly counted down the hours, then minutes, then seconds until launch.

When the timer hit 0 and the rocket slowly lifted off, a brilliant blaze on the horizon, I completely forget how cold I was. I stared, transfixed, as that radiant flame soared higher and ever higher, a meteor falling against gravity. Slowly, the flame turned into a pinprick in the night sky, lost amongst the millions of stars. However the show wasn’t over yet. The shooting star had one last parting gift in store for the many spectating eyes. Remember how I mentioned I got pretty close to seeing a supernova?

Now I could delve into the scientific aspect, about how this mini nebula was an effect after stage separation, about how the stunning explosion of colors was from when the two stages were firing their engines to head in different directions, but I won’t.

As expected, I was sick the next day, but I’d argue it was totally worth it.

Higher Orbits has given me an unforgettable experience, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. If ever you have the chance to attend a Go for Launch, I’d say, go for it. Who knows? Maybe you, too, will see a rocket supernova.

Written by Elena Zhu

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