December 17, 2019

Michelle’s Launch Experience – Blue Origin New Shepard December Launch with Go For Launch! Project

To date, we’ve sent 9 student experiments to the International Space Station through our Go For Launch! program. These experiments were all created by students (mostly in high school) from their ideas and all purely science based. When we found out we could have an opportunity to fly on a suborbital flight, we had to shift our experiment design focus slightly (see previous blog about Art In Space) but could still instill science and engineering as well as design principles for the payload.

Our first suborbital flight was scheduled with Blue Origin aboard their New Shepard rocket and it was sending the winning experiment from Go For Launch! Full STEAM Ahead Seattle into space. Team Northern Lights was the creator of this payload idea.

Because of the unique nature of Blue Origin’s launch facility (it’s not an official Spaceport) minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to be on the property and the fact that Van Horn, well to be honest, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I was the only one who headed out to Van Horn to watch the launch. But first, I made sure some stellar space swag made it to Northern Lights in Washington state!

The launch was delayed from the original launch date due to weather (this happens!) so we all kept our fingers crossed for better weather the next day. The next day there were some postponements due to fog but them it looked like the weather would clear.

The Northern Lights team assembled together to watch the launch and I headed out to watch the launch from the road with the public. It was very reminiscent of folks watching the space shuttle from the beach or anywhere they could. New friends were made as a common bond was shared of waiting for a rocket to take off! No strike that… waiting for a rocket to take off AND land!

It was a bit challenging because there is no cell reception unless you have a specific carrier (I don’t use that one) and even then there’s only a bar and not always! So I kept checking my watch and we’d try to check the cell phone connection for updates so we made sure we were watching when it happened! (And yes, even my watch is blue… happens to be the colors of Blue Origin AND Higher Orbits!)

Later in the morning than originally planned but when the fog finally dissipated, New Shepard launched and boy was it gorgeous! I cried. Yes, I do that frequently at rocket launches… I find it absolutely beautiful what we as humanity can create and do when we work together. This isn’t just a rocket… it’s the physical representation of hopes, dreams, passion, and hard work. I cry even more when there’s a student payload of ours onboard because I know how this can change their world. (Photo of rocket obviously not taken by me – it’s from the internet. I don’t take pictures during launch as a rule of thumb so I can truly experience the launch and it’s not like I’d get a very good picture if I took it anyway!)

As I stood there with tears streaming down my face… a short time later the rocket comes back and lands. WOW!! AMAZING! Seriously science fiction becoming science fact! And it landed SO close in the scheme of things to the launch pad! Now I am jumping up and down and cheering and so is everyone else. But then something happens that I actually wasn’t prepared for… I’ve seen many many launches and I’ve watched nearly every Blue Origin launch on the webcast but somehow I didn’t “connect the dots” that I would see what happened next… as I stood staring at the empty launch pad and the landing pad where the rocket has just touched down… within a few minutes I see a parachute with the capsule underneath. This was the first time I’ve seen something like this. Again, the tears start! That capsule is carrying a Go For Launch! student payload in it!

The students weren’t all able to get together but all watched and all cheered throughout the entire launch. What a special experience for them!

Congratulations to the New Shepard Team and congratulations to Team Northern Lights!

Thank you to all who supported the Go For Launch! Full STEAM Ahead Seattle event and all who made the launch of this payload possible!

Stay tuned for details about the payload they flew.

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