Boom! The rocket sprayed itself with water from the acoustic suppression system and rapidly cleared the tower. Within minutes the first stage had detached and the second stage continued to blast the Dragon spacecraft towards the ISS. Just before the video feed cut out, we were treated to a view of the Dragon capsule drifting away from the second stage following SECO 1.
Next up was the electric propulsion development lab, which had several glass cases filled with prototypes, including a Hall thruster from the USSR. Electric propulsion is much more efficient than chemical rockets, but basically incapable of delivering substantial thrust, so only useful on very long duration (obviously unmanned) deep space missions. They are still an area of active research and the lab contained what seemed to be a giant submarine, which was, of course, another vacuum chamber.
We followed that with a visit to Mission control, where giant projection screens showed blips of information still arriving from the Voyager craft, launched in 1974 and now 19 light hours away. Following that, a trip to the high bay, where missions are constructed. Currently in the hot seat was SMAP, a remote soil moisture sensing satellite, complete with a giant rotating deployable dish. Finally, a quick turn around the museum and von Karman hall, with all its highly excellent models of spacecraft, including MRO, Voyager, Cassini, Galileo, and SMAP.
The next morning I could barely move. Age has, it seems, at last caught up with me. Being a spritely 24.999, E left for an Art Deco walking tour in downtown LA, followed by a turn around the Getty. Later that afternoon, P and I picked him up and we drove out through the late afternoon to a nice walking place in the Santa Monica mountains, which includes a labyrinth and an excellent view.
Although a quick scramble to a deserted beach was mooted, we very wisely decided instead to eat bison burgers and, being all redheads, squint at the view. Soon enough it was time to return to LA - this time E flew the plane back to EMT, while E2 and I sat in the back seat and lamented the lack of microphones there. E landed with a bump but no screaming protest of twisting metal (always the preferred option) and before long we were back in Pasadena. E, keen to soak up yet more sun to last him the next few months in Seattle headed to a nearby park for a nap, while I prepared feverishly for the next enormously ambitious activity.
Indeed, our target that night was none other than the famed Mt Wilson 60" telescope. Built between 1893 and 1908, it was, for 6 short years, the largest telescope in the world. In 1914 it was surpassed by the 100" on the next hill over, and together the telescopes made a series of fabulous discoveries, including galaxies, the expanding universe, and a bunch of other things. Today, enthusiasts can rent the telescope for an evening for a price that is reasonable, if divided by 25 participants!
The cars gradually arrived at the top of the mountain and waited in the lot by the gate. From a nearby road there was a great view of the LA basin, including the distant bulk of Catalina island through the haze.
At the appointed time S, our session director, appeared in a jaunty red beetle and led us into the telescope grounds. We parked, enjoyed a quick briefing, deployed our snacks, and watched the dome grind its way open as the sun went down.
The first order of the day was Jupiter. The telescope was so huge we had to climb a ladder to reach an eyepiece larger than my (rather powerful) binoculars. Bending over the lens an image swam into view.
NGC2392, the clown face nebula.
Finally, Saturn crept over the horizon and came into view. By far the most exciting of the gas giants, Saturn was so low we had to climb the ladder and straddle the telescope to view it. At 22 tonnes, no mere human would make the view shake. Saturn, its rings, gaps in the rings, and at least 9 moons were quite visible. Everyone was so impressed with Saturn we decided to pass on the last object, M13, another spectacular globular cluster. By this stage everyone was practically catatonic with pure nerd joy, marking a great end to a pretty awesome day.
We finally found the SpaceX complex. Visible through the fence was the final rocket assembly area, brightly lit and all action. Not bad for 3am on Easter Sunday. I remembered the crucial presence of a supercharger next to the Tesla design studio so we even drove in the driveway to check that out. A few more glimpses of rockets being created and stray parts hanging around, and we returned to the 105 and, dodging buses oddly persistent despite being empty, we said our farewells.
I zoomed out onto the near empty freeways and was tucked into bed probably before E even made it to the check in counter. I had only been awake for 24 hours.