Friday, August 30, 2013


We have a GO for launch! Yes...the spacecraft is away now, beginning it's life in orbit. I can't even begin to tell you how happy and relieved a LOT of us are. We get our lives back! Well...almost. Turns out I was counting my chickens before the eggs hatched. I hadn't counted on being sucked back into the mix of the de-install of all the equipment at our payload processing facility and the pad itsself. I figured there was enough of the 'normal' group of people to make that happen, and I could get back to my day job. That is not the case. Yesterday (Thursday, the day after launch) was the hardest day yet as we franticly pulled miles of cables from the pad, getting it all ready to ship away to the spacecraft factory who it all belongs to.

But hey...that's such a downer...instead I choose today to focus on the good. The successful launch of NROL-65 (that's the official designator we use for the launch). All of the pictures below are compliments of (I have only one picture from my location, it will be the last shot).

Here is the view of the rocket/spacecraft still in the MST. This was my view multiple times every day for the last many weeks, as I walked across from left to right to get to the stairwell going up.

 This is the area that I lived at these many weeks...the areas of the tower where the spacecraft lives.
This begins at level 16 (but they don't count the lower 2 levels, so it's actually the 18th floor).

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning as the Mobile Service tower has rolled away, leaving the rocket standing on the pad connected to the Umbilical Tower (UT). 

 And we have ignition! The large plume of fire is the free hydrogen gas that has been vented off the three boosters. The engine on the starboard (right-most) rocket lit at T-7 seconds in an attempt to burn off all this hydrogen gas (and suck it down as it gets roaring) and the middle/left engines fire at T-2 seconds. At this time the white payload air duct is still connected to the fairing/spacecraft (connected on the left side of the fairing, on the opposite side of the giant mission decal).

And we have liftoff! You can see the payload air duct flinging away as the umbilical arms swing away from the rocket as it clears the pad. You can also see the scorching on the orange boosters from the hydrogen cloud.

And the rocket has cleared the umbilical tower in a blaze of fire!

This is a nice picture showing both halves of the MST just as the rocket has lifted above them. 

She's a real beauty in flight! You can still see some of the insulation is still burning in-between the middle and right rockets down near the engine nozzles.

And here she's really picking up some speed, heading away on it's course to orbit.

And this is my picture. The rockets have stopped with the exhaust plume..but you can still see three small glow-spots from the main engines. I was lucky enough to catch it in the same frame as the moon. Goodbye to our's been a long haul but we made it. Live long and prosper!

And that about wraps up the launch. Hopefully soon now we will have all the post-launch work done and I will be able to resume my LIFE! I think I had 2 bike rides in the last month, and that's very unsatisfactory! I hope to ride at least TWICE this weekend (YES, I get ALL THREE DAYS OFF...Woo-HOO!) And the weather is actually cooperating for a change...nice weather today and all thru the weekend forecast. I can hardly believe it! I'm giddy with the thought of THREE DAYS a ROW!

And's hoping you have an awesome Labor Day weekend...the un-official end of summer. Get out there and do something FUN! And be safe!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

There's LIGHT at the end of the tunnel!

It's a bit after 4am on Sunday, and I'm at work. And it's my LAST shift with the spacecraft! The graveyard shift is on their way home, and we the dayshift guys have the helm (a bit of Navy speak there). It's going to be a long quiet day as there's no major ops planned on our side, but that's's a nice way to end this LONG run of 4 months of crazy shifts. Yesterday was a BIG day as we reached a major milestone with the vehicle and it's preperation for launch. All is well...and as far as we know we are go for launch this coming Wednesday (HOORAY!) I won't be on shift here at the pad at all either Monday or Tuesday, and launch day only has one electrical guy on shift, so I'm thinking of taking the day off. I'm planning on taking my Mt bike down to the Gaviota area (on the coast, about 40 miles south of here), park the car, and find a good spot to watch the launch, then go for a nice ride after that...a GREAT way to end this long run of work. Next week we jump right into the next launch, but our part on that vehicle won't be very much...this particular vehicle is our 'bread and butter' program, and it's our last of that particular contract. Not sure where we will be in the future, but our contract with the Government (Air Force) is up for renewall/renegotiation in March 2014, and we are overstaffed for our future role, (whatever that is). There's been a trend these last 6 years where some of our work is funneled off to another group, and each successive launch we've done has had a bit more taken away. For this particular launch we didn't have nearly the work we did back on my first campaign back in 2005...back then we owned the pad so to speak, and we did almost everything. So come next year, there will be layoffs or certainly job shifts/reassignments,, but I'm pretty sure that I'm safe. For us electrical types we don't have enough of's the mechanical  guys who should be (and are, I can assure you) worried. Also some of the managers...we seem to have WAY too many of  those (isn't that the way it always is?) Anyway, enough on that.

The US Pro Challenge (aka the Tour of Colorado) is over, and I haven't seen a lick of it. I finally broke down yesterday (during my long 12 hr Saturday shift, during a moment of quiet) and peeked at Velo News. I have all the stages recorded on the DVR, but not sure when I'll get a chance to watch them...or even if I will's always rather unsatisfying to watch a race that's history, especially if you know the outcome. The Vuelta is also underway...and I doubt very much that I'll see any of that either...that's always one of the races that I 'watch' via Velo News. Really hoping Chris Horner can pull off some magic and get a high GC placement...but the cards are stacked against him...he's got some fierce YOUNG guys between him and the podium for sure.

Not much else to talk about for now...I'll have some pics to post of our launch...prob put those up maybe Wednesday evening. Keep your fingers crossed...this is a very important launch for US (and by US I mean the U.S). We've all got some tax dollars sitting here on the pad...these are extremely expensive expensive that it's totally worth it to use THREE expendable rockets to get it up into orbit. Bad things happen in the spacelaunch biz, but not this time. We are going for gold...and that's the only medal that counts. If you feel so inclined you can follow the launch (and likely even watch live online video) at have already posted the launch time as 10:52am pacific time, Wednesday the 28th. They will have the mission link up giving you written progress reports many hours before the launch as the rocket is fueled and readied for launch.

Here is the link to the Mission Status page (save you the trouble of finding it):

This is exciting stuff! SO much can go wrong, but there is an army of people dedicated to not letting any of that happen. I can't even begin to describe the ga-zillions of man-hours involved in a launch campaign...starting with the factories that build the rockets and spacecraft (that takes years), and then transporting both to the pad, and prepping them for their journey. It's just a HUMONGOUS undertaking. Keep your fingers crossed, I sure will (sure, we've done the work to the best of our abilities, but still a little luck is always a good thing).

Have a GREAT week, and be safe out there!

Here's to a successful launch...CHEERS!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Prime Time!

Today starts the US Pro Challenge (I still refer to it as the "Tour of Colorado"). HOORAY! More racing on prime-time, EVERY DAY! Woo-HOO! I knew I kept my NBC Sports satellite upgrade package alive for something! It should be a really great race...Tommy D is primed to kick some butt! And TJ is hopefully done licking his wounds from Le Tour and should really be motivated to put in a good ride for his team.

And MORE good cycling news: Jens has officially signed with Trek for another year! HOORAY again! Just LOVE that guy...can't think of anybody else in the peleton quite like him...he's a great personality, a wonderful role model, and he doesn't make excuses...he just rides! You have to respect a man that can do that for so many years and still maintain his love for riding.

On to some sad news...I had the entire weekend off (that's not the sad news)...can't remember when I last had both Saturday and Sunday off...maybe back in early July? Seems like forever ago. ANYWAY. I was able to make the Saturday morning club ride. I've been wanting to hear some more info on Shannon (the girl on our club who was hit by a car back on July 18th). Well...her good friend and co-worker Rick was at the ride (last time I saw him we were coming down a canyon descent and he crashed on a turn..slid out and went off into the grass. He appeared ok, and must have had a good adreneline rush, as he was on the front most of the way home after that...but it turned out he broke his collar-bone (again). So I haven't seen him in months. Well...last week he made the drive up to San Jose to visit with Shannon. He said he only intended to stay about an hour...but 7 hours later he had to beg forgiveness as he had a 3 hour drive back home. He said "what can you say...she's Shannon" (note: all the rides I've done with her, you can usually find her chatting it up nearly the entire ride with whoever is opposite her in our typical double-paceline....all while some of us off the back are gasping for air and having our legs ripped off).

So I asked Rick point blank "so what kind of recovery is she expected to make? When will she be back on the bike?" (all I knew thus far is what her husband Eric has been posting on her blog). Turns out I'm rather stunned, and also sad I asked, as it's rather devastating. She's a quadraplegic. Zero chance of the legs ever coming back, and not very good odds of any use of arms/hands again. He said if she's REALLY lucky, in a year or 2 she might have some limited use of her arms...but that's very iffy. I was not prepared for that...I've been assuming she would be making a full recovery.

Suddenly I wasn't very excited to be on my road bike...spent the entire ride looking in my mirror, trying to stay as far on the edge of the road/shoulder as I could...quite honestly, I didn't enjoy myself very much at all (and it was a rather nice day for a change). Then on Sunday I met up with the dirt-segment of the club for a nice MT bike ride...and big Tony was there as usual (he works at the bike shop...he's a GREAT mechanic, salesman, AWESOME rider both road and dirt, and super nice guy). I mentioned to him that I hadn't known the full extent of Shannon's injuries until I talked to Rick...and he said "I know...why do you think I haven't been to the Saturday morning rides lately? I just can't seem get back on my road bike...and that's bad, cuz I sell them". WOW. This is a guy who has raced both on and off road. He goes downhill on most any surface like nobody else I've ever ridden with...and climbs surprisingly strong for a big guy (he must weigh at least 210-220lbs). He said he's not sure when he'll get back on the road bike, if ever. I think he's really hurt by this, much more than he alludes to (heck, I'm hurt by this and I've only known her for 7 months or so)...I gather he's been riding with her for years. He also said that he knew 2 other people who have been hit and killed right here in the local area in the last 2 or 3 years (one of the guys was his friend older gentleman who founded the 'other' cycling club in town: the Cutters...he was hit last year just below Vandenberg grade...he was solo riding along the road headed for the grade when an old guy zooming along in his land-yacht had veered way onto the shoulder and struck him, killing him instantly. His little roadside memorial complete with a Cutters jersey is still standing on the side of the road where he died...I ride by it every time I go up the Grade on my after-work rides). The other death was a 19 yr old kid on a popular cycling route just outside of town...he was hit by a 19yr old girl (he graduated w/ her just a year earlier) who was texting as she drove her truck. Tony had sold him the bike.

I surely don't know what the answers are as to why so many cyclists are getting hit...wish I knew a solution but I don't. Just seems to be so many distracted drivers...or maybe it's that there's so many more cyclists that it's just the odds that more will be hit by having the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can say that I don't know of ANY road riders who don't have a scary story of a close call or an actual hit by a vehicle (Tony told me that Rick has been hit by a truck years back which did substantial damage...he is mostly recovered from that but apparently he's also just prone to crash...can't imagine why his wife hasn't buried his road bike somewhere never to be seen again).

Sorry to be ending this post on such a's just how I feel right now...can't get poor Shannon out of my head. How she and her husband/family are dealing with this is beyond me. I hope and pray I never have that kind of challenge in my life...bad things happen to people all the time and there's surely no rhyme or reason. It just is. Life can be beautiful, and it can be hard. I guess you just have to take it one day at a time and pray you're one of the lucky ones. Guess there's something to be said for being a couch-potato.

Be safe out there! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The risks we take

Back on Tuesday after work I stopped by my LBS (Local Bike Shop) to finally figure out which list I need to be on to ensure I'd get all the emails about the cycling club I joined back in February (Col Vento Cycling). Since I started riding with them I've been on again/off again in reciept of the clubs weekly emails about the upcoming events and rides...during the times when I wasn't recieving the emails I'd just show up by 8:05am on Saturday morning at the usual place, and over the next 10 minutes or so a varying amount of people would show up to ride, and off we'd go on the stroke of 8:20 to 8:25'ish (one thing that constantly annoys me is people showing up LATE to group rides, and everybody waiting for one or two's a pet peeve of mine).  I'd tried every link from the Main Street Cycles website, but nothing short of showing up in person and having my email address placed into the "Constant Contact" site has worked. This seemed to be the ticket, as on Wednesday I got a club update about Shannon and her reccovery. RECOVERY? You see, she had been hit by a vehicle back on July 18th while on a bike ride, and I JUST found out about it (I've been working so many hours that I've missed all of the club rides for the last month). Here's the note in the club email:

For those the didn't know. 
Shannon was hit while on her bicycle when a Ford Ranger turned right at an intersection into her.  The result was a shattered C6 vertebrae in her neck and severe spinal column damage.  There was lots of road rash but not a single other bone was broken.  
Please keep Shannon and the Sweeney family in your thoughts and prayers. 
Here is a web page to keep you updated:  


I've ridden with Shannon many times since my humble club-ride beginnings back in February, and she is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet (and she's a beast on the bike too btw).

Her husband Eric (whom I've not yet had the pleasure of meeting) started the blog. If you are interested, the link is above, just below the large print notice and is simply called "SHANNON". Eric has been posting updates about her progress and occasional pictures. The latest update says she is FINALLY well enough to travel up to San Jose where she will continue her recovery at an "Acute Care Clinic". Her insurance won't cover a helicopter ride, so they had considered flying, but now it seems they are down to 'ground transportation' (ambulance I assume, being as she's still on a respirator, breathing thru a tracheostomy). She's also still getting her food thru an IV (Eric said her calories were upped to 72 an hour just yesterday, as it's been quite a struggle to get her systems functioning again)....she's been thru Pnumonia among other things, including MRSA (had to look that up on the's a bad form of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics). It meant everybody coming into contact with her needed to wear a smock and gloves.

Here's Eric's blog paragraph from the 19th (the day after the accident):

"Shannon underwent over 6 hours of surgery to remove the shattered bone and rebuild her neck with titanium. Shannon can control her biceps and shoulders but cannot feel or move anything else from just under her collar bone.  She can feel most of her fingers, but not move them."

Here's the one picture I'll post, Eric put it on the blog 2 days ago:

I have a hard time reconciling this picture with the chatty super-nice girl I've been riding with on Saturdays.

In the blink of an eye her life has changed dramaticly, thru no fault of her own. I can't imagine how her family is dealing with this (along with her husband Eric they have 2 boys).  Life can (and usually does) change in an instant. I can't even begin to imagine when she will be back on the bike again...I'd say that it's not sure she will be, but knowing her (she is quite a fighter) I'm sure she will. And while I'm sending her my thoughts and prayers for a full and speedy recovery, I can't help but ponder how helpless we are out there on our bikes. How fragile we really are. And how so very much of what happens to us is out of our control...she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't know the specifics of the accident but think about it a LOT in these last 2 days (was the driver on his cell phone? Just didn't see her? HOW did this happen?) I know that I've always been scared to death about drivers using their cell phones in a non-hands free mode. I see it  EVERY DAY, even though it's illegal here in California. And talking on the phone while holding it up to your ear with one hand is bad enough (you can almost always tell, as they are OBVIOUSLY not paying attention very well), but that's not NEARLY as scary as the ones I see continually looking up and down as they are texting with their phone in their lap.

I just don't see  how this  will ever be fixed until the law is changed to make cell phone use (non hands free) an offense comprable to DUI...where the first offense nets you a minimum 6 months loss of liscense, along with HUGE fines (and your needing to hire a lawyer) and even possibly a week or 2 of jail time...THAT would fix this problem in a jiffy I bet. Surely the drinking and driving is FAR less of a problem than it was 20 years ago, when the courts handed a wink and a hand-slap small fine even when someone died. Cell phones are surely the scariest thing to happen to cyclists since the invention of the automobile and booze. But as I said, I have no idea if the driver of the car that hit her was on his phone...I'm just going off on a rant becasue I know how dangerous they are to those of us not surrounded by a ton or so of steel (and even then, when 2 auto's collide it's never going to be a good thing). Surely all the drivers who use their phones non  hands-free, I'm sure they all feel like it's no big deal (right up until they ruin somebody's life that is, and possibly their own). It's much like the drunk drivers...sure they are sorry afterwards, but up until that moment it was something that happens to 'other people'. And I'd by lying if I said that I've NEVER picked up my cell phone while driving and made a call (however I CAN say that I've never texted...but that's not really saying much as I think I've only made one or two texts EVER, and that was year ago)...but now I have food for thought and the will to NOT EVER do that again. I know I need to do better, and I vow that I shall. The posiblity of being hurt while enjoying a ride just got a whole lot more personal.

I urge everybody to think for a moment when behind the wheel. It only takes a moment for things to go horribly wrong...but we'll never know how many tragic accidents have been avoided by people simply paying more attention on the road. Sometimes we all need a little 'wake-up call' to get us to think differently. Shannon and her family sure got theirs.

Be safe out there and remember to share the road. We all need to look out for each other!

Stay Frosty!


Monday, August 5, 2013

Tour of Utah

Tuesday is the start of the 2013 Tour of Utah. This is the first year they have branched out and will see 'the rest' of Utah...(well, not 'the rest' by any means, but certainly 'more'). Here's a link that describes the stages:

I did a "Cycling" search on my Dish Network yesterday, and saw that on Wednesday (I think) there is some ToU coverage...didn't even pay attention to who was broadcasting it...SWEET! And then yesterday morning I think it was on the BEIN network they were showing a live London race...the Surrey Classic I believe. I caught some of it but was pretty busy so didn't get to stick around to see the players/winner.

Anyway...back to the ToU. Horner will be there looking to avenge his being left off this years TDF team, and he appears to be ready to rock. This will be a good warmup for him before the Vuelta, which he has targeted as a race he really wants to win. Wouldn't THAT be somethig....a 42 year old cyclist winning a Grand Tour! I'll really be rooting for him in both the ToU and the Vuelta...sadly I doubt I'll see much coverage of either...I guess watching le Tour we get spoiled and expect that kind of coverage every day...wouldn't THAT be great? All 3 Grand Tours with TDF-quality daily coverage....ahh...we can dream!

This years ToU should provide some really breath-taking scenery (for the fans anyway)...the racers will likely be too busy racing to really notice much of that (their loss). Sounds like Wednesday's stage will be the real creme-de-la thru parts of Bryce Canyon should provide for some serious viewing, provided they show it at all...I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm back on '12's all week so won't have much viewing time sadly...but the good ol' DVR will save me and let me watch whatever coverage we do get, even if it's just an hour or 2.'s o-dark-thirty here at the pad on a Monday morning...(and I'm all alone in the payload equipment room, which is on the pad and down in a concrete basement below the Umbilical Tower and rocket). We're in a "pad clear" situation right now (essential personnel only allowed on the pad) as our mechanics are "fueling the bird" with the scary stuff (hypergolic fuels). I guess I'm one of the 'expendable ones' today. The fueling is done by guys wearing "SCAPE" suits...pretty much like a space-suit, only they're hooked up to an air source rather than self-contained. Thankfully we have great procedures, and they're all very good at their jobs...not to take this lightly, but it should be quite 'routine'. As for me, I'm in here to monitor the spacecraft, and as far as I know I'm the only one on the entire-pad that can hit the emergency "power off" to the vehicle if needed. No pressure or anything...but hey...somebody's gotta do it...sometimes your're the bug, and sometimes you're the windshield. Not sure which I am today...just hoping for a quiet and safe one.

Have a GREAT week!

And Stay Frosty!