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Friday, January 20th, 2006

Time Event
Seeing is believing - the Pluto mission launched

3:52 am Perth time. I saw it, I saw it - about seven pulses of yellowish light some 17 seconds apart.

I first woke at 11:30 last night Perth time. It was too early so I went back to bed. I sort of woke again a couple of hours later but after two days of such auto awakenings the body's systems demanded more rest and I made a sort of semi-conscious agreement to go back to sleep. I woke later for a third time an instinct told me I had missed the liftoff telecast from Cape Canaveral. After my computer booted this was indeed confirmed. There was a photo of the rocket liftoff on the New Horizons website.

I booted the RealPlayer and came in on the end of the NASA telecast. If only I had gotten out of bed when I had the opportunity. An announcement was made that the space probe had separated from the launch vehicle. Cheering and applause heard in the background. Then a small orbital map of the mission's progress was flashed on the screen. Low and behold the entire vehicular package was about to cross the Western Australian coast a little north of Perth, possibly in the region of Geraldton. I should be able to see it - with luck.

I dashed out to the front garden. The conditions were good and bad. The bad part was a bright moon almost directly overhead and there was a much brighter street light than I remembered. The good part that it was a very clear sky, and dawn was not yet apparent in the eastern sky. The sun was not far over the horizon and might even be helpful with causing a reflection.

With the memory of the NASA trajectory map etched in my mind I searched northwards. The loom from the street light was pretty severe and I had to shade my eyes.

After a few minutes I was starting to think I had missed it, but then to the northeast I suddenly picked out a pulse of yellowish light. It was a object like a satellite exactly where it should have been - and moving eastward. The light pulse reappeared seven or eight times at about seventeen second intervals.

I think what I saw may have been part of the separated Atlas launch vehicle or rocket in a slow spin or wobble and reflecting flashes of sunlight. The final time before the object disappeared was about 3.52 am Perth time. I was pretty thrilled. It was compensation for having missed the actual launch.

It was a lone experience, all the family were still asleep and so for that matter was the entire street and probably most people in the entire city. Everything was very quiet. Not even the birds were awake. I came inside. The telecast from NASA had finished. I was still excited. I wanted to tell them what they had missed, but of course it is irrelevant to everyone except me.

So now the grand expedition to Pluto is safely on its way. Pretty quickly too even though the trip to will take ten years. It will have passed the moon's orbital track in the next nine hours, which coincidentally is the same sort of time which was cited for the incoming Stardust probe three days ago.

There is a dawn lightening of the eastern sky now. Excellent timing.

We are having a special family breakfast this morning for one of our older sons. He is flying out to Madagascar tonight with some friends. From there they will head to South Africa to take in the tourist sites and dodge the titse flies.

So now I must depart for the kitchen and make a start. Its still a working day for all our plumbers, including the one who is flying out tonight. They will will have to be fed early.

Bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, hash browns, toast, fruit juice and coffee to start what will be a perfect day. I know I am going to get teased over my claim that I saw the New Horizons vehicle.

© MMVI Paul R. Weaver.

About the writer

Check out each month's subject index on the Calendar Page for my "common-man" monologues about survival in 21st century Australia – plus a little history occasionally. An original essay is added most days.

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