Catching up on other things that have happened while I was blogless…

A couple of summers ago, Iona was interning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory outside Pasadena, California.  While she was there she was working on a satellite called SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive)).  Click here for much more about what is a very important mission.

Well, she got invited to go back to California to watch it launch.  It was an incredible adventure probably best told in her own words (Source:

During the summer of 2013 I interned at JPL, working on integration and testing for a satellite called SMAP – Soil Moisture Active Passive. Today, I was lucky enough to see the satellite launch on a Delta II rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was my first rocket launch, and I’m so happy that it was for a satellite I worked on!

SMAP is important to me because it has the potential to make a real difference. Its purpose is to measure the amount of moisture in soil all over the world – something that has never been done before. This data will improve our knowledge of the water cycle and hopefully lead to improved weather forecasts, including better drought and flood prediction. From a safety or an agricultural perspective, this information can have real, concrete benefits for people all over the globe.

This was a pretty nerve-wracking launch! The first attempt was Thursday morning, but the upper level winds were deemed too strong. The flight was scrubbed at T-4 minutes. The second attempt was supposed to be Friday morning, but it was pushed to Saturday morning due to minor vehicle repairs.

Early Saturday morning, the upper level winds were still too strong. They were sending up weather balloons every few minutes to check, but every time the answer came back, “upper level winds still red.” Finally, we got to T-4 minutes again, and the data from the final balloon came back…green! Everyone cheered like crazy, and the last four minutes were the excitement of hearing the final ‘go’ from each group and the countdown.  Hearing “Go Delta. Go SMAP,” gave me chills.

The launch itself was breathtaking.  The first image shows a few of my photos, but they don’t do it justice.  The low cloud layer glowed bright orange, and several seconds later there was a massive roar.  The rocket quickly disappeared into the clouds, then reappeared in a break overhead, already a tiny speeding light.

Overall, this was awesome. There’s always a ton of risk associated with flying out to see a launch attempt, just because there are a million little things that can cause a delay. Today’s launch window was three minutes long – so if something tiny happened that only took five minutes to fix, it still would have been enough to push the launch to another day. I’m psyched that the launch happened, and I loved chatting with engineers from NASA, Boeing, and Lockheed.

Most excitingly…something that I worked on is in space!

How cool is that!

:: Justin ::