One Small Step…. Felix Baumgartner had just made his recordbreaking leap from a balloon in space. Meanwhile we were planning our own more modest jump and the next day we boldly went….. CAPTAIN’S LOG - Star Date 15 th October 2012 The Countdown We were monitoring all the usual weather web sites but this year added a NASA style trajectory predictor. The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has created software to predict where forest fire smoke or even radioactive fallout will be carried at different heights from a point source. So could it show where a balloon would be 8 hours after take off? Enter the duration, start time, Lat/Long of launch site, request different heights and get a graphic of flight-path predictions. (The site is http://ready.arl.noaa.gov and I’d be happy to help anyone enter the data in the form it needs. firstname.lastname@example.org)
But how much should we trust it? Only one way to find out….. T minus 6 hours Ken ‘Scotty’ Scott completed our Apollo style 3-man crew, piloting the Mother Ship recovery vehicle, and we headed for Cape Carmarthen - a return to our successful 2011 launch site, Bill Young‘s golfing airstrip in Milford Haven. It’s about as far west as you can get in Wales, but tricky being just north of Carmarthen Bay danger area. A met balloon headed straight for the rocket range. We needed a new launch pad. Bill rang a family contact, Terry, at Air Traffic Control Haverfordwest Spaceport - we headed north. After the traditional pre-launch crew breakfast (bacon butties from Propeller’s café) we stood our craft up and pointed it skyward, like a SaturnV rocket, in a perfect light breeze and blue skies.
Lift Off I flipped open my communicator: ‘….Golf Sierra Lima ready for departure’. We needed wind from less than 280 degrees to miss the danger area. ‘Golf Sierra Lima, clear take off. Temperature 8 degrees, wind 8 knots 300 degrees’. We had this problem last year! Local wind out to sea, but the forecast wind supposed to follow the coast inland. We had a 10-mile down-range run to the water to change our mind so ‘5,4,3,2,1… We have lift off’. Fighting Gravity We cleared the tower. It was much colder than last year and we had two more external fuel tanks, Shuttle style. By 6000’ we had established a good track to 079 degrees with a respectable 30 knots escape velocity. We held our steady climb into the atmosphere, trajectory still good as we reached 9000’, now orbiting at 35 knots. Light snow crystals fluttered past the command module. T plus 1 hour Helpful data from Aberporth Radar cleared us to 12,000’ and we found 40 knots. We were in a five-mile diameter hole in the cloud, which seemed to spin round us like a spiral Galaxy. Other space food chocolate bars we survived on were Milky Way and Mars. Apart from a dip under the air-lanes over the Brecon Beacons, we stayed high in the rarefied air. This also got us over the 10,000’ Hereford SAS D147 rocket range. No alien missiles intercepted.
Into Orbit Half our fuel burnt after 3.5 hours but the midday wind was up to a cosmic 45 knots. It was about now we thought ‘Euston (being British), we have a problem’…. The Motion X tracker was showing at some point we’d hit a maximum Warp Speed of 70.8 mph! We’d never seen that Stratospheric figure on the other flight instruments so could we rely on our main flight recorder? Mission computer specialist Matt Bayly (14) later analysed the technical log and told us his iPad was accurate and logically we had peaked at 70.8 mph. We’d been real shooting stars! Matt said it was such a short burst it hardly affected the average recorded speeds. Maybe just an anomaly - it’s all relative. Urban Spacemen We had been at high altitude for 4.5 hours before we decided to search for terrestrial life and descend over Stratford Upon-Avon under Birmingham’s 3,500’ stub. Human life-forms were observed driving metal Rovers on primitive roads. Over Leamington Spa we were doing only 20 knots and rain was catching us up. We climbed in steps against the G-Force through Daventry CTA, powered by our single thruster called a Shadow burner. It had been weight-saving but still able to feed the liquid rocket fuel from two tanks at once had we needed Warp Drive. Earth’s Curvature The view was stunning back at 9000’ as we hit the 200-mile mark doing a meteoric 50 knots. Maybe we had done 60 knots/70mph earlier. It was 5pm, one hour to sunset, and even with our space suits (like my Albuquerque pilot jacket) we were cold. At minus 5 degrees, after 6 chilly flying hours, my fingers shook so much I can now hardly read the flight notes I’d written. But I deciphered ‘1710 - Wash visible’. Our mission was soon to end as we approached the North Sea of Tranquillity.
Re-Entry Although we’d been flying over 7 hours it had been a Black Hole of time that had whizzed by. The flapjacks, made this year by Andrew’s son Pete, had been out of this world. Now we popped open the bag of Starbursts. The friendly Earthlings at Peterborough airfield 5000’ below told us surface wind was only 7 knots so we initiated return to our planet (by doing nothing). The cold descent from space made us feel almost weightless. RAF Marham, home to 3 squadrons of Tornados, helpfully worked us round one of their fast jets landing at about the same time as us. Touch down Twenty minutes after sunset we were seeing stars as our trek came to rest like a gentle Moon landing, not even making a crater. We were out of fuel, light and land. And ‘Beam Me Up!’ NASA/NOAA’s trajectory had perfectly predicted a projection plot of our placement. These Astronuts were amazed we’d had a stand-up take-off, stand-up landing and apparently achieved over 70 mph in our High Jump Space Hopper. That’s one small step for two men, a giant leap for Longjumpkind……? Astronomic thanks to the mission team: Bill Young at ‘Dawn Till Dusk’ golfing rocket range, Haverfordwest Spaceport Supervisor Peter Hopkins and Ken ‘Scotty’ Scott for his invaluable Warp driving on the 700 mile round trip recovery - all on his 66th birthday.
ROB BAYLY & ANDREW GREGORY
Winner of long jump 2012