Our viewpoint to see the launch is called "Gravel Pit" – and lives up to its name. The area is essentially a large area of rocks and dirt on the side of a small cliff. It is touted as the best place to watch the rocket launch. That is, when the fog subsides.
I am somewhere deep in Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, witnessing the launch of NASA's InSight Landing. The spacecraft is to fly into space on an Atlas V rocket, the leading vehicle of the United Launch Alliance. The mission will be the first time that NASA has ever launched a spaceship to another planet on the West Coast. And it's also the first time I see a start from California.
The rocket is supposed to lie a few miles ahead of me, but I can not stand it. The nearby ocean layer that forms off the California coast has wandered inland, and it feels like I'm standing in the middle of a dense cloud. At 4 o'clock in the morning, it creates an uncanny scene here in the pit. The darkness closes around us and the temperature of the mist seems to continue to fall. Some floodlights illuminate the area, but we can not see more than a hundred meters.
I am with a large crowd of journalists and videographers, all lying on the side of the cliff, hoping to get a good shot of the rocket. We were warned that the fog might be too thick to see the start, but I'm hopeful. All the launches I've seen before have produced a blinding light that has almost burned my eyes. Surely the light from the firing of the rocket will pierce through the clouds, I think.
It will not be long before the final countdown is upon us. Thanks to a speakerphone mounted on a nearby trailer, we can hear that air traffic controllers in mission control say all systems are ready. "Go Atlas, Go Centaur, Go InSight!" Announce the controllers in terms of the rocket, their upper stage and their payload. A jubilation breaks out in the crowd. The floodlights are off so we have the best view of our cameras, and in the background we hear the final countdown: "Five … four … three … two … one …" [1