Friday, October 21, 2005

Going ballistic

A relic of the Cold War, originally designed to carry nuclear warheads, has been retired. And in a warped and weird way, I'm sort of going to miss it.

The
Titan IV rocket was launched from the last time this week from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The rocket has been one of the staples of the classified space satellite business.

I've never seen one of these 16-story monsters up close, well unless there was one on static display at the Kennedy Space Center when I was there. But, I've seen several launches or their aftermath from California's high desert.

For whatever reason, sunset seemed to be a popular time for missile launches. And even though Vandenberg, which is on the California Coast, is a long ways from Victorville, which is in the Mojave Desert, you could see the flame from these missiles rocketing skyward in the twilight sky quite clearly on a clear evening. And the missiles left some spectacular contrails through the sky.

It rarely failed that whenever there was a Vandenberg launch of some big missile (not always a Titan), people would call the newspaper where I worked. And many times those callers were convinced that we were under attack from Russia or that aliens were invading from outer space. Those launches at or after sunset can sometimes be seen as far away as
Tucson, Ariz.

There is something about people who choose to live in the desert, particularly some of the outlying areas in the Mojave Desert. I'm not sure if too much time in the relentless sun makes people crazy, or if the remote barren landscape and hardscrabble existence is a magnet for those on the psychological fringe. Maybe it's both. But desert rats are professional conspiracy theorists and a few Joshua trees shy of a forest. They believe in UFOs, Area 51 government coverups and mythical creatures called
chupacabras.

So Cold War missiles like the Titan, Minute Man Delta blasting into space at sunset had a way of getting people's attention. The contrails in the evening sky made for some oddly surreal photos like
this and this and this.

And perhaps it is surreal that I would say I'll miss a missile first designed to rain destruction down on civilians. But I will.




2 comments:

GRT said...

Those contrails (correct word?) are simply beautiful. They are a manifestation of the inherent beauty of the physical even though that physical is laden with potential horror. The same beauty/horror lies in all tools, or even teeth and fists: See how beautifully all the elements come together...and how this beautiful "thing" can be used to subdue another.

pril said...

i think i might miss it, too. Weirdly enough. One of my first jobs out of High School was making the fasteners that attach the metal skins to the frames of those missiles.

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