Celebrating MAVEN’s Launch, Planetary Style

If you can’t attend a rocket launch live, the next best thing might be watching it on a big screen, surrounded by fellow space fans. Today, as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft sat atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, space lovers from southern California collected at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena California to watch the launch together.

Our friends at the Planetary Society, along with Southern California Public Radio, hosted the free event, and an excited crowd of space enthusiasts of all ages attended the “launch party.”

Mat Kaplan Bruce Betts KPCC MAVEN
Mat Kaplan and Bruce Betts converse on the upcoming launch of MAVEN from the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, CA

Mat Kaplan and Bruce Betts brought the witty banter that listeners of Planetary Radio are familiar with, while Emily Lakdawalla kept the entire forum current with up-to-the-minute updates of MAVEN in her pre-launch.

Portions of Planetary Radio were recorded during the live broadcast, which gave the audience a treat, actually seeing how the radio program is created for special events such as the launch of a spacecraft.

As the timer counted down to 20 minutes before launch, Casey Dreier called in over the big-screen.

Casey, who’s the Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator of the Planetary Society, was on location at Cape Canaveral with the society’s president, Jim Bell. They both shared their experience leading up to the launch and stressed the need to continue planetary exploration in all of its forms.

Moments after Bell ended the call, Bill Nye, The Science Guy himself, called in to the Crawford Family Forum.

Bill Nye in Florida for MAVEN Launch
Bill Nye The Science Guy called in with FaceTime minutes before the launch, pointing to the Atlas V rocket in the distance that would give MAVEN the boost it needs to be on her way to Mars.

Replying to Kaplan’s question about excitement of ‘yet another’ Mars mission, Nye exclaimed, “What? How could there be such a thing as just another Mars mission?!” Nye continued on with a fever pitch about just how amazing it is that humans are able to have a presence on another planet, leaving any mission to Mars being nothing short of extraordinary.

As the clock ticked down and the conversation with The Science Guy ended, the official NASA video feed was brought up on the large projection screen for the excited viewers inside the forum.

Even with seconds remaining on the countdown to ignition, Emily — a seasoned Twitter user — remained dedicated to her Twitter followers while up on stage, keeping everyone in the loop about MAVEN’s upcoming explosive boost from the surface of Earth in the direction of the red planet.

At the Atlas V rocket lifts off, starting MAVEN’s journey to Mars, the room erupted in applause. Mat Kaplan commented “Always exciting. Always scary as hell,” as nearly all eyes were fixed on the video footage of the rocket soaring through the sky or their digital devices, getting new information on the rocket’s fate.

While waiting for official word on how the launch was going, the audience was treated to a live version of a Planetary Radio regular segment: Random Space Facts.

Amazingly enough, Bruce wasn’t able to find anything that happened this week in spaceflight history.

Bruce: “In this week in space history… nothing happened.”
Mat: “I don’t believe that.”
Bruce: “Well, this week MAVEN launched.”

The floor was opened to questions and comments from the audience, allowing children to ask their many questions about the rockets, the spacecraft and what else can be done in Universe. Jim Burke, who worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mariner missions commented, “You’re never bored when when you watch a big rocket take off!

MAVEN Launch by David Dickenson
Atlas V “big rocket” launching MAVEN — Photo Credit: David Dickenson (@AstroGuyz)

While MAVEN has her scientific and communication mission ahead of her, it’s easy to conclude that her launch, just like the many that came before her, will inspire people of all ages to at least be more curious as to what’s going on in the Cosmos.

What better way to ensure a better future than to host “launch parties” like this one? The technology is available to allow people from nearly every location on the planet to gather and watch something leave it.

Coming together as a species and residents of this pale blue dot, we can send off our latest mechanical representatives into the Solar System while simultaneously inspiring the youth to embrace their curiosity, creating the future engineers and scientists that bring humanity further into the Universe.

If you missed the live coverage of the launch, here’s the recording, provided by Southern California Public Radio and The Planetary Society: