05/09/12 – FIRST ATTEMPT:
12:27am MDT – Thompson in response to a journalist’s question about syncing the delay with the live video feed. His answer, in essence: Engineers aren’t thinking about live feeds (at least not the ones that don’t provide data from the capsule). “The reality is we have a person’s life at stake, so our primary concern is making sure conditions as safe as possible to get in the air.”
12:22am MDT – Art Thompson on a Thursday launch: “We want early morning. This is much later than we normally launch. As it gets this late in the day the ground heat starts mixing up the air. Typically you’d launch before 11am.” The cut-off for weather of this type of balloon flight is sometime in November.
12:16am MDT – A gust of wind caused a spinnaker effect that twisted the balloon; at that point its integrity was unknown. There is a back-up, however. The earliest window would be on Thursday for two reasons: 1) weather, and 2) the crew shouldn’t work through another night.
12:14am MDT – A press briefing is about to begin.
11:36am MDT – Aborted mission. The air felt extremely still near the broadcast journalism platform, but it was high enough on the tarmac to cause the balloon to twist and, ultimately, lean over and touch the ground. When that happened, I could hear a squeal come from the porch of mission control. The balloon envelope is one of the oldest and trickiest pieces of technology involved in this project, and it’s thwarted many previous attempts in the past.
11:18am MDT – We’re told permission was granted to begin inflation but there’s been a subsequent delay. Yesterday meteorologist Don Day told us that weather at mission control can be totally different than the weather at the launch site a couple hundred yards away.
11:10am MDT – We can watch what’s happening on the tarmac on a closed circuit tv (sorry dear readers). Felix is suited up and looks calm. The door to the capsule is still open, and Mike Todd, the life support engineer, is bent over him arranging systems in the capsule. Todd will be the last person to see Felix before the capsule door closes.
10:48am MDT – Felix is just stepping into the capsule where he’ll do instrument checks and begin prebreathing in order to rid his body of nitrogen.
10:40am MDT – Guinness Book of World Records is here, in addition to the FAI. Records Felix hopes to set include first person to reach supersonic speed in freefall, freefall from the highest altitude, longest freefall time, and highest manned balloon flight.
10:33am MDT – The capsule is now suspended from the crane. As soon as the balloon becomes vertical the crane will move beneath it and release the capsule. The balloon has to be perfectly vertical when it launches or it might tear.
10:05am MDT – Balloon is spooled out and inflation will start at 10:15. Launch at roughly 11:15. The live video feed begins at 11. This will be three times the size of the largest balloon used for manned flight. Once the balloon rises from the airfield the flight train will be a teardrop 700 feet tall. It’ll become rounder as it reaches altitude, expanding to 300 feet wide—meteorologist Don Day says to think of it as a flying football field.
8:50am MDT – Balloon layout has begun! The weather stabilized. Layout will take approximately one hour, and then inflation will begin. The live feed starts about 10 minutes before the end of inflation, so expect to see that in roughly an hour and 50 minutes. Once layout has begun, the balloon cannot be reused– its polyethylene is only 0.0008 inches thick, so packing and repacking it will stretch and compromise the plastic. There is a spare on site, but this is a very good indication of the meteorologist’s confidence in a launch.
7:11am MDT – The sun has now risen over the Roswell International Air Center, but due to developing weather patterns meteorologist Don Day reports they’ve decided to extend the launch window. There’s an indication the upper level wind speeds will drop while surface winds remain low. “We’ve got everybody here, so we’re just going to hold out a little longer and see if we can take advantage of it,” he says. “We still have about two hours of work to do to be ready to launch. We won’t make the decision to start the process until 9:30, and that would put launch between 11:30 and noon. That’s the latest we can launch today.” An unrelated issue: There are GPS jamming tests in Colorado; if they can’t work around those, that could delay the launch as well. Surface winds tomorrow don’t look good—the opposite problem as today—so the next launch window would be on Thursday.
6:15am MDT – Mission meteorologist Don Day puts the chances of launch today at 50/50. Here’s the full update he just gave us: “The surface conditions are ideal, about 2mph. The problem is the winds at balloon top level—750-800 feet. They’re 20mph. Until we see those winds up top slow down we cannot launch the balloon safely. We don’t want the launch to be more dangerous than the jump. Think of it as layers of a chocolate cake: Every layer has to be right wind direction and speed to launch the balloon. After sun-up, in about 45 minutes, the upper level winds will sometimes settle down a little bit. If they do we’ll be in a more favorable position to consider launch. If this was a smaller balloon we’d be off the ground at sunrise. We’ll take our weather hold all the way to about 8am and then make a decision.”