And the Rockets’ Red Glare

Hey, it’s the 4th of July! I’m pretty happy with the photos a kindly neighbor took of us this morning. It’s been a while since Donna and I appeared on camera together … and with all three dogs yet!

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The occasion was the Sunnywood Estates 4th of July parade. It was sparsely attended this year, so our doggies didn’t get to meet any new four-legged friends (and only a few human ones). No wonder — it was already in the 90s when the parade started at 8:30 a.m. I stayed on the corner by the school bus stop with Mister B, Fritzi, and Lulu, off the pavement and in the shade as much as possible, while Donna took a patriotic stroll with the neighbors who did come out (mind you, others stood in front of their homes to cheer the marchers on, so more folks were out this morning than are apparent in the photo).


Yeah, we probably need to make a climate change adjustment and start this annual event earlier. Like around 5 a.m. It’s not hard to envision an On the Beach scenario wherein fewer and fewer neighbors come out each year, until average temperatures drive the last living humans from southern Arizona and only empty houses and bleached bones remain, an eerie playground for scorpions and coyotes.

Anyway, happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans, and greetings from southern Arizona (wish you were here!) to everyone else. We’re staying home today, planning a dinner of macaroni & shrimp salad, corn on the cob, and dry-rubbed ribs (in the oven as I write, it being too hot to even think of smoking or grilling on the patio). I think I’ll take a dip in the pool at dusk and try to coax Donna into getting in with  me. So far this year Polly’s the only one of us who’s been in.

The night before, we finally were able to watch a rocket launch from Vandenberg AFB. We’d been out in the dark two nights previously, but the earlier attempt was scrubbed, literally during the final countdown (I know, because I had NASA’s live stream up on my iPhone as we waited). We heard “ten, nine, eight, four” and it took us a few seconds to figure out the “four” had actually been “abort.” Last night, though, the count went all the way down to zero and we watched the rocket lift off on the phone, then stared at the western horizon to time how long it would take to become visible from Tucson, 661 straight-line miles east of Vandenberg. Turns out the answer is just over two and a half minutes.


The photo isn’t mine … it’s from an ABC affiliate in Phoenix and is uncredited, so I don’t know who took it. But our view in Tucson’s night sky was the same. The mission, conducted by Firefly Aerospace, carried eight CubeSats into orbit, including one built here by University of Arizona students. The rocket, an Alpha FLTA005, wasn’t as large as the SpaceX Falcon boosters that often launch Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites from Vandenberg, so we didn’t see quite as dramatic a “space jellyfish” effect, but hey, pretty cool anyway. And now we know exactly where to look, and how much time it takes after liftoff to appear in the western sky. We also have a dandy app on our phones (SpaceLaunchNow), thanks to a tip from our Norwegian friend Olle, to alert us when future launches are scheduled from Vanderberg.

Tonight the only objects in the sky will be fireworks (and the occasional bullet). The dogs’ll be nervous, but we’ll share our laps with them and give them lots of hugs, and we’ll finish the 4th of July on a high note.

Good thing, since it might just be the last one.

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