From the Director





by Rex Parker, PhD, Director

Mt Lemmon Adventures.  I’ve been reflecting on my recent trip to Tucson for the astronomy imaging workshop “Making Every Pixel Count”, run by Adam Block at the Univ. of Arizona’s Steward Observatory atop 9200-ft Mt. Lemmon.  Events have nearly persuaded me to believe that things happen to us mortal beings for a reason.  Some of you may recall my attempts to organize a field trip event for AAAP members to Tucson and Mt. Lemmon this November.

Some of the domes of Mt Lemmon (the 32-inch RCOS is in the dome on the left).

Some of the domes of Mt Lemmon (the 32-inch RCOS is in the dome on the left). Credit: Rex Parker

That effort ran into a scheduling snag, disappointing seven club members who were up for the adventure. This was going to be an opportunity for us to use the amazing 24-inch and 32 inch-RCOS telescopes on Mt. Lemmon visually with eyepieces — all night long under pristine desert mountain skies.  Well, the skies were indeed very good during the four nights of the workshop, with incredible sub-1-arc-sec seeing recorded by the CCD camera on the 32-inch!

The 24-inch RCOS used for visual observing and CCD imaging on Mt Lemmon.

The 24-inch RCOS used for visual observing and CCD imaging on Mt Lemmon. Credit: Rex Parker

However, after the workshop ended on Sunday, October 19, a big rainstorm blew through the desert. The 19th was the night we had nearly decided to book the AAAP observing trip, which would have been a total washout!  The moral of the story is that for future AAAP field trips to faraway places, let’s plan for more than one night of observing to improve our odds.

Biosphere-2.  So on my last afternoon, since the Saguaro’s were getting their much-needed rain, I decided to visit the once famous Biosphere-2 located north of Tucson.  The science and technology of the human two-year isolation project in the early 1990’s provided insights into some of the serious issues for manned spaceflight to Mars, the moon-base, and beyond that we discussed last month at Ken Kremer’s talk.  The human experiments at Biosphere-2 are over now, but the Landscape Evolution Laboratory and several other biogeochemical research projects are continuing, and the public science outreach at the complex is big time.

Rain over Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains on Oct 19.

Rain over Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains on Oct 19.

Amazing Presentation on Nov. 11 at AAAP.  Our tradition of great speaker presentations continues this month (7:30 p.m., Nov. 11 at Peyton Hall) with a talk about the ultimate approach to astronomy imaging — remote CCD astronomy with equipment thousands of miles away at an observatory on another continent!  From his home roll-off roof observatory to an isolated dome in Chile, South America, Dr Steve Mazlin has produced some of the most amazing deep sky images ever published, and is a frequent contributor to APOD.  Check out the meeting announcement in this issue and find further info on the AAAP website. (

Form and function make Biosphere-2 beautiful and fascinating.

Form and function make Biosphere-2 beautiful and fascinating.  Credit: Rex Parker

Important Vote Nov. 11.  At the meeting, a members vote is planned for approval of a capital expenditure proposal for the video equipment to upgrade the WC observatory (as discussed at recent meetings).  Members are urged to attend the meeting to support this proposal for a significant expenditure.  Further details are in the article by Larry Kane in this issue.

Hope to see you at the meeting and the pre-meeting dinner.

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Fourth Dimension Astroimaging…My Personal Journey Through the Cosmos

Steve Mazlin, MD
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 7:30 p.m in Peyton Hall

Astrophotography was revolutionized by digital techniques over the past 20 years. Steve Mazlin will explain some of the basics of data acquisition and processing while giving a glimpse into the world of remote imaging and showing some of his favorite images.

Steve Mazlin

Steve Mazlin

His colorful images have appeared in numerous magazines and on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website. In 2009, he had a one man show at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. Some of his images are part of the traveling exhibit, “Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography”, coming to the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA this November.

Steve Mazlin lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Violet, and his 2 sons. When not actually acquiring or processing astronomical images, he’s usually thinking about acquiring or processing images. Somehow he finds time for his other familial responsibilities (though Violet may argue this point), and time to be a neurologist in a busy private practice. His personal website is His alter ego, Mazlini The Great, can be found at

Upcoming speakers:

December 9 – Dr. Vera Gluscevic on the cosmic microwave background, dark energy and inflation.

January 13 - Dr. Alan Hirshfeld, From Backyard to Mountaintop: The Adventure of History’s Best Worst Telescope

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

After a report was made by the committee that investigated the purchase and installation of a video system for the observatory, a motion was made to the Board of Directors to approve the expenditure of up to $6,000 for the system. This motion was approved unanimously by the Board. The system will include a video camera, a monitor, a telescope and the appropriate hardware needed to install and operate the video system.

Because of the size of the expense of the video system, the approval of the AAAP membership is required  for this purchase. This motion will be made at the November, 11, 2014 membership meeting. I am recommending that if you are able, please attend the meeting on November 11 so you may be part of the discussion of this important improvement to our observatory.

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History of the Hastings-Byrne 6-1/4 Inch Refractor

by John Church

Hastings-Byrne Refractor

Hastings-Byrne Refractor

As many current AAAP members may not be fully acquainted with the story of our fine 6-1/4 inch refractor, this history is presented so that the club may make an informed decision about its future use. Also please click the link to see page images of a 1979 article in Sky & Telescope magazine by this writer, giving more details on how its history was traced and the design of the objective lens.

1879 – Physicist and teacher Dr. Charles S. Hastings grinds and polishes the elements of the future Hastings-Byrne refractor, using glasses for which he had accurately measured the refractive indexes in 1878 and his own design methods.  This was the second of three objectives made personally by him. The third one, a flint-in-front design with an aperture of 9.4 inches, was installed at an observatory at Johns Hopkins and used successfully for many years.  See J. Church, “Optical Designs of Some Famous Refractors,” Sky &Telescope for March 1982, p. 302-8.

Rockwell 1880 - The Smithsonian Report for 1880 (issued in 1881) mentions that Charles Rockwell of Tarrytown, NJ had had a 6-1/3 inch Hastings lens mounted by telescope maker John Byrne of New York City. The instrument is installed in Rockwell’s private observatory in Tarrytown, NY in a 12 1/2 foot diameter dome.

Nov. 7, 1881 -  Rockwell observes a transit of Mercury from Honolulu in the “Sandwich Islands” (as they were then called) with this refractor. Written up in Sidereal Messenger, Vol. 1, 1882,  p. 29-30.  Location:  W. Long. 10 hr 31 min 27.3 sec, N. Lat. 21 deg. 17 min. 56.3 sec. (equivalent to 157.8638 deg. W. Long. and 21.2990 deg. N. Lat.). This would have been near the present intersection of Route 92 and Forrest Avenue/South Street, at the entrance to Pier 1.


March, 1882 - In the American Journal of Science, Hastings mentions the 6-1/4 inch doublet lens of 91-inch focal length that he had ground and polished in 1879.  He is very pleased with its performance. He states that the original aperture of 6-1/3 inches was reduced to 6-1/4 inches by Byrne’s mounting.

November, 1882 - Hastings describes this objective in more detail in the Johns Hopkins University Circulars for this month, p. 8.  He says that it is in Rockwell’s possession, was used for the Honolulu transit of Mercury, and was able to resolve the double star Zeta Boötis in 1879 when the separation was 0.55 arcseconds. This article also includes data for the 9.4-inch Johns Hopkins objective.

December 7, 1882 – Rockwell observes the transit of Venus with his telescope, the entire transit being visible from the eastern United States. He publishes a report, with timings, in Vol. 1 of the Sidereal Messenger. In 2004 we observed the next transit of Venus with this same telescope at Washington Crossing (see below).

1883 –  An article in Sidereal Messenger, Vol. 2 , p. 39 by Hastings states that he either gave or sold the doublet to Rockwell, an avid amateur astronomer and friend/patron of Hastings, not long after making the lens.

May 6, 1883 – Hastings and Rockwell use Rockwell’s telescope to observe a total solar eclipse on Caroline Island in the mid-Pacific Ocean as part of a substantial expedition mounted by the U.S. Naval Observatory.  The expedition was written up in Volume 2 of the Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, published later in 1883.  It was also described by Joseph Ashbrook on p. 211 of the March, 1978 issue of Sky & Telescope in one of his “Astronomical Scrapbook” articles, which also mentions Rockwell’s telescope.

January 1, 1904 - Rockwell dies at 77. He wills all of his property to his sister Anna Rockwell,   who sells the refractor to Rutgers University later that year for $500.00, paid in two installments.  Rutgers uses it off and on in astronomy coursework for many years.  Rockwell’s obituary is on p. 262 of the June 1904 issue of Popular Astronomy.

January 31, 1932 -  Hastings dies at age 83.  A remembrance is in the June 1932 issue of the American Journal of Science.   A much longer article about him is published in 1938 in the Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences.

1937 – The Galileo Club of Trenton is given permanent custody of the refractor by Rutgers.  It is used occasionally and stored in a club member’s garage.

November 1, 1968 - AAAP purchases the refractor from the defunct Galileo Club for $200 with member contributions.  It is placed outside on George Parker’s farm in Plainsboro, covered with a tarp, and is rarely used.

September 1972 - As the only member of AAAP willing to take custody of the refractor stored on Parker’s farm, which George needed to have removed from his property, John Church accepts this responsibility.  Other members help him move the entire assembly to his garage in Princeton Junction for storage, evaluation, and refurbishment.  Church cleans the objective lens and mounts the 500-lb assembly on a rolling dolly for ease of moving it in and out of his garage. Club members visit and use the telescope.

Nov. 10, 1973 - Church, Freeman Dyson, and Tullio Regge (Institute of Advanced Study) observe and time the transit of Mercury from Church’s driveway.  Their results for Contacts III and IV (Contacts I and II occurred before sunrise) are a few seconds earlier than predicted but were near the peaks of histograms constructed from 124 other sets of observations as reported in the January 1974 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Mid-1970’s - Church measures the curvatures and thicknesses of the two elements and    finds by ray-tracing that the glasses described by Hastings (out of many other candidates) are the only ones that give the known properties of the lens in terms of focal length and optical corrections (spherical aberration, chromatic aberration, and coma).  Hasting’s notebooks at Yale University listed the surface radii and thickness of the crown element (only), with figures closely matching those determined by Church.  Hastings also drew a 1/6 scale sketch of what he called “Rockwell’s column” that matches the current pier.  The 1978 Ashbrook article on the Caroline Island eclipse expedition serves as one of the motivations for preparing the Sky & Telescope article mentioned below.

Mar. 17, 1975 - Church observes Sirius B with the refractor.

August 1978 -  The refractor is installed in the new AAAP observatory at Washington  Crossing State Park and immediately put to frequent use. Several long feature articles about the observatory appear in the local media.

March 1979 - Church publishes the results of his technical and historical research on the  refractor in this issue of Sky & Telescope, p. 294, identifying the objective lens as having been made by Hastings and the entire mount by John Byrne.  There is a photo of the telescope (with its original mounting) in the observatory in this article, which also includes a photo of Mars taken with this telescope at the favorable opposition of early October, 1973.  Click to read Hastings-Byrne Article.

November 1999 - The original Byrne equatorial mount for the refractor is replaced with a Losmandy G-11 mount, adding greatly to the usability of the equipment.

Summer 2002 - Gene Ramsey and John Church install a new custom-made Burg tailpiece and focuser on the refractor. (The original focuser was worn out and not repairable.)  The remaining original parts of the instrument are the Hastings objective (still in good condition after 135 years as of 2014), its solid brass cell, the steel tube which was refinished in white powder-coat epoxy several  years  ago, and the heavy cast-iron pier, all the latter having been made or  supplied by John Byrne’s shop.

June 8, 2004 - AAAP-ers observe the third and fourth contacts of the transit of Venus at Washington Crossing.  The sun barely clears the tree line in time for a group, including Congressman Rush Holt, to see the sun’s image projected on a screen by the refractor and get a good view of the contacts.

Mid-2014 - The mount is replaced with a donated Losmandy Gemini 1 GoTo mount.

October 2014 -  Discussion begins on future plans for the refractor.

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Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

Thus far in our fiscal year, 25 members have renewed by paying their dues.  This is about 40% fewer than had renewed at the same time a year ago.  Please get those checks in!

All expenses for StarQuest 2014 are in.  Even with the modest attendance, the event had a small surplus of $108.  Thanks to everyone who helped make it a success.

Observatory and speaker expenses have thus far been minimal.  Therefore, for the year to date, we have a $600 surplus.

On a cumulative basis, the AAAP’s surplus is over $25 thousand.

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Minutes of the October 14, 2014 AAAP Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex opened the meeting and introduced Larry Kane.
  • Larry presented his refractor to the club.
  • Kate Otto then introduced Ken Kremer to give his talk on “The Future of NASA Human Spaceflight”.
  • After Ken’s talk, Rex called the business meeting to order. He called on Program Chair Kate Otto.
  • Kate informed the club that speakers were lined up for meetings through March except for December.
  • Talk continued on the Master Plan, specifically bringing video astronomy to the Washington Crossing Observatory. Larry Kane heads the committee and presented a progress report on the “Purchase and Implementation of an Observatory Video System”. The report recommended the board approve a proposal to spend $6000 for the video system. The board approved the proposal and will present the proposal to the membership at the November meeting for a vote.
  • The next topic at the meeting was the fate of the Hastings-Byrne refractor at the WCO. John Church’s history on the telescope was discussed along with his opinion that the scope should be donated or sold to an organization that will use it, not just display it in a museum. Another possibility discussed was obtaining an elevator mount to raise the scope. Discussion was tabled until the next meeting.
  • The fate of the donated equipment was discussed next. Bill informed us that the state museum has no use for the dome we were willing to donate. It was decided that Rex would place an ad in AstroMart and Michael Mitrano would handle all the responses. If we do not get a taker, the next step may be to scrap the dome.
  • Ludy will bring the camera from the donated equipment to the observatory to make it available for use by the members.
  • The C-14 will be brought to the observatory to do a comparison as to which one is better (the donated one or our current one). After a decision is reached the fate of the lesser of the two scopes will be decided by the club.
  • Peyton Hall will not be unavailable after the first of the year. Several possible locations for the meetings are being discussed. The main concerns were near-by parking and the ease of finding the hall. A decision needs to be made at the next meeting to give us time to reserve the hall.
  • Gene showed the club the pictures that are hanging by the locks on the gates that lead to the observatory. Hopefully, this will keep the gates from being locked so the club members cannot open them. He also reminded us to make sure we do not drive on the grass.
  • Larry informed the club that the Washington Crossing Park Association is having a membership drive and encouraged club members to join. He also said one of the goals of the association is to be an educational resource, and Larry wants astronomy to be part of that education.
  • The meeting was then adjourned.
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From the Outreach Chair

by David Letcher, Outreach Chair

The mulled wine was delicious and the more we drank, the more double stars we saw.
Thanks go to member-volunteers Freddy Missel, Michael Wright, Jeff Bernardis, Dave and Jen Skitt and your truly for hosting a very successful and fun evening at the Unionville Winery in Ringoes on Thursday, October 30th.  The skies were exceptionally clear. About 50 people came by to view the moon, some double stars and clusters, the ring nebula, and Andromeda. We should do this again!

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Big History

by S. Prasad Ganti

Most of us are curious about how it all started. We study history of specific countries and periods like European history during the medieval ages or American history since the civil war, but not about everything in one stretch. The concept of Big History was started by Prof. David Christian as a multi-disciplinary study involving cosmology, physics, chemistry and biology from the Big Bang to the formation of simple elements like hydrogen, to stars and galaxies, to heavier elements, to our Sun and Earth and to the evolution of life up to the present.

Christian came up with the concept of how it all started in a very simple way and through eight thresholds increasing in complexity to our present state. He offered it as a one-semester course at the University in Australia. His course became popular enough to be sold through the Great Courses web site. He also gave a talk on TED ( Bill Gates was very impressed by this concept to the extent of sponsoring a simplified version of the course in middle and high schools across the US.

I was impressed when the New York Times covered it in their Sunday magazine a few weeks back. I saw the TED talk, took a five hour free mini course online and also got the DVDs from The Great Courses to view in detail. Each of the eight thresholds involves certain ingredients and certain Goldilocks conditions resulting in a new level of complexity. The next threshold then builds on this level of complexity. Goldilocks conditions involve considerations like not too far, not too close, not too hot, not too cold, not too big, not too small, etc.

The first threshold was the Big Bang itself. No one knows the ingredients nor the Goldilocks conditions. It led to protons and electrons forming the simple element hydrogen. Hydrogen and gravity formed the ingredients for the second threshold. The Goldilocks conditions were the tiny variations in density of matter. The Universe was not uniform all across. These variations led to star formation 200 million years after the Big Bang.

The third threshold involved very high temperatures and dying stars, leading to the formation of elements heavier than hydrogen like helium, carbon and oxygen. Threshold four led to creation of astronomical bodies like the Earth that are chemically richer than the stars. Nickel, iron and other heavy radioactive elements sank to the center of the Earth, while lighter ones like silicon floated. This led to the creation of a magnetic field. The comets brought water vapor to fill the oceans.

Threshold five led to creation of life on the Earth. Complex chemicals like DNA with the right amount of energy and liquids like water led to single-celled organisms at first. This was life in its simplest form. The evolution of life led to threshold six resulting from powerful brains producing symbolic language and shared ideas. Homo sapiens evolved to use collective learning and passed information to the next generation thereby creating the ability to adapt speedily without any genetic changes.

Threshold seven led to domestication of plants and animals and the agrarian civilization that resulted in increasingly dense human communities with knowledge about the environment. The last threshold utilizing the new energy resources like coal, oil and electricity led to the globally connected human society.

This is the gist of the eight thresholds, but many more details lies behind each of them. A very interesting set of concepts for those who want to know all about everything!

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Looking at Stars from the Top of a Mountain

 by Robert Carnevale ©

I have come to where I’ve always been.
The other hills seems quite at rest,
no telltale sign of thoughts like mine
milling like fireflies about their crowns.

The stars keep on with their burning.
How can we say they don’t care
where there’s no caring to begin with?
I am glad they don’t stoop to our question.

I knew before I came up here
that I would not be able to stay –
where I’ve always been, always will be –
still, it seems strange I can’t be where I am.

Jiménez wrote: “I am not I.”
And yet the world is still the world,
and these stars, with few exceptions,
are the same ones that always turned there.

Up here I am the strange one.
I should be granite. I should be light.
I should be space. I should be wind.

And yet, however unlikely,
I am as real and as present
as they are.

Yes, it’s the dark shows us the stars but, even more,
it is the stars show us the dark.
I really would stay if the night would.

But it would be rude of me to turn my back
on a star that has no back to turn
on the worlds it has set turning.

Thank you to David Kaplan for finding this gem.

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Gravity Wells According to XKCD (contributed by Michael Wright)

Rover Humor from XKCD (contributed by Ira Polans)

Cosmigraphics (contributed by David Kaplan)

Over thousands of years, humans have tried to represent the universe in graphic form, whether in manuscripts, paintings, prints, books or supercomputer simulations.

The Violent Universe (contributed by Ed Sproles)

Here is another free online class may be of interest:

EdX is running another class taught by Paul Francis and Brian Schmidt of Australian National University.  Brian Schmidt is a 2011 Nobel Prize winner in physics.  The class just started so you can join and catch up.

The class is titled “The Violent Universe” and covers White Dwarfs to Supernovae and black holes.  You can do as much or as little as you like in viewing the lectures and doing the problem sets.

A fun sideline in their courses is a “mystery” world where their universe obeys somewhat different laws.  They disclose a little more each week; it is a puzzle to figure what is going on in this world using the observations provided.

 Just Google “The Violent Universe” to find it in EdX.

Gerry Neugebauer, Pioneer in Space Studies, Dies at 82 (contributed by David Kaplan)

Dr. Neugebauer’s biggest achievement was in detecting and interpreting infrared radiation emanating from outer space to provide insights about the universe that radio waves or X-rays cannot.

Photo Nightscape Awards (contributed by Michael Wright)
The first edition of the Photo Nightscape Awards, PNA, has just ended…. 
The PNA (international photography awards) rewards the authors of nightscapes, growing trend of astrophotography. The PNA is openned to all ! Photographers and astrophotographers, pro and amateurs, adults and juniors participated and won great rewards offered by our partners :
Trip to ESO in Chile, Trip to the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve in Portugal, binoculars and telescopes…
We are delighted to honor them in this video of the most beautiful pictures received for the first edition in 2014.

The first edition of the PNA was a great success, well beyond the of the astronomy borders! The second edition is coming and will begin in February 2015!  To participate or for more information, please send an email to:

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Antares Rocket Launch Ends in Catastrophic Failure from NASA Wallops – Eyewitness Account

by Dr. Ken Kremer, AAAP, Universe Today

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA –  Moments after a seemingly glorious liftoff, an Orbital Sciences Corp. commercial Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure and exploded into a spectacular aerial fireball over the launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia that doomed the mission bound for the International Space Station on Tuesday, October 28.

The 14 story tall Antares rocket blasted off on time at 6:22 p.m. EDT from  the beachside Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA Wallops on only its 5th launch overall.

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes into an aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes into an aerial fireball seconds after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer

I was an eyewitness to the awful event and photographed the launch from the press viewing site at NASA Wallops from a distance of about 1.8 miles away.  I never expected to see anything like this, although it’s always possible because space is a risky business.

My Antares interview with NBC News correspondent Tom Costello appeared the next evening on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams on Oct. 29, along with a bunch of my launch explosion photos.  Watch the entire NBC News report here

Watch my Antares interview with at Universe Today on Oct 31 here

The highly anticipated 1st night launch of Antares would have wowed tens of millions of spectators up and down the eastern seaboard from South Carolina to Maine.

Base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer

Base of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket explodes moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014, at 6:22 p.m. Credit: Ken Kremer

Antares was carrying Orbital’s privately developed Cygnus pressurized cargo freighter loaded with nearly 5000 pounds (2200 kg) of science experiments, research instruments, crew provisions, spare parts, spacewalk and computer equipment and gear on a critical resupply mission dubbed Orb-3 bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

It was the heaviest cargo load yet lofted by a Cygnus. Some 800 pounds additional cargo was loaded on board compared to earlier flights. That was enabled by using the more powerful ATK CASTOR 30XL engine to power the second stage for the first time.

Everything appeared normal at first. But within about five seconds or so there was obviously a serious mishap as the rocket was no longer ascending. It was just frozen in time. And I was looking directly at the launch, not through the viewfinder of my cameras.

Something was noticeably amiss almost instantly as the rocket climbed only very slowly, barely clearing the tower it seemed to me. The rocket failed to emerge from the normal huge plume of smoke and ash that’s purposely deflected away by the flame trench at the base of the pad.

I was stunned trying to comprehend what was happening because it was all so wrong. It was absolutely nothing like the other Antares launches I’ve witnessed from the media site.

I knew as a scientist and journalist that I was watching a mounting disaster unfolding before my eyes.

Instead of ascending on an accelerating arc, a mammoth ball of fire, smoke and ash blew up the entire sky in front of us like a scene out of hell or war. Literally the sky was set on fire unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

A series of mid-air explosions rocked the area. I could feel a slight pressure wave followed by a mild but noticeable heat wave passing by.

Then the rocket began to fall back to Earth. Then the ground blew up too as the rocket pieces hit the ground and exploded into a hail of smithereens in every direction.

By this time our NASA escorts starting yelling to abandon everything in place and head immediately for the buses and evacuate the area. The ground fire spread mostly to the northern portion of the pad and the expanding air-borne plume also blew northwards. The ground fire was still burning over a half hour later.

Thankfully, everyone got out safe and there were no injuries due to the excellent effort by our NASA escorts trained for exactly these types of unexpected circumstances.

It’s heartbreaking for everyone’s painstaking efforts to get to the point of liftoff after years of effort to fulfill the critical need to resupply that station with the science equipment and experiments for which it was built.

A prime suspect in the disaster could be the pair Soviet-era built and US modified AJ26 engines that power the rocket’s first stage.

Another AJ26 engine failed and exploded during acceptance testing on May 22, 2014 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. An extensive analysis and recheck by Orbital Sciences was conducted to clear this pair for flight.

“The root cause will be determined and corrective actions taken,” Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group, said at a post launch briefing at Wallops.

For complete details check out my articles, photos and cell phone video online at Universe Today and NBC News:

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

Orion and SpaceX Launches Dec 4 & 9: NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL. Evening outreach at Quality Inn, Titusville, FL.

The Future of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis: March 2015, DVAA, PA

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email:   website:,

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