The widely anticipated Delta IV heavy rocket launch went off with only a minor delay Saturday — dramatically lifting out of a plume of fire and smoke into a gleaming late morning sky from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The launch, postponed by just five minutes to resolve a handful of last-minute concerns, came after multiple cancellations in December, most recently for a hydrogen leak in the last seconds before the anticipated launch.
But United Launch Alliance representatives said the launch was given a “unanimous go” on Friday after a Launch Readiness Review.
The rocket, carrying top secret payload into space for the National Reconnaissance Office, dubbed the NROL-71 mission, lifted off at 11:10 a.m. Officials confirmed the two boosters jettisoned successfully minutes later before ending public updates due to the mission’s secretive nature.
Weather wasn’t quite perfect for launch, with ULA putting favorable conditions at 40 percent 20 minutes prior with winds at around 10 mph, down from 70 percent the previous day. But viewing was ideal with a few wisps of clouds dotting the sky and temperatures hovering right above 60 degrees.
Hundreds of rocket fans lined Ocean Avenue just outside of Lompoc in anticipation.
Shelly and Loyd Champion came up from Port Hueneme to watch. “I’m just a space cadet from the ‘60s,” Loyd Champion said. “It’s an awesome thing to see a rocket flying from the sky — the fire, the power.”
David and Brittany Breaux and their children Alana and Nathan came down from the Bay Area for the launch. They watched the delayed launch in December on TV; when it was scrapped at the last second, Nathan “threw himself down on the ground,” his dad joked.