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People traveled from around California to see SpaceX launch — and got nothing but fog

Watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket emerge through the fog during launch

SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California on June 11, 2019.
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SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California on June 11, 2019.

Just after 7 a.m., a hush fell over the crowd of people gathered at a bare patch of dry grass on the rolling hills of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The crowd strained to see and hear through the dense fog, hoping to catch a glimpse of what they had all assembled at that point for: a rocket launch.

After several months of delays and rescheduling, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:17 a.m. Wednesday, sending three satellites into space for the Canadian Space Agency.

Unfortunately, the crowd gathered at the Hawk’s Nest — a former RV park on the Air Force base that was the official viewing area for Wednesday’s launch — weren’t going to get the show they came for.

Even though the launch went through as expected, heavy fog blanketing the Lompoc Valley on Wednesday morning completely obscured the rocket’s liftoff from the crowd.

After several seconds of waiting, and a live radio feed of the launch confirming that the rocket had reached the upper atmosphere, one man in the crowd yelled “Well, that was exciting!” to the laughter of the group.

“The fog was something I hadn’t anticipated,” Howard Montgomery of Fullerton said as he began packing his camera back up.

Montgomery said he kept track of this launch through the numerous delays and decided to come out for it — his first time ever seeing a rocket launch at Vandenberg — only to be thwarted by the weather. Like Montgomery, others in the crowd came from across the state to watch the launch.

The show wasn’t a full bust for those who trekked out hoping for a space spectacle.

Vandenberg Air Force officials cautioned before the launch that residents in nearby counties — including San Luis Obispo County — might hear a sonic boom as the re-usable SpaceX rocket returned to the landing pad after launch.

A sonic boom is the sound made from shock waves from an aircraft or vehicle traveling faster than the speed of sound. It sounds similar to an explosion or clap of thunder.

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Spectators at Hawks Point on Vandenberg Air Force Base try to catch a glimpse of the SpaceX rocket launch through the fog on Wednesday morning. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

Observers at Hawks Nest heard the boom when the rocket returned to the landing pad about 8 minutes after takeoff.

The noise, which sounded like a loud firework, startled babies in the crowd, who started to cry. A few people said “Oh, s---!”

No boom was heard in San Luis Obispo.

For Montgomery, the lack of visible spectacle didn’t dissuade him from trying to catch future launches:

“Maybe next time,” he said.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.
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