Impression from the launch of Nozomi on July 4, 1998
July is an unfavorable month to invite a Swede "away from home". Many foreigners trying to get hold of a Swede in July have probably experienced the flat answer by receptionists "unreachable on vacation". The short Swedish summer peaking in July induces an almost sacred holiness about the month of July. Only matters of extreme importance can move that such as a launch of Japan's first mission to Mars with a strong Swedish participation. I decided to leave my summer residency for a short while to visit a part of Japan I had not seen before, the beautiful volcanic home island of our Japanese colleague at IRF in Kiruna, Masatoshi Yamauchi, and where the Kagoshima Space Centre, KGC, is located.
Admittedly, I don't particularly fancy satellite launches. Why? Because as a spectator I can do nothing but helplessly see many years of hard work roar into the sky hoping for no drama! Also knowing that even if everything goes smoothly with the launch it is still not over yet. This is particularly true when it comes to deep space missions where the launch only marks the beginning of a series of complicated events that we hope to be crowned by successful measurements in the final target region. Anything may happen. At best a number of nail biting events with instrument commissioning tests, surprises along the cruise phase and the long waiting before the final encounter. At worse the brilliance of debris coming down to the Earth after a short flight. 1996 was such a hair rising experience when both Cluster and Mars-96, seven years of hard work, hope and expectations, were lost.
Standing there, a warm starry night at 03.10 in the morning at the Kagoshima tracking station a few kilometers from the launch pad and with perfect view of the launcher, I was not exactly in a cheering mode. An unruly and impatient, yet controlled, excitement characterized the crowd of scientists and technicians. The feeling of nothing has been overlooked, yet anything may happen ran through my mind when the huge solid propellant rocket thundered into the sky. I looked around quickly and felt relieved thank Good no one applauded! Even after seeing all stages fire and burn out in perfect timing (the sky was really unusually clear) did the crowd take it for granted that the difficulties were over. I was so thankful for that the cautious temperament of all my Japanese colleagues.
Before departing from Kagoshima in the late night I could not resist visiting the launch pad that the return bus brought us to. I jumped off the bus and went to the blackened pad where the M-V-3-rocket left just an hour ago. To visit the launch pad gives you the strange feeling of emptiness, farewell, of no return, yet a confirmation that we are now definitively on our way. The long journey has started.
In the taxi to the hotel along a winding mountain road with good view of the night sky and the sea, we (Masatoshi Yamauchi and myself) saw the last visible reminiscences of the Nozomi journey to Mars: A colorful display of noctilucent clouds induced by the second stage motor ejecta in the upper stratosphere/mesosphere, illuminated by the rising sun. It was a beautiful display, yet familiar for us who lives in the far north where stratospheric clouds are part of the many attractions of the polar sky. We nodded in recognition and said this must be a good omen.
Rickard Lundin was born in Lycksele, Sweden, in 1944.
He is presently Director of IRF, a space research institute in Sweden. His scientific interest is space plasma physics. Throughout the years He have been Project Investigator for some ten satellite instruments, more recently the Ion Mass Imager on the Japanese Nozomi mission to Mars.