Spaceflight Insider

Reflections on the launch of OA-5: Infinite Blue

View outside the wing of the American Airlines Airbus 321 on the way to Philadelphia. This was the SFI trip to cover the OA-5 Cygnus flight to the ISS. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The view outside the wing of the American Airlines Airbus A320 on the way to Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — On Monday, Oct. 10, as I sit at Orlando International Airport, I was left wondering which gods I had offended. This was one of only a handful of trips SpaceFlight Insider had opted to undertake in 2016, and it was off to a less than auspicious start.

My initial flight on my way to my destination of Wallops Flight Facility had been delayed, the Antares launch itself had slipped 24 hours, somewhere several babies were vying to see who could scream the loudest, all the while a couple of morbidly obese women discussed their latest conquests (yes, plural).

If I wasn’t in hell, I was most assuredly on the off ramp toward it…

Expecting the flight to be as virtually every other flight I had taken had been – packed to the gills with people only focused on their own tightly-defined orbits making life as miserable as possible for everyone else – I was disappointed: the flight was largely empty.

I had almost forgotten…

A sounding rocket at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

A sounding rocket at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

As we ascended shortly after 3:10 p.m. EDT (19:10 GMT), the remaining clouds and winds left over from Hurricane Matthew’s pass on the Sunshine State fell far below, granting a shocking blue.

That infinite blue deepened as we proceeded toward Philadelphia, traveling up the Eastern Seaboard. Along the way, I was paid a visit by an old friend – Selene.

More commonly known as the Moon, or Luna, our nearest celestial neighbor graced the winglet of the Airbus A320 aircraft. Above the right wing was the shocking blue of the sky, then the dappled white of the clouds and the Atlantic far below.

Whatever our various roles in whatever businesses we work, we tend to get wrapped up with whatever is right in front of us. It’s human nature, I suppose. For me, that’s the multiple challenges of arranging for our team to have the resources, access, and information they need to tell the story that we’ve tasked ourselves with covering.

Focus on the work – not the jerks…

When I was going through a difficult time back when I was stationed at Ray Barracks, located near Friedberg, Germany, I called my dad. My father wasn’t one for conversation, but he was likely the wisest man I’ll ever know. He told me simply, “Focus on the work, not the jerks.”

As I looked out at the quilt work of beaches, fields, roadways, and the sea below, I realized it was time I listened to my father. The endless blue of the sky beckoned far above. It, along with the Moon and clouds, symbolized several things all at once and, without the constant ring of the cell phone, ping of Facebook and e-mail jail, I finally remembered why I do this in the first place.

Our lives, even if they don’t involve chasing rockets across the globe, are what we make, or what we allow others to make of them. There will always be a Matthew causing havoc, but, eventually, the skies will clear and you can focus on what is truly important.

In the case of Orbital ATK, what was truly important was getting the Antares 230 rocket off Pad 0A and on its way to orbit. The launch vehicle and its precious cargo of the S.S. Alan Poindexter Cygnus spacecraft (and the 5,100 lbs of cargo she carried) would eventually light the nighttime skies above the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia – but not before an array of obstacles were overcome (more on that later).

As we flew on, the gray in my spirit, the slights, missteps, and frustrations of the first three years of SpaceFlight Insider’s existence gave way to the pure joy of the blue. We are very fortunate to be able to cover one of the most exciting beats there is. We’re supported by some well-known names in the aerospace industry who trust us with their story. It simply doesn’t get better than that.

My only regret? It took me traveling to 37,000 feet on my way to watch a medium-class launch vehicle light up the nighttime skies of Virginia for me to regain my perspective. We rarely post opinion-based articles, but as we become more comfortable in what our format and style is, we want to show we can discuss a range of topics, including what it’s like for us to travel to different locations in our effort to bring the story to you.


The views expressed in this feature are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SpaceFlight Insider. 



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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