Or: 30MPH gusts are no joke.
Before we went out to launch the balloon, Doug came over to explain to us how the launch was going to go down.
He told us the Disney fantasy version of how the launch would come off, a leisurely release of the balloon into calm skies with plenty of time for reflection and appreciation of the moment.
Then he detailed what he described as a "less optimal launch" in which the wind comes up, we start losing control of the balloon, someone just starts yelling, "Let it go!" and then a team member needs to start booking it with the balloon to guide it as it gets lift.
Dan's ears perked up at this.
Dan wanted to be the guy to race down the tarmac with the payload in his arms. He did stretches. He jogged in place. He said sporty things like, "Let's do this!" As a bit of an adrenaline junkie, he was inadvertently training for this moment his whole life.
It's important for you to realize that volunteering for this took some courage. These balloons can be dangerous. They have a lot of lift and power on their own and the high winds just exacerbate that. The lines that they use are high test and can cut through your skin and get wrapped up around you. Dan already has a scar from crossing with a line during drop testing. Doug had told us some intimidating stories about other people getting their palms sliced open. Basically, you don't want to be on the wrong side of this thing when it gets going.
On top of that you have the pressure to be the key person who is keeping all of our precious electronics in our delicate hull from smearing along the pavement or klonking into a tree.
Do you see Dan in the back? Do you see how intimidating he looks? Dan Daugherty is a steely eyed balloon man.
I was fairly certain that, because the weather was so tumultuous, we were going to have the non-Disney launch. We weren't even going to have the Pixar launch. Not even a Hanna-Barbera launch. No, this was going to be rough. I told the team to make sure they were communicating clearly and loudly and to be ready for action.
Then the training that Doug gave us paid off as we stepped into the chute.
Being up close to the balloon in that wind was terrifying. Not because I thought that it would hurt me but because I was so worried that I was going to pop the balloon and we'd have to start all over. We had a back up balloon in the TURDS, so it would not have been the worst thing, but at that point everyone just wanted to see this albatross get off the ground.
As we moved out of the chute, with David and Naomi slithering across the ground, you could feel the wind smack into the balloon. For something that is meant to go to space...these balloons feel very flimsy. While we were filling, the team next to us accidentally let go and popped their balloon on the ceiling of the gym. When you're nervous and running on fumes something like that feels amplified and we were all realizing that these balloons were much larger and harder to control than the ones we had trained with. We were all acting like a bunch of space cats in a room filled with space rocking chairs. Not popping this thing was on everyone's mind. It was certainly on my mind as I watched the latex morph around my gloved fingernails. (That's when I jump back.) It was on my mind when David instinctively pinched the balloon. And then again, when the balloon strayed perilously close to the brick and the wire fence.
Once it became clear that this was going South, Doug started giving the command to let it go and the team sprung into action. All of us released our hold, Jimmy snatched up the ring, Dan got on his mark and then he just took the hand off like he had done this every day of his life and ran that thing to safety. It was awe inspiring.
Once it was in the air? I can't describe how that felt. I can use words like, "elated" and "euphoria" and I can tell you that my eyes welled up with love and pride for my team. I could even attempt to describe what it was like to set this fragile baby free after hundreds of hours of work...but really you had to be there.
While watching it fly away the idea that it would go to space and then we'd see it again, 300 miles away, in another city, just seemed ludicrous to me. How could this even work? How could that teeny styrofoam cooler and dainty balloon make it back safely? What were the odds?
In the longer version of this video you can hear Jimmy saying, "Alright." which is Jimmy-code for, "Start getting ready to transition to this next thing." and you can see my mumbling, "No. Jimmy. No 'Alright.'" Even though we were giddy with relief we still had a long day ahead of us, and if you've read the rest of this blog you know we still had some challenges before we'd see our project again.