From then onwards its mainly guess-work.
The upper winds blowing strange figures with the white fume fingers.
This then, is the scene 17 miles north of Malindi at Kenya’s Ngwana Bay rocket range, where next Thursday the latest weather observation satellite will be fired off into the heavens hopefully scoring another success for the joint US-Italian-Kenyan “San Marco” Upper Space Research programme.
Some ideas of the operation’s complexity can be gained from the fact that there are more than 3,000 connections of various kinds linking the two platforms — there are even independent generators producing different electrical voltages to meet scientific equipment requirements.
Everyone is aware of what is supposed to happen — even the village children know how to count-down from ten in English — but it rarely goes according to schedule. The count-down very often goes something like this:
“Nine minutes 42 seconds,
“Nine minutes 41 seconds ...
“We are holding on nine minutes 41 seconds
“Still holding on nine minutes 41 seconds”.
On a particularly unlucky day you can be left “holding on nine minutes 41 seconds” for anything up to two hours.
Eventually the count-down really gets into the nitty-gritty Nineties:
“99 seconds, 98 seconds, 97 seconds, 96 seconds
“holding on 96 seconds ...
“We are still holding on 96 seconds ...”
And so it goes until the launch controller might go right through a further 50 seconds and then:
“23 seconds, 22 seconds ...
“Holding on 22 seconds.”
- Photos: Goddard Space Flight Center NASA