Orbital ATK rocket test draws hundreds of science, space enthusiasts

Saturday , June 17, 2017 - 5:15 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

PROMONTORY — Few things capture the imagination quite like space travel, especially for Northern Utahns who know they’ll play a small part in a big mission someday.

Families, couples and science buffs from Utah and beyond gathered in the Orbital ATK public viewing area Thursday, June 15, afternoon to tailgate and to cheer for the latest rocket test at the Box Elder-based facility.

Specifically, the crowd watched the ground firing test of the abort motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft — the ship that could someday take humans to Mars. The abort motor is part of Orion’s Launch Abort System, which will help move the crew to safety in case of emergency during launch.

“It’s one little vision of success you get a chance to see,” said Sheryl Hummel, who drove to Utah from Colorado Springs to watch the launch and visit a nephew who works at Orbital ATK. “Any time you have a success, it proves you’re on the right track and builds that confidence that the end product is (also) going to be a success.”

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Orbital ATK staff said they expected around 300 visitors to the launch test site and around 150 at the public viewing area. 

Jennifer Ward of Lehi made the trip with her three daughters — Savennah, 9, Paisley, 6, and Emery, 2 — after picking up their grandmother, Evelyn Johnson of Perry. 

“(We) made sure we had nothing else (going on) to be able to come out and let them experience it,” Ward said, “mainly because, it’s in their own backyard — to let their minds know, someone created this so they could maybe know they can achieve that if they wanted to.”

Muriel Bingham of Tremonton-based Hearts and Hands Children’s Academy brought several children, ages 6 to 11, to experience the test. She said the test makes for a good learning experience. 

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“They were a little worried we’re going to get hit by the rocket. I told them, ‘It doesn’t go into the air, it’s OK,’” Bingham said. “Some of their family members work at ATK, so it’s nice for them to see what their family members do and be a part of it.”

The abort motor measures around 17 feet tall and 3 feet wide. During the test, it was attached to a vertical test stand with nozzles pointing upward. It fired for around five seconds, and Orbital ATK staff reported its exhaust flames reached 100 feet.

The delayed “boom” experienced at the public viewing area thrilled Matthew Lister, 11, of Logan. 

“It was awesome,” he said. “I noticed the light traveled to us faster than the sound.”

Salt Lake Community College engineering students Terra Ramey and Chad Sweeny drove north to see the test to support science. Ramey wore a NASA T-shirt to celebrate.

“It’s the future, you’ve got to continue to explore and create,” she said. “The technology helps in other areas as well. It’s just cool.”

Anita Olsen of Brigham City was at the launch photographing the test and supporting her husband, an electrical engineer for Orbital ATK. The couple was fresh home from seven months in Florida, where scientists and engineers are building and testing other components of the Orion spacecraft.

Olsen noted that many of Thursday’s tailgaters were there supporting Orbital ATK as one of the major employers in the region. But it’s appeal goes beyond jobs, she said.

“I think it’s also the future. If you look at this as a touch of just what can be, it’s amazing,” she said. “I think that’s why people are here, they want us to go into space … go to Mars, form colonies, anything. It’s just a wonderful future we have.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.

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