It’s early in the morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but the launch team has been up through the night preparing for today’s liftoff of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Launch is scheduled for the start of a 30-second window that opens at 2:56:44 a.m. PDT — that’s 5:56:44 a.m. EDT.
Today’s countdown actually began last night at 10:21 p.m. Pacific Time, when clocks began counting backward from T-minus three hours, five minutes. At Space Launch Complex 2, the rocket’s first and second stages have been pressurized, and loading of liquid oxygen into the first stage is expected to start in about 20 minutes.
The OCO-2 spacecraft will spend at least two years giving us a complete picture of where Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) comes from — and where it’s going. Plants and oceans all over the planet take up and re-emit this invisible greenhouse gas. NASA is counting on OCO-2 to study this atmospheric give-and-take at a level of detail not available before — and perhaps solve one of Earth’s most closely guarded climate mysteries. More on that later in the countdown.