WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. -- As seabirds swooped and Atlantic waves lapped under a crisp blue sky, an Antares rocket roared to life Saturday morning and blasted off from Virginia's Eastern Shore without a hitch.
"Liftoff Antares!" said NASA spokeswoman Leah Cheshier as the booster shot skyward bearing a Cygnus spacecraft packed with more than 8,200 pounds of payload bound for the International Space Station. Whoops, cheers and applause broke out on the ground.
Minutes later, after the Cygnus successfully separated from the booster and achieved orbit, launch controllers at NASA Wallops Flight Facility clapped and shook hands. Colleagues monitoring from Houston and Dulles celebrated, too.
"Great job, Antares, and congratulations, Cygnus," said one NASA controller. "And Wallops Range, great job today. And MARS, thanks so much for the support. Couldn't have done it without you."
MARS, or the state-owned Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops, was built for these commercial resupply missions to the space station. State leaders are working to leverage it to make Virginia a hub for the commercial space industry.
Cygnus NG-12 is the 12th robotic commercial resupply mission to the station for Northrop Grumman, formerly the Dulles-based Orbital ATK. The vehicle is set to berth at the space station early Monday.
The Cygnus is christened the S.S. Alan Bean, after the Apollo 12 crew member who became the fourth man to walk on the moon 50 years ago this month. Bean died last year at the age of 86.
During what is typically a brisk "go, no-go" round of checks in the minutes leading up to launch, a Northrop controller took a moment to give the moonwalker his due:
"In honor of Alan Bean, who shared the gift of exploration in both life and in art, and inspired future generations to travel back to the moon and beyond, Northrop Grumman is go."
The Cygnus is carrying groceries and hardware for the station crew, including spacewalk equipment and CubeSats from college students, as well as some 4,600 pounds of science payload. Researchers routinely tout the importance of such research not only for long-duration missions that NASA plans to the moon, Mars and other deep-space destinations, but for improving life here on Earth.