Mojave: A Desert with a Space Future

I spent the last week out in Palmdale, California working with groups NASA, Citizens in Space and Teachers in Space. Each has interesting relationships to the others, and all have the dream of having continuous human presence in outer space. This program was a study in suborbital space flight. Here are the highlight photos from the trip. Note that some aspects of the program were not allowed to be imaged. Sorry, but visits to SpaceX,  and others do not permit internal photos.

Driving to and from hotel to the various sites required a lot of gas and a tolerance for heat. 100 degree F days were common, as was the perfect blue sky and sunshine. This photo was taken from a Jeep, a Jeep with its own private WiFi setup. Not bad!

Driving from Palmdale north to Mojave

Below is a typical Mojave Desert scene: lots of scrubby plants like sagebrush and creosote, sand, rocks and craggy hills. Visibility is so good that the hills can be mountains and they can be 20+ miles away!


We’d get up pretty early to get to the more distant reaches. This fine morning we were able to see the setting full moon just as the sun was poking up from the desert floor.

One of the highlights of the trip was to work with, learn from, and fly with Col. Rick Searfoss (Ret) who flew three Space Shuttle missions and has been working lately with XCor as a test pilot/astronaut.

Here he in the backseat of the Grob glider we used for the day. The man has the ability to sit in that seat for 8 hours without any hassles: all he needed throughout the day was good conversation, a lot of water and air-time.

Here he is as I snapped the shot aiming back towards the tail of the glider.

Getting all snapped into the glider is a little bit of fun: a four-point harness keeps one fully attached. There is >>> just <<< enough legroom for my 6’1″ frame while still allowing for full control deflection.

Our tow plane pilot was Jimmy Doolittle, the grandson of Jimmy Doolittle of WWII. He was an interesting fellow, kind and an excellent pilot.

Getting ready to be towed required a short wait: The towplane had to get back and land on the main runway before a short taxi to the glider runway. Two or three people were always around to help grab the tow rope, attach it to the glider and help level the wings on takeoff. Here is the view waiting for attachment.

Here we are ready for the takeoff. The tow plane and glider pilots wiggle their rudders to signal GO, and down the runway we zip.

Once tow started, I had a couple of moments to snap a picture before being given the plan for tow training. I learned a lot in those brief moments…. now there is a LOT of good reason to use slips and skids when flying, something I used for crosswind landings, mostly….

One released, the tow plane dives low and left, while we crank up and right for rapid separation. The view is spectacular. We’re wearing no headphones: the only sound is the wind. Here is Mountain Valley Airport from above:

Now that you have a song stuck in your head (Tehachapi anyone?), here is the view while doing some steep turns:

All good things must end, and gliders will not fly forever. We had good lift from the nearby mountain updrafts and some excellent thermals as the heat rose from the community below. With so much energy to lose (we caught lift in the pattern!), those breaks on the wings helped a lot:

You can just make out those dive breaks there on the top of the wings. You can also see the huge wind turbines out on the hills. Those are HUGE folks, a lot bigger than they appear.

Gliders are lovely aircraft. We flew in a Grob G103 Twin Astir. Here is another lovely craft sitting on the field, a Schleicher ASK-21. I like the clamshell approach to the canopies.

So, there you have it: phase one. I will post more images from the trip as I work through them on my hard drive. Enjoy!

About johnb

- Director of Grainger Observatory, Phillips Exeter Academy. - Variable-star-crazed astronomer, but have done research in other areas. - Drummer, archer, pilot, chef, friend, pet owner, husband, father, Train-nut.
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