The Antares rocket as seen from Compo Beach. / Photo by Andrew Colabella
The Antares rocket as seen from Compo Beach. / Photo by Andrew Colabella

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — NASA’s latest space launch from Virginia was visible just after sundown Tuesday in Westport.

The Antares rocket as seen from Compo Beach. / Photo by Andrew Colabella
The Antares rocket as seen from Compo Beach. / Photo by Andrew Colabella

An Antares rocket sending a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station blasted off from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 8:31 p.m.

A couple minutes later, it was visible from here, though hard to discern from the many airliners heading in and out of New York airports across the Sound.

Some people saw what looked like a jet contrail. Then a visual pause.

About four minutes in, on the same trajectory, something unusual appeared — looking like a small moon with a conical tail.

The straight trail low in the sky was likely the stage one rocket doing its job. The burst with a whitish, conical trail might have been the stage two rocket igniting and blasting it farther toward orbit.

The Cygnus spacecraft is unmanned, but the International Space Station is not.

Second-stage ignition of the Antares rocket, seen from Canal Beach. / Photo by Nathaniel Grauel
Second-stage ignition of the Antares rocket, seen from Canal Beach. / Photo by Nathaniel Grauel

The NASA mission is a supply run including science experiments and tech gear for the crew. One has to wonder if it’s not unlike a supply run for kids going away to school — not just classroom supplies, but snacks, clean laundry and whatnot. After all, there’s 8,200 pounds of it.

Glimpses of NASA launches, meteor showers and the Northern Lights are often predicted. But weather often gets in the way.

Tuesday did not disappoint.

At Canal Beach, people power-walking, fishing off the rocks and walking dogs appeared unaware of the technological marvel in front of them, far past Long Island Sound and leaving the Atlantic Ocean and Earth below.

At Compo Beach, Andrew Colabella was standing atop his truck, hoping to see the rocket traverse the sky and ready with his camera.

He noticed people seemed unaware of the launch. He said he’d seen a Space-X launch go by a year or two ago.

“It was so cool,” he recalled.

He called Tuesday night’s launch “a showstopper.”

“It was spectacular,” he said. “You saw that smoke-stream, then it stopped and you saw that burn-off. A man-made shooting star.”

Westport Astronomical Society member Jessica Martin also photographed the event and shot a video in Norwalk, which were shared on the WAS Facebook page.

The Cygnus vessel’s rendezvous with the ISS will be covered live at NASA’s website beginning at 4:30 a.m. Friday.

“Cygnus is scheduled for capture by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at 5:55 a.m., which will be operated by NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg with assistance from NASA astronaut Frank Rubio,” NASA said.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.