“All aboard!” the conductor exclaims as he shuts the stainless steel door of our railcar. With that Amtrak Pacific Surfliner 777 is off. Departing Fullerton Train Station bound for Lompoc, California to witness the launch of a fire breathing rocket.
Lompoc is home to Vandenburg Air Force Base. Vandenburg, located about 180 miles north of Fullerton, is used primarily to launch space vehicles for military and commercial use.
Private company SpaceX uses the facilities for its west coast launches. SpaceX was founded in 2002 by magnate Elon Musk. As the founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors, Musk set out 11 years ago to provide reliable space transportation at a reasonable cost for commercial and private uses.
To this date, SpaceX’s successful test launches have provided the company with booked flight manifests for years to come. This issue’s journey takes us to watch the launch of SpaceX’s latest version of their flagship rocket, the Falcon 9.
Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner connects San Diego to San Luis Obispo with trains running north and south along the state, making a central stop at Los Angeles Union Station.
Northbound Trains arrive at the Surf/Lompoc Station in the afternoon while the majority of launches take place in the morning hours. In order to observe launches, an overnight stay at local lodging is usually required.
Finding a good spot is crucial to getting the best views of the launch. A viewing point with crowd bleachers is located at Corral Road and Highway 1 along the base’s mid-eastern section.
Morning comes and the clock approaches nine. Shortly the countdown begins; three, two, one…The nine Merlin Rocket engines in Cctaweb Formation ignite in unison sending a thunderous roar across the Santa Ynez Valley blasting the newest Falcon 9 into space.
The launch goes flawlessly and cries of joy and celebration echo across the crowd of onlookers.
“It was incredibly smooth, the ascent was just picture perfect,” said Musk.
The launch marked the sixth flight for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the first for version 1.1. For more action, sit back and aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and catch a rocket launch for one of the best shows west of the Mississippi.
Adventures by Rail is a biweekly column dedicated to the Fullerton Station and the many adventures it can take you on.