nasa colored clouds launch
The vapors launched from Wallops will appear red and blue-green in the sky. NASA

For two weeks NASA has been trying to launch a sounding rocket from its Wallops facility on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. Each time the launch gets close, something gets in the way — clouds, wind, a boat.

Spectators lined up May 31 for the first scheduled launch on the beach of Chincoteague around 4 a.m. EDT to witness the launch that was scheduled to take place within the hour. But they didn’t get to see a launch that night, or the night after that, or at five subsequently scheduled launches in the following two weeks.

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Once it launches, the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket will bring canisters of artificial clouds up into the ionosphere and aurora layers of the atmosphere. The artificial clouds will appear red and blue-green up in the sky and will allow scientists on the ground to track the movement of particles in the atmosphere, NASA said. They’re sometimes referred to as “vapor tracers.” For this launch, the clouds will be visible along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, from about New York City to North Carolina and west to parts of North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.

nasa colored clouds map
When the sounding rocket launched from Wallops the vapor will be visible from the areas indicated on this map. NASA

“This time of year you get haze, we’ve been getting some light clouds but just enough to interfere with viewing those vapors,” Keith Koehler, news chief at Wallops Flight Facility, told International Business Times. This sort of a delay isn’t particularly out of the ordinary either. “It happens,” Koehler said Wednesday. “So we'll just keep trying. We're down for tonight because we know for sure we won't have clear skies.” The next attempted launch will be no earlier than Thursday night.

The initial launches were scheduled for the early morning hours because to see the vapors, conditions must be just right. There needs to be complete darkness on the ground, and sunlight up in space so the vapors can ionize, Koehler said. But conditions changed, and nighttime launches became the best time to launch.

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The change in launch time has helped increase the number of people tuning in to view the launch. Even with the number of scrubbed missions increasing, more people have been viewing the live streams of the prelaunch coverage. Between the facility’s Ustream and Facebook Live, there were more than 100,000 viewers Tuesday night hoping to see the launch, Koehler said. “We understand they're frustrated, but that's part of the rocket business,” he explained.

Despite the delays people haven’t seemed to lose interest he said, “People are understanding this is a science mission, so we're gonna do it safely and make sure all the criteria are met before we launch.”

The goal is to have the rocket launched by next week when preparations will begin for another launch. Students will be heading to Wallops for “Rocket Week” when students from across the country gather at Wallops for learning and experimentation. The big event will be a June 22 launch of a rocket that will carry experiments designed by the students in attendance. This launch will take priority over the launch of the artificial clouds at that time, Koehler said.