NSS Chapters/Members at Historic First Starship Launch

Photo by Fred Becker

As seen by Cliff McMurray

Members of the NSS Chapter Oklahoma Space Alliance, Cliff and Claire McMurray, made the 14-hour drive from Oklahoma to south Texas to view the first launch of SpaceX’s Starship. With help from NSS South Texas Chapter president William Brown, they found a prime viewing site at the tip of South Padre Island, five miles from the launch pad. “Talking with people from all over the country, I found that Starship has ignited an interest in the public that I haven’t seen since the first shuttle launch, maybe even since Apollo,” said Cliff.

While the first launch attempt on May 17 was scrubbed, they extended their hotel stay to wait for the next attempt. Next day they headed out to the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica and took closeup pictures of the Starship/Super Heavy. Three days later, now joined by NSS Austin Space Frontier Society chapter members John and Ed Strickland, they headed back to South Padre Island. The crystal-clear sky of the Monday launch attempt was replaced that Thursday by fog and haze that slowly burned off, but viewing conditions never got as good as the first attempt.

Nevertheless, it was a spectacular launch, “the most exciting I’ve ever seen. Starship made as much noise at five miles as Shuttle did at three miles. With five engines out, and the bright flare in the exhaust plume, you could see the rocket was struggling to gain altitude and stay on course. I really wondered whether it would keep climbing or fall back down,” said Cliff.

When controllers finally triggered the self-destruct, Starship had made it far enough downrange that many viewers assumed the flare in the sky was a normal staging event. After the cheering had stopped, the McMurrays and the Stricklands headed back to their hotel — but not before making arrangements to meet Brown and a few other Brownsville Chapter members for dinner and conversation/celebration. New friendships were formed among the members of three Midwest chapters, and they all looked forward to seeing each other at this year’s ISDC, and in the years to come.

Claire McMurray views Starship
Claire McMurray of the Oklahoma Space Alliance Chapter of NSS views Starship

As seen by Fred Becker

Long ago in high school, I made a journey to see the launch of Apollo 16 and participate in the golden age of space exploration. I got onboard the last bus tour to the pad on the evening before liftoff and watched the launch preparations from near the pad with people moving about on the gantry. Then the bus headed to the Vehicle Assembly Building. When we got off the bus there, the Saturn V was bathed in searchlights since twilight had begun. Such sights have meaning and that showed me what a good team of people can do when working together. The next day, the mega rocket Saturn V liftoff was spectacular and inspired my career choices. When a mega-rocket flies, the sky seem to part and the sound seems to almost redefine reality. It is an experience like no other.

Nine years later, I was part of mission control in Houston as the same commander, John Young, and his stalwart crew Robert Crippen, took our first space shuttle into space on STS-1. I had an adventurous career with NASA working on the shuttle, space station, and dozens of other programs.

This April, I made a new journey to once again experience a mega-rocket, the SpaceX Starship, and the beginning of a new space age. I made a stop in Houston to visit old friends and our NSS CEO and Clear Lake chapter member Anita Gale. Then, after a scrub on April 17, I made it out to SpaceX Starbase and the Starship pad and once again had that teamwork feeling as they stacked the vehicle for flight. They made it look easy and I hoped that is also how it would go when they launched. The launch was not quite so easy, but indeed as exciting as Elon had promised. I had four thoughts going during the launch: a concern for my physical safety being so close, thankfulness that the skies had cleared to make it visible, reliving the experience of a mega-rocket, and awareness that I was seeing an historic event. So hats off to all at SpaceX. Go Starship!

As part of my trip, I was able to meet up with Doug Plata at the launch. Doug is founder of the Space Development Network and one of their projects is an inflatable Moon base called the Instabase. He later brought this to our ISDC exhibits area this year. I also met with William Brown, president of NSS South Texas who is doing a wonderful job. On my trip home, I met up with four NSS chapters as well, Joe and Carol Redfield from San Antonio, John and Ed Strickland from Austin, Ken Ruffin from Dallas, and Judy Tippett from St. Louis. Go NSS!

Panorama of Starship viewing locationPanorama of Fred’s viewing location

Fred was also featured in the below Twitter post that was shared by Elon Musk and hence seen by some 10 million people.


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Contributors to the NSS Blog are unpaid volunteers. Unless specifically labeled an NSS position or press release, all blog posts represent the views of the author and not of NSS, even if written by an NSS officer.

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