It’s a bird! It’s a plane! …What was that?

SpaceX launch stirs social media frenzy

Photo by Nati Gallardo
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket photographed by Hemet resident Nati Gallardo, near the intersection of Florida and Sanderson avenues.

■ Kyle Selby / Reporter

If you were looking up at the sky on the night of Dec. 22, you most likely caught the glint of an iridescent unidentified flying object taking to the stars. Fortunately, our planet was not the target of an intergalactic invasion this day.
“Well, at first I thought it was an airplane but immediately I realized that it was too bright to be an airplane,” said Nati Gallardo, Hemet resident who saw the sky light up while she was driving. “Then fear set in, and I thought about my family and the possibility of a missile strike from North Korea, and the fear of dying.”
While many immediately hopped on social media to pollute the web with conspiracy theories about nuclear warfare or little green men, they were actually tweeting about the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, California.
“As I watched it create its shape, then I realized if that would have been [a missile], then it wouldn’t still be in the air and disappearing. It would’ve struck us already,” Gallardo rationalized, who had already been watching it for two or three minutes. “Finally I said to myself, ‘It has to be a rocket of some kind, and it will be in the news later.’” Gallardo says her son, who lives in Arizona, also saw the rocket.
Falcon 9 launched around 5:30 p.m. after a livestream of the launch aired on SpaceX’s website. Just about 15 minutes later is when Californians stopped and stared into the illuminated sky to witness the craft’s first and second-stage engine separations.
According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 rocket was manufactured and designed to safely transport communication satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into low orbit—a free-flying vessel used by SpaceX to deliver cargo and people to destinations in orbit.
Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket—the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight. It has nine first-stage engines, meaning it can operate even under the chances of engine shutdown.
The fourth set of 10 satellites was deployed nearly an hour after Falcon 9 launched. This was SpaceX’s final launch of 2017, previously having deployed 30 other satellites into orbit over the course of three previous launches. The 10 satellites were successfully deployed, each sending a “healthy signal” to Earth.
The other missions before the Dec. 22 launch would have the rocket’s first stage landing on a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. This last launch, however, authorized the rocket to dive directly into the ocean upon impact. It is still unclear why they changed procedures.
Elon Musk, founder of the aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, jokingly tweeted “Nuclear Alien UFO from North Korea” attached to a video of the rocket in the sky.
One person tweeted about an “alien debate” that occurred amongst family in his household, thanks to the launch, to which Musk responded, “It was definitely aliens.”
Iridium, a company that specializes in data satellite communications, plans to eventually launch a total of 75 of their satellites into orbit to make up Iridium NEXT, their “next generation global satellite constellation.” The constellation, once fully formed, is expected to replace the world’s largest low-Earth orbit commercial satellite network.

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