National Launch Alliance
An Atlas V rocket launches into the night sky Thursday Dec. 5, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
A rocket carrying a payload for the U.S. government illuminated the night sky off the coast of Southern California when it launched late Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The 19-story tall Atlas V rocket roared from the launch pad northwest of Santa Barbara at about 11:15 p.m. -- a soaring candle that became a distant speck of light as it entered low-Earth orbit. The rocket carried a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, in charge of the nation's system of intelligence-gathering satellites.
The agency has not released details about the payload.
Thursday's launch was the second time an Atlas 5 rocket has lifted off from the West Coast this year. Overall, there have been 77 Atlas V launches from Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Earlier this year, the tallest launch vehicle in the nation took off from Vandeberg AFB carrying a top-secret defense satellite into space. That launch marked the second time a towering and powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket took off from the West Coast.
The launch was the 11th of 2013 at Vandenberg AFB, according to Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander.