Years of delay ended with an amazing sight early Friday along the California coast when a Delta II rocket blazed into the night sky with a NASA satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Follow the Satellite: @NASANPP | More Images: 30th Space Wing Facebook Page
There was "a lot of celebration in control room," said launch director Tim Dunn. A crowd that gathered at a public viewing area near the base cheered when the rocket ignited and sent a burst of light along the dark horizon (Scroll down to view image gallery).
Observers described viewing conditions as clear without "even and hint of fog." NASA invited 20 Twitter followers to tweet the event from the base.
The science behind the spectacle is an Earth-observing satellite designed to improve weather forecasts and monitor global climate. The Dodge Caravan-sized satellite joins other satellites already orbiting the planet and gathering data about the atmosphere, oceans and land.
Meteorologists can use information from the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) mission to improve forecasts. Researchers also will use the information to get a better idea of wildfire behavior and long-term climate shifts.
The satellite will "make America a more weather-ready nation," said Mary Glackin, NOAA's deputy undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere.
Problems with development of several instruments led to a delay with the launch, originally scheduled for 2006. The satellite is expected to orbit Earth for about five years.
Local news from across Southern California
The next scheduled launch at Vandenberg AFB, a Minuteman III rocket, is scheduled for Feb. 25.