Cheers and applause rang out from a pair of watch parties in Lompoc late Monday morning as NASA’s InSight lander officially touched down some 91 million miles away on the surface of Mars.
The moment capped years of anticipation for some of the local space enthusiasts who gathered at the Lompoc Public Library and at Lompoc's Hilton Garden Inn to watch a live NASA broadcast of the milestone event. The InSight mission, which was delayed in 2016, kicked off with a May 5 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base that started the first-ever interplanetary mission from the West Coast of the U.S.
“We were ready for it two years ago when it got delayed the first time, so this is really exciting,” Tom Gerald, the president of the Vandenberg Amateur Astronomical Society, said shortly before watching the NASA control room broadcast of the landing in the Lompoc Public Library’s Grossman Gallery.
“We’ve been waiting the summer out for this landing today,” he added.
About 20 people gathered for the viewing party sponsored by the library, while several more young kids worked on rocket and space-related crafts in the facility’s children’s section.
Tables set up inside the Grossman Gallery displayed several papers and other materials related to Mars and the local space industry. Many of those materials were provided by Lompoc resident Jana Hunking, a former science teacher who also expressed excitement for the historic InSight mission.
“I’ve always been interested in Mars exploration,” she said.
Less than a mile away, about 80 people filled a conference room at the Hilton Garden Inn, where the NASA broadcast was shown on a television.
David Tekaat, the founder of the Lompoc Senior's Club and organizer of the club’s first Space Symposium in October, was among the celebratory viewers at the hotel when NASA officials confirmed that the InSight craft had successfully landed.
“It was really exciting to see the successful landing after all this time, after seven years of hard work,” he said.
Tekaat said he appreciated having the opportunity to enjoy the moment with so many other people who shared an interest in space exploration.
“It was better than watching it on TV at home,” he said, laughing.
While at the party, Tekaat passed out information for the second Space Symposium he plans to host at the Dick DeWees Community and Senior Center on Sept. 24 through Sept. 26, 2019.
He said he was hopeful that events like those related to the InSight mission to Mars, which drew large crowds for the May 5 launch, will help bolster local interest in the space industry, which could lead to an economic boost.
“Hopefully enthusiasm will grow and grow, especially with SpaceX here launching rockets all the time,” he said. “The missiles not so much, but the rockets are exciting — especially sending stuff to Mars.”
Justin Barrick, the treasurer for Explore Lompoc, which organized the Hilton Garden Inn viewing party as well as a launch party at the Lompoc Airport for the start of the mission in May, said he felt like the landing “went amazing.”
Barrick said that Explore Lompoc would look to remain involved in local space-related activities.
“We’re always looking to venture with the space programs,” he said. “The event in May at the airport was amazing and this was an amazing event, so we definitely want to do this again for sure.”
Sylvia Lizarde, the general manager of the Lompoc Hilton Garden Inn, said her organization shared the same outlook.
“I think any opportunity we have to educate the community and be able to partner with NASA or [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] or whoever, it’s so exciting,” she said. “People were so excited leaving here today.”
The InSight mission is the first dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars and the first to place a seismometer directly on the surface of another planet to detect quakes. The mission is scheduled to continue until Nov. 24, 2020.
Julie Schneringer, a Lompoc resident and launch site manager with NASA, was in attendance Monday at the Hilton Garden Inn to answer questions and discuss the mission. She said she was glad to see such enthusiasm from the crowd.
“It’s nice,” she said. “It’s great to see the interest that the recent launches have all had for people locally.”