It’s launch day for NASA’s latest mission, code-named Olympex, and the weather is soggy—a drenching rain with high winds expected. While technicians secure the payload and scientists guard their instruments, researcher Matt Wingo is keeping an eye on the forecast. “Perfect,” he murmurs.
Without so much as a countdown, this NASA mission gets under way. There’s no need for us to stand back, insert earplugs, or avert our eyes. Olympex’s maximum velocity will never break 5 kilometers per hour. The only real risk is that of stepping in the wrong place. That’s because this state-of-the-art weather and climate experiment is being launched by mule.
Pack animals might seem an odd choice for an agency known for rockets, rovers, and solar-powered ion drives. But where this team is headed—a remote location deep in the mountains of Olympic National Park in Washington state—there are no roads, no landing pads, and precious little sunshine. Indeed, the park’s rain forest is the wettest place in the continental United States. Which is precisely why the NASA team is here: to improve the accuracy of the newest rain-tracking satellite by vetting its results in the most sodden conditions imaginable.