Published March 27, 2012
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – NASA finally launched five research rockets from a facility in Virginia early Tuesday after the mission suffered a number of setbacks.
The suborbital sounding rockets began blasting off from NASA's Wallops Island, Va., space center at 4:58am local time, the agency announced via Twitter.
Clear skies at Wallops Island and viewing sites in New Jersey and North Carolina were necessary for the launch to go ahead.
NASA_Wallops tweeted after the final blast off, "Awesome morning of launches. Congrats to the #ATREX team for a very successful mission."
The rockets were destined for the jet stream that lies 65 miles (104 kilometers) above the Earth and packs wind speeds well over 300mph (480kph).
After blasting off in near-synchronization, the rockets released a chemical into that atmospheric highway, leaving milky, white cloud trails that allowed people to "see" those winds from hundreds of miles (kilometers) away.
Not long after the launch, photographs of the trails were posted on social networking sites.
NASA had said the clouds could be visible for up to 20 minutes from South Carolina to New Hampshire and Vermont.
The high-altitude jet stream is different from -- and not as well understood as -- the lower-altitude one often featured in weather forecasts.
The rockets contain tools to measure the pressure and temperature in the atmosphere at the peak of the jet stream's high-speed winds, while helping scientists learn about how these winds affect satellite and radio communications, NASA said.
The rockets were designed to splash down and sink to the bottom of the ocean at the end of the mission to begin new lives as small artificial reefs.