This morning, an Atlas V rocket will blast off into space from Cape Canaveral, taking a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office into orbit. The rocket — the primary craft of private space travel company United Launch Alliance — is scheduled to take off at 8:37AM ET, but ULA’s coverage of the launch will start about 20 minutes earlier, at 8:17AM ET.
This will be ULA’s 23rd flight for the NRO
This will be ULA’s 23rd flight for the NRO, which operates a host of satellites used for intelligence gathering and surveillance. Given that the NRO’s satellite missions are classified, we don’t know a whole about about today’s payload, except that it’s been dubbed NROL-61.
But what we do know is that the satellite has one hell of a mascot: a peppy lizard named Spike. The reptile is featured prominently on the mission patch for this launch, in which he’s riding on top of the Atlas V rocket as it zooms away from Earth. Leading up to the launch this week, the NRO’s Twitter has been sharing cartoons of Spike "training" for the launch. Check out the little green guy’s workouts below, and enjoy his unruly tongue:
Meet Spike, #NROL61 mascot scheduled to launch on a @ulalaunch #AtlasV from @45thSpaceWing on July 28, 2016. pic.twitter.com/QYLrzYvdP2— NRO (@NatReconOfc) July 25, 2016
Spike gets into shape for his #AtlasV rocket ride from @45thSpaceWing (CCAFS) on Thursday morning. #NROL61 pic.twitter.com/bDRqy9f2oI— NRO (@NatReconOfc) July 26, 2016
Spike preps for his big day aboard #NROL61 by pulling Gs. He’ll be travelling 22 times faster than a fighter jet. pic.twitter.com/3DRr3noiSb— NRO (@NatReconOfc) July 27, 2016
Spike’s mission patch adds to a long tradition of weird/intense patches that the NRO issues for its classified launches. Typically, the patches have either been magic-themed or have featured a giant creature grasping the Earth in a show of strength. While Spike only straddles the rocket in this launch’s mission patch, the NRO also released an image of the giant lizard sitting on top of the Earth. Perhaps Spike was feeling left out.
So far, weather is looking good for launch; there’s an 90 percent chance conditions will be favorable, according to Patrick Air Force Base. You can watch the launch live here.