Tory Carissimo's work with Overlook Horizon High Altitude Balloons pays off in a NASA invite to see SpaceX rocket lift off

CANANDAIGUA — The first thing you notice is the flame, a metallic looking flame that is the brightest firework that you’ve ever seen — only it doesn’t dim, it just goes on.

And once you see it off in the distance, you can still hear crickets chirping, right up until an absolutely incredible sound just rumbles through you for what seems like forever.

That’s how Tory Carissimo of Canandaigua describes the commercial launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into space that he witnessed May 4 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Carissimo, who is a software and systems engineer and flight director of his nonprofit Overlook Horizon High Altitude Balloons education program — his “little piece of NASA at home,” he said, as his weather balloons have made it to where the Earth's curve can be seen — was invited by the space agency to not only witness the launch, but also meet some of the people behind it and tour the facilities.

As you might guess, this self-professed “space geek” has not come back down to Earth yet.

“I love everything there is about space flight,” said Carissimo, who is a 2004 Canandaigua Academy graduate.

Carissimo was invited because of his work with weather balloons — that, and the nationwide social media presence associated with it.

NASA invited a select number of social media science communicators and some Science, Technology, Engineering and Math educators, in the hope of having them spread the word and get more people excited about space flight.

“For months, even years, I’ll be able to relate to questions or topics that come up and pull on the experience of being there,” Carissimo said. “This is how NASA does it. I was there. I watched it.”

For as long as he can remember, Carissimo has been into space. So this was a trip for him that was part science and part dream come true.

In addition to participating in a press conference where he was able to ask questions of scientists, he and the others were able to tour some of the facilities, including the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building where the Space Shuttle and Apollo crafts were assembled.

“You’re picturing ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ coming together in this magical place,” Carissimo said. “But it’s very much industrial and looks very ordinary. Then you think, they’re assembling things that are definitely not ordinary.”

Up close, he saw crews working on the ground-level flight infrastructure, such as water, piping and fiber optics.

Carissimo also was able to walk on the large launch pad called Pad 39B.

“You’re standing where these astronauts would have walked to get to their vehicle and be the last place they touched before they left the planet,” Carissimo said.

The SpaceX rocket, which boosted the Dragon spacecraft — loaded with 5,500 pounds of supplies and payloads for science and research investigations — on its journey to the International Space Station, arrived May 6, according to the SpaceX mission overview.

One of the “super-interesting” experiments involves DNA sequencing and was developed by four high school students, Carissimo said.

The Dragon is expected to stay at the Space Station for a month before returning to Earth, with a splash down anticipated in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California.

Seeing the launch has gotten Carissimo even more excited about the space program than he had been before, if that is all possible.

“We’ve had this void since 2011, where we’re not sending astronauts anymore,” Carissimo said. “It’s getting me excited to see this new push. Not just to send astronauts again, but now it feels like we have a renewed purpose toward sending astronauts back to the moon or Mars.”