Early Saturday morning (November 12), well before sunrise, the Sunshine State was shaken from sleep by a terrifying sound. Just after 5 a.m., a massive sonic boom ripped through the still-dark air, rattling houses and rousing thousands of central Florida residents.
Floridians immediately took to social media to share their fears. Though central Florida is no stranger to the sounds of space flight, residents know the schedule well and couldn’t attribute the sonic boom to any known launch. “Just heard a sonic boom in the Orlando area. No launch scheduled right now,” one resident wrote. “I heard a triple boom at 5:15 a.m. in Haines City, FL. I thought someone had jumped on my roof!” another said.
Could it be aliens? An unexpected meteorite strike? A devastating explosion?
To their immense relief (and slight annoyance), NASA soon laid claim to the earth-shaking sound. According to the U.S. Space Force, the sonic boom was the result of their X-37B space plane touching down in Florida’s Kennedy Space Center after a staggering 908 days in orbit, the unmanned shuttle’s longest flight yet.
The return of the X-37B wasn’t announced, leading many Florida residents to make the understandable request that NASA gives them a heads-up ahead of future sonic booms. “What is going on in Florida right now?” one resident tweeted. “Had Hurricane Nicole earlier this week and btw it’s November. Only to wake up at 5:15 a.m. to a sonic boom caused supposedly by a super-classified military spacecraft. What a week I’ve had.”
“Next time, please NASA, let us know what’s coming down from space,” another said. “We’ve already been through Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole, we’re still traumatized.”
NASA Space Craft Causes Sonic Boom in Florida Following Top Secret Mission
The sonic boom-causing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle-6 launched back in May 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its mission, called USSF-7, included several experiments on the effects of long-duration space exposure to seeds. The rest of the mission, however, remains top secret. X-37B’s mission was so classified, in fact, that even information surrounding the landing of the space plane was kept confidential.
What we do know is that the X-37B was originally designed to fly just 270 days but remains in orbit longer and longer with each flight. “The X-37B continues to push the boundaries of experimentation, enabled by an elite government and industry team behind the scenes,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Fritschen, DAF Rapid Capabilities Office’s X-37B Program Director.
“The ability to conduct on-orbit experiments and bring them home safely for in-depth analysis on the ground has proven valuable for the Department of the Air Force and scientific community,” he continued. “The addition of the service module on OTV-6 allowed us to host more experiments than ever before.”