An Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, piercing the clear night sky on a mission to carry a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite into orbit.

The rocket launched at 9:33 p.m. Thursday, carrying not only the TDRS-L satellite, but also special tribute into space honoring longtime NASA engineer Capt. Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey Jr., who died in November.

Mackey was the "Voice of NASA" in the 1960s and '70s, when he broadcast countdowns for the agency's rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It was Mackey's voice the nation heard when NASA began broadcasting countdowns to the public for the first time. Mackey stayed in that role until retiring after decades of service.

Etched onto the side of the Atlas V was a tribute that read:

In memory of our colleague and friend
Arthur J. "Skip" Mackey Jr.

The NASA and ULA Team

Those who worked with him knew Mackey to be a professional, a pioneer and a gentleman.

"His way of delivering the data in a way everybody could understand was what made it so interesting to listen to him," said George Diller, NASA's public affairs information specialist and current "voice" of many launches from Cape Canaveral. "He had an insight into what was really going on without being a rocket scientist or engineer."

Diller said Mackey inspired him, and his style reflects what he learned from him.

Aside from the etching on the rocket, the launch of a tracking and telemetry satellite is a fitting tribute to Mackey as well. It represents the same type of work "Skip" did with NASA.

The TDRS-L is the second of three next-generation satellites scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral to replace older satellites already in orbit. It's designed to help improve the space agency's Earth-to-space communications network.