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Archive for November 21st, 2009

Florida Expedition

by on Nov.21, 2009, under Happenings

The Florida expedition was from 11/11 to the early morning of 11/17 and was very successful.  Here’s a summary.  Some people want photos, so I’ll give that a try.

Wednesday. The PA turnpike had next to no traffic from Blue Mountain to Harrisburg East, though had ludicrous 40 mph speed limits posted for much of the distance.  Airport security at Harrisburg was relatively speedy, though they did decide to perform some kind of chemical test on my shoes.  We had an expensive and slow lunch before our flight to Charlotte, NC.   We were a bit late arriving in CLT, it was raining, and there wasn’t much waiting around for the next flight.  The flight to Orlando was uneventful.  We were above the cloud deck much of the time during both flights.  I was only able to get GPS lock very briefly after leaving MDT.  I’d very much like it if GPS worked better inside of aircraft.  The shuttle to the off-site Hertz location was speedy, we got our car, and made our way on the Beachline Express to Cocoa Beach at which point it was dark.  Checked in, got food, and walked the beach a bit.

Atlantis with the STS-129 stack, viewed from Cape Canaveral National Seashore

Thursday.  It was only in the 60s today, and after just having had some Indian Summer in PA, it didn’t feel like we were anywhere tropical.  We walked Cocoa Beach from the pier to Jetty Park in the morning.  We then drove around the Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge.  Had our first view of the shuttle on the pad from the Cape Canaveral Seashore.

Atlantis with the STS-129 stack and pad 39B viewed from camera tracking station

Friday. We were at the KSC visitors complex when it opened, walked around the shuttle Explorer and then boarded our bus for the “NASA Close Up” tour.  The tour took us to the causeway where the lucky 3000 people with the best tickets can watch a launch from the closest allowed distance.  We drove past one of the massive crawler transporters and approached pad 39B which is undergoing modifications to accommodate the Ares rockets.  We parked at a camera tracking station which provided the closest view of the shuttle we had the entire trip.  I was able to get some closer though less clear pictures via binoculars.

Saturn V - S-IC-T

Saturn V - S-IC-T

Our next stop was the Apollo / Saturn V Center where we walked under and around a real Saturn V rocket laid over horizontally.  It’s crazy huge – really amazing to see the thing in person.  We then took the bus to the ISS building and were able to look down on the clean room used for processing space station modules – though it was difficult to tell what one was looking at.  Back to the main visitors center, we watched a 3D IMAX film, “rode” the Space Shuttle Launch Experience, and called it a day.

Friday night we drove out to Port Canaveral and parked along the road (where many others were also parked) to see the launch of an Atlas V rocket containing a commercial satellite payload.  I had my radio scanner with me, listening to the Coast Guard announcing the area restricted from boats, and also aircraft dispatched to patrol the area.  We heard that the launch was scrubbed via the scanner, due to technical issues with the rocket.  We headed back to the hotel, not sure how this scrub would affect our chances of seeing a shuttle launch.  The shuttle launch had already been moved from Thursday to Monday because of this rocket, and if this rocket would be ready for another attempt on Saturday or Sunday, the shuttle would again wait.  Fortunately, this launch was put off for more than a week as announced the next day.

Blockhouse Console

Blockhouse Console

Saturday. We returned to the KSC visitor’s center touring more of the exhibits there and watching the other 3D IMAX movie, and had the launch experience again.  After lunch we again boarded a bus for the “Cape Canaveral: Then & Now” tour, for which we had to have our photo IDs checked and recorded, presumably since the tour is largely on the US Air Force’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  We walked through the blockhouse used to control some of the early manned flights, complete with its Burroughs computer, wiring, consoles, blast doors, etc.  This was the one facility we toured that had the appearance of being frozen in time and not a reconstructed prop from a museum.

We also walked around the site of the launch tower where the Apollo 1 fire occurred.  The memorial was very simple compared with the elaborate displays elsewhere, and the tower is gone, with only concrete remaining.

We then went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame and toured its exhibits.  Katelyn and I took a ride on the centrifuge flight simulator.  I wondered why they opened the doors with the ride still spinning, but later figured out it wasn’t.  Pretty cool though.

Kayak Trail

Kayak Trail

Sunday. We went kayaking on the waters of the Banana River.  We could see dolphins and manatees, but no alligators as it was salt water.  The most interesting part were the “kayak trails” that were essentially tunnels of foliage that you pulled your kayak through by hand.  Really cool, and nothing like we have around home.  In the afternoon we stayed around the hotel, getting in the ocean for a bit (long enough for me to lose my glasses, go figure, but at least I had packed spares).

Launch of STS-129, viewed from Titusville

Launch of STS-129, viewed from Titusville

Monday. This was launch and return trip day.  After escalating concerns about traffic, especially around the visitors center (it sounded as if they would hold us for an hour after launch… by which time who knows how many of the 3k causeway viewers would have been brought back to jam things up) we elected to view the launch from another location.  We checked out and went to the Space View Park in Titusville.  After fooling around with finding a non-towed place to park we waited while the park filled up and then the launch.  It was distant, but very cool to see Atlantis rolling after it left the tower by binoculars.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  After about a minute we could hear the tremendous noise of the launch.

We waited around a few minutes then dashed for the car, and made excellent time without traffic on a highway that is less impacted by launch traffic.  We were able to get home without incident.

Overall, it was an excellent trip.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see a Space Shuttle launch before the impending retirement.  I really do want to see one of the real shuttles in person some day, but it may take awhile before they are turned into museum exhibits.

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November 2009


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