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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tropical climate

A journey to see the space shuttle launch is a journey fraught with positives, negatives, and heat.

The trip so far has been a very good one, but I always forget how hot and humid it is here in Florida. I am not sure how I survived my first unprepared trip here in 2005 ( Nevertheless Dawn and I had a great, if tropical day. Ever present is the heat and humidity that turn the 95 degree weather into 105 degrees.

We spent 10 hours at the Kennedy Space Center complex today, going on tours, wandering from place to place seeing the sights.

Our first stop was the viewing gantry, about 1-2 miles from shuttle launch pad itself, and today was a very rare sight. There are two shuttles on the pads right now - this is really rare. Normally, the space shuttle goes to the International Space Station and they have refuge there if something goes wrong with the shuttle. They can always ride a Soyuz module home or wait for another shuttle. Now, since Atlantis is servicing the Hubble Space Telescope right now they will be in a different orbit. If something goes wrong they don't have any fuel to fly to the other orbit where the ISS is. Most people don't realize this but the orbiter itself has no fuel (except what is needed for maneuvering). The 3 main enginers are only used during launch, and those are fed from the giant orange external fuel tank. As soon as the orbiter reaches orbit, no more fuel and the shuttle is a glider that maneuvers some. So, the upshot of all this is that they have Endeavour waiting on the other pad as backup. If something goes wrong with Atlantis while they are servicing the Hubble, Endeavor can launch quickly with only 2 people on it to go on a rescue mission. So, two shuttles on the pad - and this is likely the last time it will be seen that way because the remainder of the shuttle missions are all to the ISS.

After that stop (lots of stairs in the heat), we rode a bus over to the Saturn V exhibit. It's really quite good. I always get teary-eyed at the video of the countdown of Apollo 8 in the old control room. I get a little overwhelmed with the challenge of overcoming huge odds, competition of the space race, and the triumph of innovation. Who knew I'd be wired that way? After the moving simulation, you go into a big room where the Saturn V is housed. It's really astonishing - huge, and a monumental engineering achievement. 2 million independent systems in it. Millions of pounds of thrust - designed to propel astronauts from the intense gravity of Earth to the gravity of the moon. It's unabashedly phallic.

Afterwards, we went to the International Space Station preparation room, where they make the modules and test the equipment going on the shuttle up to the ISS. It's the live processing facility and on workdays you can see people wandering around and doing whatever it is they do to get these huge things ready for spaceflight.

We eventually headed back to the visitor center and grabbed a late lunch. Ravenous! Afterward we went on the Shuttle Launch Experience - a ride that simulates the launch of a shuttle, from the inside. Videos on the walls with former shuttle commanders say they helped design the thing and it's the closest real sensation to an actual launch. The ride really shakes you around and simulates 3G of gravity and weightlessness. It's really really fun.

Beyond that, I switched out our 7pm Star Trek tickets to 4:30pm and we caught the matinee. I won't give it away, but I really want to see it again already. It's really fun and fast-paced. Honors the past but paves it's own way. Like it!

We wound up the day in the space shop, of course. I have new t-shirts and hats and a couple of other fun things. We left, exhausted, and drove back in to Titusville to have dinner, ice cream, and now I can barely keep my eyes open. I'm still warm, even after a shower. It was a hot day, but oh-so-fun. Even the weird little bugs that swarm all over the hotel building and sneak into the rooms at night aren't bothering me. I'm off to bed, to have a restful day before our early morning trip to KSC again on Monday. Launch days turn KSC into an entirely different place, but I'll tell you about that after Monday's launch goes off successfully. :)

Have fun, more later.

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