Greetings from Cape Canaveral, Florida! I am here for the launch of the Space Shuttle, which is due to lift off Thursday afternoon/evening (between 4 and 8 local time).
I am here as the guest of someone who wishes to remain a-blog-ymous; said individual is here to receive a very distinguished award (trip to Kennedy Space Center, cool plaque signed by the head of NASA presented by an astronaut in blue flight suit, tons of cool swag, a swank reception with some 800 others, a tour of Kennedy Space Center, and, last but not least, a space shuttle launch.)
We arrived the other evening in Orlando, then yesterday went biking/rollerblading along a trail (converted from railroad to trail—very cool!) near Lake Apopka. I got a good look at the verdant green flora of Florida...and discovered (pant, pant, pant) that the heat and humidity have, well, a draining effect on a Californian who's just spent a week drying out in Arizona.
Afterwards, we drove a bit east to Cape Canaveral to the area known as the Space Coast. It's very odd to be at the beach looking at the water while the sun sets into the west from... behind? on the land?!
Late this morning we attended an awards luncheon; the Space Flight Awareness Honorees from JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and SSC (Stennis Space Center, in south-eastern Mississippi) dined together. We were joined by an astronaut, Mark E. Kelly. He's what is known as a "flown astronaut" (one who's been there, done that, vs. one who's preparing/waiting to go). Last December, he flew on STS-108 (STS stands for either Shuttle Transportation System or Space Transportation System, but it's basically the way that all space shuttle missions are numbered)
Mark Kelly made a few comments, including heartfelt appreciation for all the Honorees present (when you're sittin' up there on top of the rocket, it's good to know that there are so many dedicated men and women who are the best at what they do putting all their efforts behind you).
He also talked of the experience of being in space (I didn't think much about looking out the window beforehand; I don't sit next to the windows in planes, nor when I'm flying, and I didn't get enough time to look out the window when I was up there on the shuttle...but I could spend months just looking. The curvature of the earth, the shapes and the colors, and the speed at which you're travelling—one minute you're over North America, and ten minutes later you're over Europe.)
The space station is a big place, he said, bigger (or roughly comparable) to the size of a 747 plane, so for the handful of people who are up there, it's a pretty comfortable place, much bigger than Mir.
Turns out that the also did an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity, aka space walk). And damned if *none* of the people present thought to ask him about that.
He talked of how risky space shuttle flight is. The risks of being killed in a commercial airline flight is something like 1 in 3 million (something million; I forgot), for a fighter pilot in combat, it's 1 in 27,000, and for someone in the space shuttle, it's 1 in 250.
Landing the shuttle is hard. The simulators do a great job of preparing you for instrumentation and handling, but the vertigo and weightlessness-to-weightfulness is something that can't be replicated. In fact, the vertigo is the main reason for limiting the duration of space shuttle flights (longest flight was 18 days); the primary consideration for how long a mission lasts is ensuring that the commander can land the shuttle. He got to fly the shuttle for 40 seconds during the mission he was on, as prep for being the commander of a subsequent mission.
After he made these remarks, Mark Kelly helped present the Space Flight Awareness Honorees with their award placques and posed in pictures with them and their guests.
Here are the Honorees (award recipients) from JPL (that's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Pictures? With astronauts?! Naturally, I seized an opportunity for a candid shot.
Mark Kelly also has an identical twin brother who also is an astronaut. I hope to get a picture with him at the reception tonight.
Okay, enough interesting factoids, more pictures. Sorry that they're so full of me me me, but the other distinguished company I've been in wishes to stay out of the web site limelight. (later... well, they agreed to be a part of it)
After the luncheon, feeling so thrilled, pleased, and proud (to say nothing of dressed up), some of us went to pose under a particular street sign in the beautiful town of Cocoa Beach:
Full of rock star attitude, we copped 'tudes or vamped for the camera:
After that, driving into the city limits of Cape Canaveral (population 8000) the front of city hall beckoned. We'd seen a model of a space shuttle out front. I was all set to lay on it, but a chain fence and this sign stopped me:
Oh well, I had to find another way to have fun and keep at a safe distance from the shuttle.
Hot! Do not touch!
We sat across from some people from Stennis Space Center; they test the shuttle engines there and ensure that they're ready for the next launch. We heard about how loud they are, and how much you can feel the vibrations during the tests. The wife of the Honoree said, "oh well, it's only a test engine; how thrilling could it be?" only to find herself amazingly affected by the sound and vibrations of the engines. So, she concluded, this launch will be *quite* an amazing experience.
Also, many people are advising us that if this is the first shuttle launch we're attending, "Just sit back and enjoy it; it goes fast, don't try to take pictures." Okay, I've been duly advised. We'll see how it goes. :D
Gotta go; it's time to get more pictures taken and then to go to that swank reception and get astronaut autographs, and stuff like that.