Sunday, July 31, 2005

Return to Flight Photos
I have uploaded larger versions of the photos in the entry below, as well as several others at one of my photo sites and invite you to view them. Several of the Astronaut Hall of Fame and several of the return to flight launch of the space shuttle Discovery on 26 July 2005.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Return to Flight

Last Monday, I rigged out my van for overnight use, which mainly meant throwing a mattress and toothbrush in there, and headed over to the Space Coast. Given that I had plenty of time, I did my best to maintain 50 MPH to see if it would make any noticeable difference in my gas mileage. It was hard to do- seems the van wanted at least 55, but for the most part, I kept it between the two, and by the time I arrived in Cocoa, it was clear by the gas gauge that I had indeed improved on the mileage: went from roughly 17 mpg to about 21 mpg. This was quite pleasing, given the current gas prices, my love of driving, and the tendency of this van to suck up the gas!

My first stop was the Astronaut Hall of Fame, started as a private foundation by Alan Sheppard, joined by the other Merc 7 astronauts, and a recently taken over by NASA and now part of Kennedy Space Center. I had a meeting there with a the manager concerning one of my wood carvings, Apollo in Black and White, and its possible addition to the collection at KSC.

He was very busy this day, and I had to wait, and while doing so, was given entry into the museum. It had grown a lot since my last visit in 1995, and had also become much more sophisticated, yet still had all the little touches I loved that made this time of space exploration so personal: we all rode in those Mercury capsules.

After my meeting finally took place, hurried, but enjoyable, I left some material and headed off to find a spot to park my van to assure a good viewing for the launch. Earlier calls to the sheriff's department, and some consulting with a few locals and I headed up to Titusville, finding a spot along the Banana River a few miles north of town. There were a couple of others already parked, and I found a place among them. Unlike the launch attempt of the week before, it was uncrowded, and those of us who were there had a relatively quiet and pleasant night. It was about 3 am when the procrastinators started driving in, and by morning, or sunrise, the roads and shoulders were fully packed. By the time I got up and stepped out of my van I found half a dozen people sitting in front of it and one lady even set up an awning virtually adjoining it! I planted my chair at the front edge to claim what little space I could and retreated from the intense heat and crowds into the luxurious RV next to me where we watched the preparations on satellite TV and enjoyed air conditioning! At least I had gained some benefit by spending the night- met a "good neighbor"!

[The tiny labels read from left to right: Pad 39-B; Pad 39-A; Vehicle Assembly Building. In our view, an island sits between the two launch pads.]

My spot was quite a distance from the launch pad, 39-B, but I could make it out through my binoculars, so at least knew I would see the launch. My previous viewing of the Columbia launch was from Cocoa Beach and I had the wrong launch pad in site and after hearing the crowd, looked back to see it rising over the tops of several apartment buildings! (BTW that photo is one of the shots on the cover of my book, Haltia and the Third Planet.)

The previous night several of us had squinted and argued which of the tiny specks we could make out was the actual launch pad, for we could see barely two identical structures, but as we were on the side away from the mounted vehicle, we couldn't determine which it was. Finally, after it grew dark, the one on the left was seen to be lit both with flood lights and hundreds of working lights so we learned that way that it was indeed, the left hand pad from our view, 39-B.

Given the distance, when launch time came, all we could see was a brilliant glow at what we assumed was the base of the shuttle, and watch as it rose through the sky leaving a trail of vapor and exhaust behind to mark its passing. Only when it was out of sight did the sound finally come, growing from a low ominous rumble to a loud thrilling roar, though not getting to the point where it overwhelmed your hearing, or shook the ground, something I had previously experienced on another, much smaller, Delta rocket launch that I had been much closer to.

As soon as it was over, the rush to leave began, and I decided to jump into the first rush to get out and made it over to 95 in about half an hour of slow moving traffic, which wasn't too bad. Those with the large luxurious RV's stayed to enjoy the day and wait for it to clear up. I arrived in Kissimmee about 2, and spent the afternoon at Seaworld, Wednesday at Epcot, Thursday at Universal Studio's, and Friday at Islands of Adventure. Spent the entire week living out of my van, which varied from very good to very bad. But, by prime time Friday, I was back home and watching TV in my air conditioned home.


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