Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sonic Boom

Shuttle Endeavor landed in Florida tonight. We watched NASA TV on cable to see the approach to Florida from the Gulf. Then we went outside to look for it. We saw the previous shuttle come in for a landing from our backyard. Whether or not we can see it from Tampa all depends on what approach it takes as it comes down. The sky was clear and we saw some airplanes, but not the shuttle. As it approached Florida's west coast just south of here we heard the sonic boom. There were 2 booms, like a double click. It was a low-pitched, soft boom-boom. I was outside and felt it in my chest.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Shuttle Endeavor Reaches the International Space Station

Shuttle Endeavor reached the International Space Station tonight around 10:45pm. They are showing live footage on NASA TV. First the shuttle did a roll maneuver to enable the astronauts on the space station to see the underside of the shuttle to inspect the heat shield. Then the shuttle docked with the space station. They seemed to go through endless checkslists to check the seals before opening the hatch. Once they opened the hatch to let the shuttle crew onboard the ISS you could tell the veteran astronauts from the rookies. It was funny. The veterans started floating around to get aquainted with the people and surroundings. The rookies floated through the door and hovered in one spot.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

STS-123 Shuttle Endeavor Launch

This is the first night launch in 5 years. It is scheduled for Tuesday morning 2:30am EDT. We opted to view the launch from the grounds of a hotel across the Indian River. We met a lot of interesting people. Many were seeing a space shuttle launch for the first time. Two former fighter pilots who work at Johnson Space Center in Houston explained what was happening before launch. There were a lot of aircraft flying around Kennedy Space Center. Some were weather planes flying in and out of the clouds. There were several space shuttle training aircraft making passes at the runway. One of the pilots we met explained that if the training aircraft had any trouble trying to land, then the launch would be scrubbed. Otherwise, the space shuttle would also have trouble landing in case of an emergency after lift off. There were fighter aircraft flying around the area and helicopters with spot lights checking the coast line.

I was not prepared for how bright the light from the launch was. The shuttle launch turned night into day. I hurried to close the iris on my old Minolta camera before taking more photos.

The shuttle looked like a brilliant star that lit up the entire area. It was moving so fast that the low rumbling sound of lift off took a few seconds to reach us after the shuttle was off the ground.

Then shuttle Endeavor disappeared into the clouds. There was a brief moment when the clouds and vapor trail were lit up like a mushroom. It was eerie looking.

The hotel parking lot was a mess as people piled into their cars to leave. We were glad to go back to the hotel room to spend the night rather than sit in traffic.

I highly recommend avoiding SR 528 (Bee Line/Beach Line Expressway) after a space shuttle launch. We didn't know any better the first time we saw a launch. It took us 2 hours to get to Kennedy Space Center from Tampa, but it took 6 hours to get home. Now our strategy is to either drive north of Orlando, then head south toward Tampa, or to spend the night in Titusville. We also bought a Sunpass, which lets us drive through the tolls instead of stopping to pay cash.

Seeing a space shuttle launch is a spectacular sight, but the best time to visit Kennedy Space Center is not on a shuttle launch day. The new technologies developed at NASA are fascinating. Come the day before or after to take tours and see the sights.

Related links:
Kennedy Space Center

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center

Our visit to the South Florida Museum last weekend peaked our interest in learning more about manatees. This is one of the lookout platforms at Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center. The water around Apollo Beach is warmed by the power production process at Big Bend Power Station. Manatees seek refuge in this canal when the water temperature in Tampa Bay gets below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. You can see hundreds of manatees here in the winter time.

There were manatees everywhere! Here are 2 manatees sticking their noses out of the water for a breath of air.

Where ever we could see a swell in the water there were manatees. They played by rolling around in the water together. Sometimes 4-6 bodies would be rolling around on top of each other. There was a lot more to see, but it was a work day, and we couldn't stay long. There's another walkway with a butterfly garden and another viewing platform. It's an interesting place to explore and the cost of entry is free!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sunset at Cochina Beach on Anna Maria Island

The vivid sunset colors behind the darkened trees reminded me of Tiffany's stained glass windows.

After dark we looked up at the stars to try to find some of the constellations that we learned about at Bishop Planetarium earlier in the day.

South Florida Museum in Bradenton

The first thing we saw as we walked into the South Florida Museum was a huge mastadon skeleton that was found in Florida. Walking from the sunshine outside into the darkened gallery was a stark contrast. It was quiet, except for the songs of birds and other woodland sounds. You get the feeling that you've stepped into another world. On the other side of the gallery is a diorama of a paleo Indian hunting a bison. We continued walking through the exhibits of prehistoric human and animal artifacts. Another diorama shows a seaside community of Indians where you can hear people chatting, children playing, and ocean sounds.

Next we went to the Bishop Planetarium for a presentation on how to identify stars and constellations. Now I know why I'm having a hard time finding the Big Dipper. The lights around Tampa obscure a lot of stars. We used to live in the countryside in Michigan. The North Star is also harder to find, because it is closer to the horizon in Florida than it is in Michigan. Up north the North Star appears directly over head.

It was time to feed the manatees when we left the planetarium. We walked upstairs through a Florida marshland scene with a one room house. There was a Florida panther in the marsh and I was surprised at how small it was. I expected the panthers to be as big as tigers. We left the marsh to walk through a hallway with an under water scene. It included a cross section of the ocean floor showing creatures that lived in the sand. On the other side we found the Parker Manatee Aquarium.

Feeding time is presentation time. The resident manatee is Snooty, who was born and raised in captivity. His tank buddies are rescued manatees that will eventually be returned to the wild. Manatees are air breathing mammals that live in the water. They are often injured by boats.

Snooty is sticking his head out of the water to get the attention of the lady doing the talking and feeding. She is feeding the manatees heads of romaine lettuce and fielding questions from the audience. Occasionally Snooty playfully puts his fins up on the edge of the tank. Someone asked if the manatees had bad breath. She said it was not as bad as dog's breath, but that you don't want to be around when they have gas. They are vegetarians. Big ones. Lots of veggies can generate lots of gas. We didn't smell anything evil while we were there.

The manatees have huge bodies and small heads. We walked downstairs to get to the window to watch the manatees underwater. The expressions on their faces reminded me of dogs or teddy bears. There were all kinds of toys in the pool. At feeding time food becomes the toy of the moment.

We left the South Florida Museum late in the afternoon and went to Anna Maria Island to go for a walk on the beach.