Saturday, May 31, 2008

STS-124 Shuttle Discovery Launch

(Click on the photos for larger images.)

We picked a spot across the Indian River from the launch pad near Kennedy Point Park in Titusville, Florida to view the launch of Shuttle Discovery.

Shuttle Discovery clears the launch pad.

The space shuttle cuts through the clouds.

Close-up of Shuttle Discovery.

The path of Shuttle Discovery from the Earth to the roll that aligns it for LEO (Low Earth Orbit).

Travel Recommendations

We opted to spend the night in Titusville rather than fight traffic at 5:45pm, right after Kennedy Space Center closes. Titusville and the immediate area around it called The Space Coast doesn't really have the infrastructure to support the massive amounts of people who travel there for shuttle launches. Restaurants are also over capacity, so we take a cooler loaded with food and water. It is great to have a Sunpass for this trip in particular, because you can drive through the tolls and pay electronically instead of having to stop to pay cash. The Sunpass is a fantastic time saver when all the toll booths are backed up after shuttle launches. I highly recommend avoiding the Bee Line Expressway (FL-528) after a shuttle launch. The toll booths back up for miles and there are no rest areas between Titusville and Orlando.

Road Directions to Gulf Coast After Shuttle Launch

When we do drive home after a shuttle launch we go north of Titusville taking either U.S. Route 1 or I-95 north to SR-46 to drive east towards Sanford. Near Geneva take Oviedo Road (SR- 426) south to FL-417 south. FL-417 is a toll road that takes you around Orlando International Airport and ends directly at I-4, which takes you west to I-75 (today's Dixie Highway) and the Gulf Coast.

Visiting Kennedy Space Center

The best time to visit Kennedy Space Center is on a non-shuttle-launch-day. Traffic is usually no problem in and out of Titusville. If you want to Mapquest the Kennedy Space Center, look up Orsino, Florida.

Related links:
Kennedy Space Center
NASA: Astronomy Picture of the Day
NASA: Space Shuttle

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Clean Sea Shells


* protective eyewear
* rubber gloves
* bucket of water
* tool to remove barnacles
* small brush for scrubbing
* plastic bowl for bleach solution
* plastic tool for use in bleach solution
* mineral oil or baby oil
* soft cloth for polishing shells with oil

How to clean sea shells:

1) Use protective eyewear while cleaning shells. Barnacles tend to fly off unexpectedly, and bleach can injure eyes.

2) Scrub with a small brush in water. Remove barnacles with your fingers or a small tool.

This is assuming there is no live animal inside the shell that needs to be removed first. I don't harvest live mollusks. Some places in Florida limit how many live animals you can take. Others prohibit it.

Don't dump sandy water down the drain or toilet. Sand will clog drain pipes. Dump sandy water out in the yard.

3) Soak in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. Use rubber gloves to protect your skin from the bleach. Use plastic tools for moving shells around in the bleach solution. There is no set amount of time. Usually a few minutes is all it takes to remove the outer layer of debris on the shell.

Take care to dispose of bleach solution properly.

4) Rinse the shell in water and scrub more if necessary. Then allow the shell to dry.

5) Polish with mineral oil or baby oil. This will bring out the color of the shell. Don't use food oils used for cooking, because they will eventually become rancid and smell bad.

Here's an example shell.

Before: This crown conch was covered with mud. Underneath the mud was a thick layer of algae. I used a bucket of water and a fingernail brush to scrub it. I dug out the mud that was packed inside the shell with a small screwdriver. Bleaching removed the outer layer of algae, but the shell still looked dull. Some color was showing through the inside, so I persisted with the clean up. I tried sanding it with fine sandpaper, but stopped. I didn't want to ruin the fine details on the shell.

After: I continued to soak the shell in water after bleaching, and scrubbed some more. After allowing the shell to dry I started polishing with mineral oil. The texture of the shell made it hard for the mineral oil to soak in, so I held it over a bowl and dumped the mineral oil all over the shell. That is when the color finally started to show up.

After: The top of the shell was a dull beige color before the mineral oil bath. I was so amazed when the stripes appeared. I'm glad I didn't ruin the details with sandpaper. The crown looks like fine porcelain.

Related links:
The Shell Factory, Fort Myers, Florida
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, Sanibel, Florida

    Saturday, May 03, 2008

    Funny Sign in Ruskin

    Now hiring sausage biscuits.

    Tomato Festival in Ruskin, Florida

    Here are some cool old tractors. These photos are from the heritage area at the Ruskin Tomato and Heritage Festival.

    Water pumps.

    Spinning, weaving, and knitting.


    Skins and tents.

    Thursday, May 01, 2008

    Lithia Springs Park, Florida

    Lithia Springs is the source of the Alafia River.

    The swimming area at the big spring.

    One of the smaller springs. The water is clear blue-green and smells sweet. There were many different kinds of fish. They must be used to being fed by people, because a group of fish swam towards us as soon as we came to the edge. Alfonze remembers swimming in springs like this when he was a kid. Back then he saw water moccasin snakes with heads as big as your fist slithering into the water. (((Correction: Snakes with heads as big as a 10-year-old's fist.)))
    Maybe that's why the smaller springs are fenced off now with no swimming signs posted.

    The banks of the Alafia River look like another world. It looks dark and sinister compared to the springs. We found a sign by the river that said "Don't feed the alligators!"

    Light shimmers on the surface of the spring water.

    Palm trees strike poses that look like cobra snakes.

    The water from the springs smells sweet and is clear, but it was slimy to touch. I'm not sure I would want to go swimming in it. I was fascinated with the natural terrain around the springs and the Alafia River. You don't have to walk far to get to those areas.
    The entry fee to Lithia Springs Park is $4 per car.