Monday, November 16, 2009

Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-129

The crowd cheers.
"There she goes!"
"We have liftoff!"
"Oh, yeah!"

"Oh, dude."
"Mom, they're going into outer space. They're going into outer space!"
"That is unreal, man."

Rumbles, crackles and pops build up to a roar.

"Look at it go into the cloud!"

"The boosters just split."
"There it is."


"Dude, that was wicked insane."
"Did you love that?"

Video of STS-129 Space Shuttle Launch

Seen from across the Indian River about 9.25 miles from the launch pad.

More photos of STS-129 Space Shuttle Launch.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Florida Aquarium in Tampa

I was looking for a distraction this weekend and decided to go to the Florida Aquarium.

Jellyfish video:

The lights change colors as the jellyfish swim by.

Leafy Green Seadragon video:

The seadragons move so gracefully. They are seahorses with leafy camouflage that blends in with seaweed.

Here's the stingray tank. You can put your hand in to touch them.

Rays like to brush up against each other as they swim by. I like to learn about the creatures we swim with at the beach.

These shore birds are black-necked stilts.

A roseate spoonbill watches the people go by from the mangrove marsh habitat.

A brown duck in the cypress marsh habitat.

There's a new exhibit upstairs about home aquariums.

Goliath Grouper video:

These behemoths like to hang around coral reefs and under bridges.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Banana Flowers at Florida Botanical Gardens

We went for a walk through the tropical fruit garden at Florida Botanical Gardens. The banana trees were in bloom. I never realized how many different kinds of banana plants there are.

Thousand fingers bananas are tiny. They're only about 2 inches long. Bananas are botanically classified as berries. The fruit does look like berries on these plants.

The fruit is the female part of the flower containing the seeds. The bud on the end of the stem is the male part of the flower.

Close up of a banana flower.

You can see how the fruit develops between the flower petals on the Raja Puri banana flower.


More photos of Florida Botanical Gardens

Holiday Lights at Florida Botanical Gardens in December 2008

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ares 1-X Rocket Test Flight

The 327 foot Ares 1-X rocket on Launchpad 39B at Kennedy Space Center right before dawn. The three towers around it are for lightning protection. We were about 9 miles away from the launchpad across the Indian River.

We arrived shortly before dawn to see the launch of the test flight of the Ares 1-X rocket. It is a prototype of the vehicle that will take the astronauts back to the moon. The Ares series of vehicles would also replace the space shuttles and play a part in resupplying the International Space Station.

A lot of people already had their cameras set up for the 8am launch. The amount of upper level cloud cover caused the first delay. The launch window was open until 12 noon. It was like a tailgate party and we had a good time with the people we met there.

Jim was on the phone with his Mom, who was watching live coverage on NASA-TV. She was one of our sources for updates. "Mom says" became an inside joke after a while. After all, if Mom says the rocket's going to launch in 20 minutes it really is, isn't it? People would ask, "What does Mom say now?" We also had people in the crowd with radios, and got updates from Twitter feeds on our cell phones. The time was getting closer and closer to the cut off time of 12 noon.

The countdown resumed at 11:26am, and then 4 minutes later at 11:30am...liftoff!

It was incredible to see the rocket being lifted into to the sky by a long flame.

The rocket moved so fast that we didn't hear the sound until it was way up in the sky. It started it's roll to the east when we heard the roar.

Here's a photo of our launch party with the contrail from launch on the right side. From left to right: John, Barry, Gloria, Jim, Connie, Alan, Christine.

More photos of the Ares 1-X test flight.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Midnight Ride of Space Shuttle Discovery for STS-128

The light was beautifully reflected in the Indian River. For a few seconds it was so bright that it was like looking at the sun. Then the space shuttle continued to roar into the sky illuminating swirls of clouds as it went. It was an awesome sight.

This is the launch pad and the Vehicle Assembly Building earlier that night. We were a little over 9 miles away.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Space Shuttle Launch Scrubbed due to Lightning

Space Shuttle Discovery was on the launch pad for mission STS 128. We were across the Indian River, about 9.25 miles away. It is unusual to have hardly any wind when you're near the open water. It gave us the opportunity to take some photos with longer exposures.

Less than 1/2 hour later the sky opened up with rain and lightning over the launch pad. Our area was dry. This photo is a still from a video we took of the lightning. The big square on the horizon is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The space shuttle launchpad is the light spot to the left of the VAB. At 11:43pm a lightning strike was detected 6 miles east of the launch pad.

The square building silhouetted on the horizon is the VAB. I can't imagine what this must have sounded like to the astronauts waiting inside the space shuttle.

The countdown was too close (in the 9 Minute Hold) to let the storms pass and the launch was scrubbed due to the weather.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fun in the Waves at Cocoa Beach

Here's the famous Tiki Bar at the end of The Cocoa Beach Pier. We came to the east coast to see the launch of space shuttle Discovery and stayed at a hotel on Cocoa Beach. I had never seen waves so perfectly tubular and could hardly wait to get into the water! We used body boards and rode one wave after the other.

We must have hit the beach at just the right time. The waves were coming in at even intervals. There wasn't any waiting for the perfect wave. It was more a matter of getting up again to ride the next one in.

We met a lot of nice people at the beach. There were some other Floridian couples staying at the hotel. We also met a group from Australia. The hot topic of the day was where to see the space shuttle launch.

The rocket launch towers at Cape Canaveral were visible from the beach.

We walked along the Pier and took pictures of the beach at sunset. Then we went back to the hotel to nap. The space shuttle launch was scheduled for 1:36am.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-127

Video of the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour seen from across Banana Creek near the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Crank your speakers up!

We traveled to Kennedy Space Center several times to see the launch of this mission, because of delays. It was delayed in June due to technical difficulties with the hydrogen fueling system. This week the delays were due to thunderstorms. The last time we were present was for Saturday's launch attempt. It was scrubbed within 10 minutes of launch. We repurchased tickets to the NASA Causeway viewing area, which is 5.5 miles from the launch pad. The tickets are orange. Some of our friends came back on Monday, but the launch was scrubbed again. They bought more orange tickets. Today NASA offered orange ticket holders a unique opportunity. We were able to view the launch from the VIP area by the Apollo Center 3.5 miles from the launch pad!

Our persistence paid off. This was a once in a lifetime experience.

More photos of the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour for mission STS-127.

Launch Viewing Area At Banana Creek

(Click on photos for larger images.)

The VIP launch view area at Banana Creek. The square building in the background is the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

It was raining as we approached Kennedy Space Center (KSC). There was hardly any traffic and no security checkpoints. We were texting our friends that we were meeting at the launch. The New Jersey Kid had rescheduled his plane ticket again. The Orlando Crew also repurchased orange launch viewing tickets to go back to the NASA Causeway to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. We met at the Launch Status Center where we watched NASA TV. A KSC spokesperson talked about launch updates, explained mission details, and answered questions.

Lightning advisories cleared personnel from the exterior of the launch pad, and people at the Visitor Center were advised to move indoors. It was raining so hard at the launchpad that we couldn't see the space shuttle on NASA TV. Yet there was hardly any rain were we were. All the while they were continuing to ingress the astronauts into the space shuttle. Then it was announced that the NASA Causeway was closed due to lightning advisories. What a disappointment.

Our KSC spokesperson was getting updates through an earbud. She nodded and smiled. "You folks are in for a treat. NASA has never done this before. Orange ticket holders are going to have the unprecedented opportunity to go to the VIP viewing area by the Apollo/Saturn V Center."

They were expecting the heavy weather to pass by launch time.

I was so excited I was jumping up and down! I've been to the Apollo/Saturn V Center many times and thought how lucky I would be to be able to see a launch from that close. The historical meaning of the location also hit me. There aren't as many people here today, partly because many gave up due to all the delays. Also, the real VIP's are arriving tomorrow for the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. Endeavour is launching from the same launchpad today used to launch Apollo 11 to land the first people on the moon 40 years ago. I got goosebumps.

The crowd at Banana Creek had some interesting toys. Here someone has a parabolic microphone. Both launchpads LC39B (left) and LC39A with Endeavour (right) are on the horizon.

Launchpad LC39B is undergoing reconstruction for use in the new Constellation Program. You can see a crane in the background. It will not be used for space shuttles anymore. This launchpad will be used to test the new Ares rocket at the end of August '09. (Update: The Ares test has been rescheduled for October '09.)

Space Shuttle Endeavour is on the other side of the tower. You can see the orange External Fuel Tank and the tips of the Solid Rocket Boosters.

Here's an interesting contraption we saw by the Apollo/Saturn V Center. We think it is a telescope on a trailer.

One of the countdown clocks shows the 9 minute hold. There are several "holds" built in to the countdown clock, which starts early in the day. These holds allow launch teams to hold meetings prior to events or steps taking place. For example, there's a hold in the clock before fueling to allow the fueling team to have a meeting first, and there's a hold before the astronauts get onboard the shuttle. The Nine Minute Hold is the last hold before lift-off and it seems like the longest one of all. The crowd cheered when the clock started running again.

Helicopter Fly By Video

At four minutes we sang the "Star Spangled Banner" and I started practising zooms, tilts, and pans with my camera. After that things happened real fast. Here's a link to the top of the post with the video:

Video of Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour for STS-127

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Launch of Shuttle Endeavour Scrubbed with Less Than 10 Minutes to Go

View of Space Shuttle Endeavour from across the Banana River on the NASA Causeway. This is about 5-1/2 miles away from the launchpad. It was a sunny day with a blue sky.

Since the first 2 scrubs were all about the fueling system, I learned more about the space shuttle fueling system. We didn't leave Tampa until fueling had begun.

We arrived at the NASA Causeway about 2 hours before launch and set up camp in the shade of our bus. Florida summers are hot and the sun is fierce. We saw manatees in the water. Pelicans were diving for fish. We caught up with friends from New Jersey who returned to Florida to see the launch.

The sky was blue over the launch pad when we heard thunder behind us. There was a big dark cloud in the west. An announcement came over the PA that the thunderstorm created a No Go condition for launch. We all hoped it would blow away. The rest of the sky was clear, but if there's a thunderstorm with lightning within 20 nautical miles of the launchpad or landing strip it's No Go. They broadcast the control room roll call from Florida and Houston. We heard, "Go, Go, Go, No Go, Go, Go, Go, No Go, Go..." The No Go's were from the Weather Officers. There were a few outbursts, but for the most part the crowd quietly packed up their camps and boarded their busses to return to the Visitor Center. We received vouchers to repurchase the orange bus tickets for when the launch of STS-127 was rescheduled. Five out of seven people in our group repurchased the orange tickets.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Space Shuttle Launch STS-127 Scrubbed Again

We came back to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for another all nighter to see the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour for mission STS-127 shortly after 6am. The launch time became earlier for each day delayed. The mission is to go to the International Space Station (ISS) to add a section on the Japanese Kibo laboratory. The launch time is scheduled to insert the space shuttle into an orbit to rendezvous with the ISS.

When we arrived at KSC we saw a lot of people sleeping in cars, campers, and tents in the parking lot. The doors to the Visitor Center were locked and a crowd of people was waiting to get in. We met a guy from New Jersey who had his Blackberry plugged into an outlet in the wall. His Dad was reminding him that it might rain again and that he should be careful not to walk away with his Blackberry still plugged in. The New Jersey Kid rolled his eyes and said, "Dad, I know I'm plugged in, and it's not raining anymore." Dad replied, "It's just that walking off with something plugged into the wall is something I might do." The New Jersey Kid was checking for news on Twitter. He was getting Tweets about the launch from SpaceFlightNow. I had set up my phone to get text Tweets from NASAKennedy and Astro_127 (Mission Commander Mark Polansky) but hadn't gotten any messages yet. The New Jersey Kid said that they had not yet started fueling the space shuttle. We waited, checked phones for news, and texted friends on their way to KSC. The fueling process began, but a hydrogen leak was detected. The leak was determined to be within safety parameters, fueling continued, and they opened the doors to the Visitor Center. We all poured into KSC in anticipation of seeing the shuttle launch at dawn.

The place was buzzing with people, music, and kids hopping around in space suits when an announcement came over the PA, "May we have your attention please..." The mission was scrubbed again. The hydrogen leak went beyond safety limits. The crowd sighed a collective "Awww..." and we all drove home.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kennedy Space Center at Night

We arrived at Kennedy Space Center around midnight for the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour for mission STS-127 shortly after 7am the next morning. We had tickets for the viewing area at the NASA Causeway and you have to arrive about 6 hours early. The place looks different at night.

The Rocket Garden glows with colored lights. There are red lights under the upright rockets. The Saturn 1B rocket that lays on its side is illuminated in blue.

Shortly after we arrived we heard an announcement that the launch would be delayed due to a leak in the hydrogen fueling system.

It was a bummer, but we were already in line for the "Dine with an Astronaut" event at 1am. We met astronaut Mike Mullane who flew on 3 space shuttle missions. They showed a video during the meal. Afterwards Mike Mullane spoke to the group. He said that on one of his missions the launch was scrubbed and that he knows how disappointing it is, and added that's it's better to be safe than sorry. Then he took questions from the audience. The cutest was a little girl who asked, "What kind of job did you have as an astronaut, besides scrubbing the shuttle?"

Afterwards we lined up to have pictures taken with Mike. Somehow we lucked out on timing and were the last group in line for the picture taking. We had a chance to talk to Mike one on one, and I got his autograph in a book I brought to the event. It's a book called "The Home Planet" that I found in a sale pile at a bookstore years ago. It is a large hardcover book with photographs of the Earth taken by astronauts. The narrative in the book is quotes and essays by astronauts. I didn't know which astronaut we would meet that night, but it just so happened that Mike Mullane is one the astronauts quoted in the book.

We exchanged phone numbers with new friends we'd met at the dinner, and left Kennedy Space Center around 3am. We'll meet up with our friends from Orlando at the next launch attempt.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Dali and the Don Cesar

This is Day 4 and the last day of our Tampa Bay beach vacation. After brunch we went the Salvador Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg. It boasts having the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings in the world, outside of Dali's hometown in Figueres, Spain. It is a treat for the eyes to look at the detail of the paintings and discover images inside of other images. The largest paintings are about 15 feet tall and contain all sorts of optical illusions. Our group of vacationers includes artists and photographers. It was fun to have an excuse to do something artsy.

Afterwards we went to the Don Cesar hotel on Saint Pete Beach. The Don Cesar is a historic hotel that was built in the 1920's. It is the pink palace of Saint Pete Beach and is visible for miles along the coast. They don't mind people coming in to sight see and take pictures. Parking is $10 unless you buy something at the hotel and get your ticket validated. We got our parking validated buying ice cream at one of the shops on the ground level.

At the Dali Museum we were seeing art. At the Don Cesar we were creating art with our cameras.

This is the end of our 4 day Tampa Bay family beach vacation. The vacationers went to the airport from the Don Cesar and we went home to Tampa.

Four Day Trip Itinerary

Day 1
1:30pm Tampa International Airport
Lunch - Whiskey Joe's, Tampa
Saint Pete Beach
Dinner - Brass Monkey, Saint Pete Beach

Day 2
Lunch - Billy's Stonecrab & Lobster, Tierra Verde
Fort DeSoto Park Beach
Dinner - German Crepes House, Tierra Verde

Day 3
Lunch - Palm Pavilion, Clearwater
Sea Safari Ecotour - Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Holmes Beach, Ann Maria Island, near Bradenton
Dinner - Cafe on the Beach

Day 4
Salvador Dali Museum, Saint Petersburg
Don Cesar Hotel, Saint Pete Beach
7pm - Tampa International Airport

More photos of the Don Cesar Hotel.

Unfauxhemian's blog post about our vacation