Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fort DeSoto Beach and Tierra Verde Restaurants

It's Day 2 of our Tampa Bay family beach vacation. We went to Billy's Stonecrab & Lobster in Tierra Verde for lunch.

Shoot, we are on vacation. Nobody's in a hurry. We enjoyed the view of the canal, and looked at the collection of trophy fish on the walls.

Later at Fort DeSoto Park we hung out on the beach. We like to go to this beach on the weekends, because you can find parking and there's plenty of room on the beach. I can't remember everything we did, but it took all afternoon. Floating in the water, walking on the beach, floating in the water some more, etc. It's my favorite beach for a quiet natural setting.

After sunset we went to the German Crepes House in Tierra Verde (1120 Pinellas Bayway, Saint Petersburg, FL 33715). They have the best beer in the world! Carlton and Jacqueline came from Berlin to settle in Florida around the same time we did. They are great hosts. The German potato salad was good, and the Black Forest Cherry Cake is as authentic as it gets.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 1 of Tampa Bay Beach Vacation

We picked up my sisters from Tampa International Airport and went to Whiskey Joe's for lunch. It's a great place to land to get that Florida feeling right after getting off the plane. They have good food, good prices, and an awesome view of Tampa Bay from the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

After lunch we went to our house, unloaded luggage, changed into beach clothes, and hit the road for the Gulf Coast. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Saint Pete Beach. It's my favorite beach for times when you want a short walk from parking to the beach. Restaurants and shopping areas are also nearby if you park near the Pass-A-Grille facilities. Look for The Hurricane restaurant. It's a big gray building with pointed gables. The water was warm and the waves were fun to bounce around in. We even got Dee to ride waves on a boogie board.

We stayed for sunset. Alfonze and Jason are figuring out camera settings for sunset shots. Dee is discovering cochinas. Those are tiny, colorful clams that come out of the sand around sunset. The surf uncovers them, and they quickly dig themselves back into the sand.

Afterwards we went across the street to the Brass Monkey for a late dinner. We sat on the balcony outside where we had a view of the beach. The sunset colors continued to develop after the sun went down. After dark we saw a starry sky and lights from ships in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Florida National Cemetery on Memorial Day Weekend

Florida National Cemetery is in a beautiful setting in the Withlacoochee State Forest. We came to pay our respects and visit Paul's grave. He's buried in an area with his WWII buddies.

American flags lined the roads of the cemetery for Memorial Day Weekend. Dark storm clouds loomed in the background of the sunlit park. The American flags appeared to glow in the sunlight against the dramatic sky. We made it back to the car just in time to avoid getting soaked by torrential rain.

More photos of our visit to Florida National Cemetery.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis for Last Mission to Hubble

We went to Kennedy Space Center to see the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis for mission STS-125. It will be the last servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope and the last flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis. It is a dangerous mission. The Hubble's maximum orbit is 350 miles above the Earth. Atlantis will have used up about half of its fuel just to reach orbit. This altitude is where most other satellites are located, and there is a lot of space junk to contend with that could potentially damage the space shuttle. The International Space Station is at a lower orbit and would be out of reach as a safe haven in case of an emergency. Space Shuttle Endeavour is staged on the second launch pad as a rescue mission if necessary.

Space Shuttle Endeavor is on the left and Space Shuttle Atlantis is on the right.

A model showing Shuttle Atlantis servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble will be captured by Shuttle Atlantis and serviced on a platform in the space shuttle's payload area. This servicing mission will bring repairs and new instruments to the telescope to allow the Hubble to function through the year 2014.

The launch of mission STS-125 has been rescheduled several times since last fall. Part of the Hubble's 18 year-old communications equipment failed shortly before the mission launch in October 2008. Rather than service an instrument that might fail to communicate with scientists on Earth, the mission was changed to include upgrades and back-ups for communications.

The tickets for the launch were sold out months ago and security was only allowing ticket holders' cars to pass through to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. We arrived around 10am and there were long lines of people waiting to get in. Once inside we immediately encountered another long line of people waiting to board the buses to the launch viewing area. At past launch viewing events people took time to look around KSC. This group was ready to get right to it.

This is the special viewing area on the NASA Causeway. It is about 6 miles from the space shuttle launch pads.

Our view of Atlantis on the launchpad across the Banana River.

We waited for hours, but the time seemed to pass quickly. Merritt Island is also a nature preserve. We saw all kinds of interesting birds, jumping fish and occasionally dolphins. People had all kinds of viewing equipment and we took turns looking through one another's lenses. We met an astronomer who has worked with images from the Hubble for years. The rocket launch area is nearby and we saw a rocket inside one of the towers. The next rocket launch in June will send a lunar orbiter to scout for landing sites on the moon, and a probe to look for possible ice formations at lunar locations that are in constant darkness.

After much anticipation the countdown began. Everyone stood up to cheer and count down. 5...4...3...2...1...

Lift off!

The space shuttle is moving so fast that the sound from lift-off isn't heard until it's in the air. It starts out as a crackling sound.

Then it builds up to a roar that you can feel.

Everyone watches as the space shuttle climbs higher into the sky. It's an amazing sight!

More photos of our trip to see the launch of STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis

Video of the launch of STS-125 Space Shuttle Atlantis

Turn up your speakers.

Travel Recommendations

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

To drive home to Tampa 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 and ends directly at I-4 near Disney. I-4 continous west to I-75 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.