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

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Palm Pavilion and Clearwater Marine Aquarium

It's Day 3 of our Tampa Bay beach vacation. We started out by going to the Palm Pavilion in Clearwater for lunch. Have you noticed that we can't seem to do anything before lunch? In Florida, there's nobody to tell you when to get up or what to do. You don't even have to shave or comb your hair. Just wear a hat and sunglasses and you'll fit right in.

We enjoyed the view of the beach from the veranda and just watched the world go by. I like the motto the Palm Pavilion has on their t-shirts and cups, "There's no place like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place." We saved the paper cups from our drinks for collecting sea shells, and went for a walk along Clearwater beach. It's my favorite beach for people watching.

We didn't really have a set hour by hour schedule. I had in mind to go sight seeing where we could retreat into air conditioning during the heat of the day. The time of day for being at the beach in the water would be later in the afternoon, and then we'd stay to enjoy the sunsets.

Nicholas the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

This is the only day of our vacation where we actually did have something scheduled. We had a reservation for 1pm to go on a boat ride at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It's called the Sea Life Safari Ecotour. We looked around the aquarium and then got on the boat for a tour of Clearwater Harbor. The captain did a good job of pointing out some of the historic and fabulous estates that were along the shore. It was a point of view you could only see from the water and would miss driving by on the road.

A heron and roseate spoonbills in a bird sanctuary.

They cast a net overboard and pulled up sea life. One of the scientific tasks CMA does is to take regular inventories of the sea life here. They had a large tank to put the sea life in. Then they transferred the fish into smaller aquariums to show everyone. Other sea life, like the sea urchin in the above photo, were passed around. The spines of the sea urchin were sharp.

The back of the spider crab was soft like velvet.

Then we went to an island in Clearwater Harbor to go shelling.

Someone found a large horse conch in the process of eating a whelk. I've never seen anything like it. I find sea shells like the whelk often and wondered how the mollusk inside was cleaned out leaving a perfect shell behind.

After the boat tour we got in the car to go beach hopping.

More photos of Clearwater.

Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island

We went to the Cafe on the Beach to have a snack and then set up our beach camp. This is my favorite beach to visit on a weekday. It is hard to find parking on the weekends, and it's no wonder why. The water is clear and beautiful, and the sand is as soft as powdered sugar.

In case you haven't figured it out, all the Gulf Beaches are my favorite beach!

We had fun playing in the water. Alfonze snorkeled around and showed us some of the sea life he found.

Jason checks his sunset shots.

Three amigos Alfonze, Jason, and Erika watch the sunset and take photos.

This is the last sunset of our beach vacation. Boo-hoo!