Final Scheduled Launch of Shuttle Atlantis
The Space Foundation sent a delegation of employees including myself to see Shuttle Atlantis launch, a beautiful success without delay. First launched in 1985, this was the shuttle's 32nd and final scheduled launch. Atlantis was the first shuttle to dock with Mir station, and the last to service the Hubble telescope recently (On a side note, the Space Foundation awarded the Hubble repair team at National Space Symposium. Check out the video here).
Spending a short while in Denver International Airport, I passed by the Jack Swigert statue in Concourse B. Jack Swigert was a huge contributor to the Space Foundation, and also the one who the Foundation named the new Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy after (grand opening blog post here).
The team stayed just a block away from the Cocoa Beach shore. Being my second exposure to the ocean (first time was at Venice Beach on the west coast), I made sure to watch the sun rise and get some early exploring in.
Mid-week at 6am was the perfect time to relax and explore. Other than a few joggers and like minded individuals, I practically had the beach to myself! As soon as the sun had risen, the beach quickly packed with people.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was our first stop of the day. There for the briefing, we also explored the center which had many things to see. Rocket Garden (above) was a great place to view a real rocket history of space flight. It was amazing to see how small and packed the people ferrying parts were compared to the bulk which was full of fuel. Imagine in the early days getting crammed into a tiny capsule with no leg room, propelled into space by a large burning tank of kerosene and oxygen with little or no previous history of success! It took guts to undergo that for sure.
The mission briefing was very good and helpful. While perhaps a touch long for small children in the room (the kids next to me were convulsing with restlessness by the end), it helped me appreciate launch time more knowing the bulk of what was planned to happen.
That night the team attended industry receptions to show the Foundation's support. While still getting used to these kind of events (and working on anti-cave social skills in general), it started a little slow for me. After a beer though, I started to recognize several faces from National Space Symposium and met some cool people. I had the opportunity to shake hands with NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden, who spoke and recognized leaders at the reception. He was very kind to let me take a photo with him, and also just a very genuine guy in general.
I spent a lot of time with the team, trying 'floofy' tropical drinks that Florida is known for (in moderation of course), and watched Roz, our satellite office guru in Florida and her significant other Adrian greet almost everyone there by name! One thing that I've noticed is that the space industry is very tight knit, almost like a family. People work together across all the companies to achieve common goals, and cross paths often at events everywhere.
Photo taken by Rick Sanford
The Space Foundation team on launch day!
Photo taken by Rick Sanford
Here I am at the closest spot available to the general public to see a launch at the Apollo / Saturn V Center (only NASA officials get any closer). The launch pad to my right is where Atlantis launched. The pad to the left is where future launches are aimed to take place. Notice the three large towers there. Those were placed to provide better lightning protection for launching shuttles. No one wants a massive hydrogen filled tank to be struck by lightning!
Being at a launch was so much more moving than what can be seen on TV. It was amazing how bright and rumbly the rocket was, clearly seen and felt even at the 'safe' distance of 3 miles. Seeing the sound waves move across the water was an stunning add-on to the experience, with a big 'boom' when the ignition waves hit. Then seeing that large shuttle become a tiny dot and disappear over the clouds made me very pleased.
Watching the launch made me think about the best aspects of people coming together to make big possibilities happen. Even though we all have our differences, we can still manage to put all the pieces together and travel to space. The launch also made space more 'real', a contrast to how I feel after much of the virtual endeavors I engulf myself in.
Before and after the launch, there was time to explore the Apollo / Saturn V Center. It held many unique treasures such as the Saturn V rocket (above), a touchable moon rock, movies to watch, and a small vault of a museum full of neat stuff.
On the topic of neat stuff, retro space suits on display were excellent. My personal favorite was the 1964 XR-2 Extra-Vehicular Activity Spacesuit weighing 83 lbs! It reminded me of old space movies. Check out the boots. Where do you think the inspiration originated from?
Above, Fred stands in front of the original Apollo 14 command module.
Fred holds the record in the office for never missing a single shuttle launch viewed on television, and has been a go-to source for minute-to-minute details during missions. He probably also holds the record for most continuously missed on-site launch viewing attempts, 13 in a row to be exact over 29 years! He witnessed everything from technical issues, weather delays, and mishaps like a boat crossing into the launch zone. However, 14 was the lucky number this launch, freeing Fred of his bad streak of luck.
Fred, Mike, and I agreed that fish was the food to be eaten while in Florida. I was on a strict seefood diet. I saw the food, then ate it, seafood mostly. Our most frequently visited location seen above, the Old Fish House, was delicious!
Fred took great care of us and shared his Florida food wisdom. Being around the area a lot, he knew where the laid back, quality and affordable local restaurants were located. I made it a point to broaden my palette with a different fresh fish each meal. Blackened mahi mahi and tilapia, dolphin scampi, pollok (not to be pronounced as 'Polak' which definately would not fly at all, especially if dining in Poland right?), swordfish, alligator, and frog legs! Mmmm.
At the time of writing there are only two more scheduled launches remaining, period. Be sure to watch launches scheduled for September 16, and tentatively mid-November! More launch info can be viewed on NASA's Shuttle and Rocket Launch Schedule.
The Space Foundation is AWESOME. I'm sincerely thankful and honored that the Foundation sent me to see one of the last shuttle fleet launches, and for the opportunity to get to know the space industry in general a bit better. I'm glad to be back in this wonderful dryish cool weather, and am ready to get back to work!
See the official story about the Space Foundation delegation here.