Friday, March 14, 2008
From the Gold Coast to the Space Coast
In just a few minutes, Bunny will be by, and then we'll be off to the Kennedy Space Center for the weekend. We'll be staying at the Luna Sea Motel while we're up there.
I'm expecting to have a fun time.
I've got my camera, my tripid and my Moleskine, so I'm as ready as I'll ever be.
Lunacy on the way to the Luna Sea
We left Casa New Jersey around 2:30 pm.
Four hour later we arrived at The Luna Sea Motel.
We endured constant traffic jams, inaccessible gas stations and fast food that wasn't fast (nor food, but I digress); thankfully we finally arrived at our destination for the night.
We had no problems checking in, but I did find it rather odd that we had to pay homage to the Great Luna Sea Motel God before we could get the keys to our room.
So now we're just relaxing in the room, chilling out as the A/C blasts snow at us until we get hungry enough to get dinner.
Tomorrow: The Kennedy Space Center.
L a g
I swear, I think browsing the web at 300 baud would be faster than the wireless network here at The Luna Sea Motel. It's also persnickedy and if I don't have my laptop aimed just right I lose the signal.
I don't think I'll be updating much more until I get back.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The Luna Sea Motel
The Luna Sea Motel isn't quite as bad as I made it out to be. Sure, the outside color is hideous (at least to me) and the wireless network is more of a signal-less network but over all, it was one of the nicer hotels I've stayed in recently. It wasn't undergoing renovations, and we switch rooms three times.
But what really impressed me about the Luna Sea Motel was the bathroom.
It was a very nice bathroom, and one of the nicest details was the shower curtain rod.
It curved outwards! Which had the effect of making showers feel less cramped—it basically opened up the space.
It's always the little details.
Reflections of time spent at a diner
I'm not sure if the Luna Sea Motel can actually be classified as a “bed and breakfast” even though guests do get a complimentary hot breakfast, since the “breakfast” part of the “bed and breakfast” concept is handled off-site.
This morning Bunny went to the front office and picked up the vouchers for The Sunrise Diner, less than a mile away from the motel.
It's a small place and I doubt it's even possible to fit four people at any of the booths (unless they're midgets or on very friendly terms). It was also busy, although we manged to get a table right as we entered.
The service was prompt, the food good. The clock on the wall, however, was quite unusual:
It may take you a while to see what's so unusual about the clock, but when you do, you'll be amazed (okay, so I'm easily amused).
A Day in Space
Nothing here is small, which makes photography somewhat vexing.
That picture above? The full image I have is actually two pictures stitched together, and is just a small sample of a much larger panorama of the Kennedy Space Center.
Even this picture of the business end of the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank:
required three pictures.
As a consequence, I don't have many pictures of actual rockets. Oddly enough, the shuttle chase planes (pictured here in front of a full-scale mock-up of the Space Shuttle):
are small. They're tiny little things.
Anyway, the Kennedy Space Center.
Why is it in Florida, of all places?
On the NASA Up Close Tour, three reasons were given, but I suspect the fourth one was also a consideration:
- Florida is close to the equator, and by launching eastward, rockets gain an additional 900mph boost, which, given that over 90% of the mass of a rocket is fuel, can help.
- And while Hawaii is closer yet to the equator, and surrounded by
even more water, Florida has the advantage of
- being attached to the rest of the United States, thus making it cheaper to ship men and equipment than out to Hawaii;
- Cape Canaveral was already a missile testing site and
- it was already a state at the time, unlike Hawaii.
- Launches out towards the east go over the Atlantic Ocean, which isn't inhabited by anything that votes in politicians. If something goes wrong, wreckage isn't spread across a thousand miles of population centers.
- It was cheap land with not a lot of neighbors who would complain (I suspect this had something to do with making Cape Canaveral a missile testing site). Remember, this was back before A/C was ubuiquitous here in Florida, and you either had to be insane, or forced, to live here year round.
Now, that little building in the top picture? It's the not-so-little Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB—NASA just loves their TLAs), 52 stories tall and covers the area of your typical baseball field.
The grey pillars on the left hand side are doors that open up and allow the fully assembled rocket to be rolled out to the launch pad. The Saturn V had only 6′ of clearance when the doors were fully opened; the doors only need to open half way for the Space Shuttle to clear. There are actually two doors on either side of the building, enough for four rockets to be assembled at once. Nowadays, only two of the bays are used.
The rockets are rolled out on a large vehicle (this building in the middle of this divided highway? That's not a building but the vehicle used to move rockets—like I said, nothing but the planes are small) that moves at a speedy ½mph.
And speaking of the Saturn V, The Space Center has one on display:
363′ high. 6.7 million pounds of mass sitting fully fueled on the launch pad. 7.6 million pounds of thrust. One of the displays around the Saturn V mentioned that 91% of the mass of the Saturn V was fuel, compared to the 4% mass fuel of a Corvette (favorite car of the astronauts), which prompted a rather unfortunate thought: the Saturn V is the ultimate symbol of our disposable society. Only 3.7% of the mass of the Saturn V returns back to Earth intact (unfortunate because getting off this planet is so darned difficult—and because I think the Saturn V is one of the most beautiful rockets ever designed).
After the NASA Up Close Tour, Bunny and I headed off to the Shuttle Launch Simulation Facility, a new exhibit at the Space Center. From what I understand, the astronauts that have been on this simulation have felt it to be better than the simulations they were trained on (as far as a Space Shuttle launch is concerned) and having been on it, it's rather good.
The “conceit” of the ride (if you will) is that you are one of perhaps three dozen passengers going up in the Space Shuttle. You enter a large pod, sit down and strap in. The pod is then rotated into a vertical position (and yes, it is) and “loaded” into the Space Shuttle. A few moments later the launch sequence is initiated (they kind of skip the whole “waiting for hours” and get right to the “sheer minutes of terror”). I'm not sure how they actually pulled off the 3G of accelleration, but I think they did a decent job of it.
After a few minutes of being in a heavily vibrating vertical position, the “accelleration” stops and you can feel yourself tugging up against the straps (“freefall”). Again, it's quite well done.
After that, there wasn't much time left to much else, as the Space Center was closing for the day.
A little slice of heaven
Continuing the theme of My Own Private Feasting On Asphalt (that is, eating at local restaurants), after a day at the Space Center, Bunny decided that we would eat at the first seafood restaurant we came across. We had seen several such local establishments yesterday and earlier today so we knew it would be easy to find such a place.
The first one we tried, the Crab House (or was it the Crab Shack? I don't recall now), looked closed.
We almost missed the second place—Mo's Crab Heaven.
Set back from the road in an ugly yellow building with a few cars strewn about in the parking lot, it really didn't look that inviting. But we were hungry. This was local. And we were here.
Inside, the place was brightly lit. The tables were covered with butcher paper, and surrounded with fold-up chairs. There were a few people inside smashing their way through crabs. We were lead to a table (where I got to watch Formula-1 racing on the TV nearby) and both ordered the crab cakes.
The food was excellent.
During our meal, one of the cooks came out to talk to the patrons at the table behind us. In his hand was a live blue crab, which had been caught not ten minutes earlier in the Banana River out back. Talk about your fresh sea food.
Mo's Crab Heaven also gave out free Tootsie Rolls to all patrons. Free Tootsie Rolls!
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Another day in space
Our second day at the Kennedy Space Center.
Today was the Cape Canaveral: Then and Now, a tour covering the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (aka Patrick Air Force Base). The Kenney Space Center is where all manned rockets are launched, starting with the Apollo Mission; Cape Canaveral, however, is where all the unmanned rockets are launched (with the exception of the Mercury and Gemini Missions, and Apollos 1 & 7).
Visiting SLC-5/6, where Alan Shepard, the first American shot into space, Bunny and I were struck at how primitive the computers where at the time. Very primitive.
We also learned that the technicians at SLC-5/6 were reluctant to actually, you know, push the button until Alan Shepard complained: “Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?”
Unlike most of the rockets until then, Shepard's Mercury Redstone rocket didn't explode, and he rocketed into the history books.
With this level of technology, it's amazing we didn't lose more astronauts.
And speaking of, there isn't much left of SLC-34, the launch pad of Apollo 1.
It's not used much anymore as you can see (also, had Gus Grissom not died in that horrible fire, he might have very well been the one to say “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”).
I forgot to mention yesterday that we had seen the IMAX film Space Station 3D. The 3D effects (done using polarized lenses and not the red/blue lenses one normally associates with 3D films) weren't that great, but that may have been due to improper polarization of the “3D glasses” I was using, but other than that, the film was an interesting look into the International Space Station. I was amazed at how messy it looked, what with wires and cables just strewn about haphazardly. It reminded me of some server rooms I've seen (in a subsequent conversation with Wlofie, this may be intentional, partially as things like wire wraps, wire guides and paneling add weight, which adds to launch costs (something like $20,000/pound)—also, when there's an emergency in space, you don't want to be fumbling around removing panels or wire wraps when every second counts).
So, today, after the tour, we saw the other IMAX film currently showing, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D. This time the polarization was better and the 3D effects were less annoying. And I enjoyed this film as well. The computer-generated scenes on the moon were incredible and it really gave one the feeling of actually being there.
Afterwards, we hit the giftstore. I succumbed to the pressure and bought two books (The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must and Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization) and a freeze dried ice cream cookie (more on that in a later post).
After that, we finally left the Kennedy Space Center for home.
Notes on a conversation overheard at the gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center
“Can I get this, Mom? Can I, huh?”
“It'll keep me quiet, and occupied and out of trouble and—”
“But it'll shut me up.”
“Nothing ever shuts you up.”
“I'll pay you back!”
“I'll pay you back even more!”
“You are so full of crap.”
“Awww Mom! sniff”
That Darned Peg Game, Part II
I am phenomenally bad at the Peg Game, I realized as Bunny and I were sitting at a Cracker Barrel waiting for our dinner to arrive. My best attempt left three pegs.
My worst attempt (or, if you will, my best at doing my worst) left ten pegs on the board.
That takes skill!