Days 11&12 – end of the line

After the scrub of the launch on Wednesday morning I got a few hours of sleep and then hit the road about 11 o’clock.

While reviewing the route I realized that swinging through St. Louis would add less than a hundred miles to my route.  Having driven past the Gateway Arch numerous times and never stopping, I decided to make a stop there.

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After driving all day Wednesday and catching a few zzzs at a rest stop in Kentucky I arrived at the arch at 10 a.m. on Thursday.  I snapped a few pictures and took the ride up to the top – it is a very impressive structure.  There’s actually quite a bit to see in the visitor area, but I had stretched my legs enough, so I got back on the road just after noon.

So the final leg of my trip from St. Louis to home took about 12 hours, including stops.  I walked in my door just after midnight after being on the road for 36 hours – man I’m beat!

Scrubbed

After hanging out at the hotel last night and watching the weather go downhill fast, I was honestly expecting them to scrub the launch due to that reason.  It would have been the first time since 1995 that they had to scrub due to weather before fueling the tanks.  Well their weather guys decided shortly before 11 p.m. that the weather was improving and that they would commence fueling.  As I left the hotel, the rain had indeed subsided to a very light drizzle, however there was still lots of lightening occurring.

I stopped to grab a quick bite to eat, since I was expecting a long night and kept tabs on the progress – things seemed to be going well.  Leaving the restaurant, I got my tickets and vehicle pass rounded up and headed towards the visitor center.  Had a bit of a scare when I got to the security checkpoint and all of a sudden couldn’t find my vehicle pass. They waved me out of the line and I frantically searched the car – it’s a small space – where’d it go?!

Turns out it had slipped almost completely behind the passenger seat – I got back in line and was waved through a couple minutes later.  Crisis averted!

Got to the space center with the usual eager anticipation – so far so good on the launch pad.  It was about 12:45 and the first bus out to the NASA causeway, the viewing area, didn’t leave till 2:45.  I caught the 1:00 a.m. showing of the 3D IMAX film about the space station – very cool.  The movie let out about 1:50 and I headed over to the Launch Status building for the 2 a.m. briefing.  I no sooner sat down when over the PA the announcement was made that the launch was being scrubbed at 1:55 a.m.  What a letdown.

I hung out with a few other people to hear the first briefing at about 2:30 – no news other than what was already known – a very similar fuel leak as last Saturday and on STS-119 (which I missed in March).  It’s back to square one for NASA to figure out what’s going on and fix the problem.  Safety has to be the number 1 priority.  The next launch window opens July 11 – but whether they Go then or later depends on how the troubleshooting proceeds.

I hope to somehow make it back down here when they’re ready.  For now, it’s time to begin the long trek back home.  While I had some nice visits to several national parks along the way, I must say that this trip has been a bit of a disappointment given the failure of the main objective.  Oh well, it’s all about the journey and not the destination as they say – whoever they are…

Day 10 – back to the space center

So today I spent driving back to KSC from Key West.  It’s still ridiculously hot and muggy – I didn’t sleep much at all last night.  Drove through a couple of rain showers and it was looking a bit nasty, but on arriving here in Cocoa, things are looking sunny again and the forecast calls for 80% chance of good weather for the 5:40 a.m. launch tomorrow.

I’m going to grab a bite to eat and relax a little before heading over to the space center around midnight.  And I’m staying in a hotel tonight – though I won’t actually be sleeping here – but it’s nice to hang out anyway.  I don’t know how people managed to live here before air conditioning – I’m a wimp.  Just standing in the shade I was sweating like crazy!

If all goes according to, the latest, plan I’m going to start the drive home tomorrow sometime late morning.  I figure I’ll come back and grab a couple hours sleep, take a shower, and hit the road.  We’ll see…

Day 9 – Dry Tortugas NP

So I spent the day at Fort Jefferson which is the main, OK really the only attraction besides birds, of Dry Tortugas NP.  It’s a pretty amazing place.  The fort was constructed from 1845-1874 and is the largest masonry fort in the world,  It consists of over 16 million bricks.  Most brought in from Pensacola, FL, but the upper courses (due to the Civil War), along with the granite all the way from New England.

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Today, it’s just a 2 hour boat ride in air conditioned comfort, but would still be a monumental undertaking to construct.  This was built in the mid 19th century when it took a sailing ship nearly a full day to reach this place, 70 miles west of Key West.  Can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to live here – and at its peak there were over 2,000 men, women and children living here.  Amazing!

STS-127 is now on track for a Wednesday morning launch.  So tomorrow, I’m heading back up the coast of Florida to KSC and will hopefully see a launch at the crack of dawn on Wednesday.  Keeping my fingers crossed!

Day 8 – Key West & Dry Tortugas, NP

So with the delay of the launch until Wednesday at the earliest, and there is a conflict that day with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), I have a few days to kill. Driving up to D.C. was out of the question given the distance, so I decided to head as far south as I could.

So, I’m in Key West – OK, not quite, as the campground is about 20 miles short of there.  But I’ll be heading over there bright and early tomorrow morning in order to catch the ferry for the day tour of Dry Tortugas NP.  It’s a small island group about 70 miles beyond Key West.  There was a fort there at one time and a tour is included with the trip.  I may do a little snorkeling as well.

I got here about 4:30 and wouldn’t you know as soon as I laid out my tent to set it up, a nice little thundershower passed through.  It only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was enough to soak the tent through since it was laying on the ground already.  Oh well, it’s nearly dry already, so it’s not the end of the world.  It’s also hot, of course, but there’s a fairly nice breeze blowing through occasionally, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.  I’m also hoping that being just 50 yards or so from the water will moderate the heat…

Day 6/7 – perhaps I’m jinxed

Rather than sitting at the steamy campground, I found a nice air conditioned theater to spend the evening in.  I went the the latest DisneyPixar movie, “UP”, which did not disappoint.  Then I saw “The  Taking of Pelham 123”; with Denzel Washington and John Travolta – Great flick!

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Then I was all pumped up for the launch of STS-127 and as I had to be at the visitor center no later than 2:30, I decided to head on over.  Along the way I pulled off Hwy 1 in Titusville at a place called Kennedy Point Park (there’s no park as best as I could tell).  In any case, it’s approximately 12 miles across the Indian River to the launch pad.  I snapped a couple of pictures including the one above which shows Endeavour on the launch pad in the center of the image and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the right-hand edge.

From there, I headed over to the visitor center which was only about a 15 minute drive.  I parked and got my gear situated; cameras, tripod, chair, bug repellant, snacks, book, iPod, etc…  As I was walking across the parking lot, I overheard a woman walking in the opposite direction utter that dismal word “scrubbed”.

That’s right, yet again, the mission I’m here for has been scrubbed.  And the best part is, at least according to initial reports, that it’s the same problem that scrubbed the launch of STS-119 when I was here in March!  Well, at least this time, I’ve got the time to hang out.  Only questions are; how long, and what am I going to do.  Time will tell..  They will meet Saturday morning to assess the issue and hopefully set a new launch date.  Looks like I won’t be going to D.C. this trip.

Day 6 – final leg to KSC

So today was a driving day from Cordele, GA to Titusville, FL near Kennedy Space Center.  I got here just after 4 this afternoon and got my camp situated, and now I’m sitting in the shade updating my blog and sweating profusely.  Supposedly it’s 89 degrees, but it feels like about 120 to me!  OK, the heat index says 96, for whatever that’s worth…

Anyway, I can’t handle this heat and it doesn’t look my campsite will have shade for a couple of hours.  So, like last night, I’;m going to go sit in the air conditioned comfort of a movie theater for several hours!  It works out fine, because I have to be at the space center by 2:30 a.m. anyway.  The launch is scheduled for 7:17 Saturday morning (Eastern time) – so they make sure everyone is there early in order to load up the buses and get people to the viewing site.  Hopefully they get us out there before sun-up, some pictures of the launch pad all lit up should be pretty cool.

That’s all for now, more to come after lift-off tomorrow!