An excellent photo opportunity has presented it’s self. SpaceX has scheduled a resupply mission to the International Space Station, launching right at dawn. There was a really good chance 45 minuets before sunrise, there could be some really nice color in the sky. I could not pass this up, I had to give it a try.
Today was a beautiful day to watch a rocket launch! This was no ordinary launch. Today SpaceX performed a test launch of the new Falcon Heavy rocket. The SpaceX FH is capable of launching some very heavy things into space. So what heavy thing did the FH lift into space on its maiden voyage? If you’re Elon Musk, you launch your Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars. Complete with a dummy astronaut (dummy so he says, has anyone seen Elon?) hanging his arm out of the window, blasting David Bowie’s Starman on the stereo.
Rocket watchers from far and wide gathered early to watch this historic launch. I don’t think we got quite to Space Shuttle crowd sizes, but I think it was close. Maybe we should get 45 to review the crowd photos. There were some very relaxed and prepared people in Sandpoint Park. I wanted to get a photo of the huge crowd at Space View Park but there were no parking spaces close by. The Max B Bridge was jam packed. This is my favorite launch viewing site. I like to call it “Titusville’s launch viewing platform.” We had some time to kill before the launch. Due to high winds, the launch was pushed back almost to the end of its 2 ½ hours launch window. After a long wait, the FH ignited its 27 Merlin engines and lifted off of Apollo/Shuttle now SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Complex 39A. It was an amazing launch! The 27 Merlin’s really rumbled!
The FH is basically 3 Falcon 9 boosters strapped together. The plan was, to bring all three boosters back to earth, to be reused on another flight. Two of the three boosters had previously flown on F9 missions. The two outside boosters were to land back at KSC. The third booster was going to land on a barge in the Atlantic. It was amazing to see the two boosters bound for return to KSC simultaneously igniting to slow their decent. They ignited a second time and gently landed on target. Once again we heard the rumble of the rocket boosters landing, preceded by sonic booms. The third booster didn’t fare so well. Only one of three engines reignited to slow its decent and it was lost. All in all, a fantastic sight to see and hear. There is nothing like watching a live rocket launch!
Launching a Falcon Heavy, $90 million! Watching live video of a Tesla Roadster with Starman drop top orbiting the earth, PRICELESS!
After the launch scrubbed the previous day, the crowd gathers again for a second attempt for an Orion test flight. The weather is a bit iffy today, there are quite a few clouds. We have the same 7:05 – 9:44am launch window, so there is plenty of time for the weather to clear up. You know how Florida weather is, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minuets and it will change! Just before sunrise the clouds did thin and we were treated to another great sunrise. The countdown is winding down and all systems are go! There are no boats, no high winds, and no frozen valves. Yeah! There is a glow on the horizon as the engines on the Delta IV Heavy ignite. The Delta carrying Orion slowly rises into the sky. We get a good look at Orion before it disappears into the clouds. Orion performed well on its 4 hour test flight. Orion orbited the earth twice before splashing down in the pacific ocean.
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It’s a beautiful morning for the test flight of Orion, NASA’s new space vehicle. Orion is one of the first steps on the road back to manned space flight for the United States. It’s no wonder that this launch draws a large crowd. It almost looked like a shuttle launch. People came from all over the United States and a few other counties too. The launch was set for 7:05am, the launch window is open until 9:44am. I heard that some people had been there since 3:00am! I slipped in about 6:30am, one of the perks of living close by. Orion is hitching a ride on a Delta IV heavy, the biggest rocket we fly these days. It’s basically 3 Delta rockets strapped together. Orion will have its own new rocket soon. The weather was great! The sunrise was beautiful, everyone is looking forward to a great launch. Everything is go for launch, but just before 7:00am the launch is put on hold. A boat has wandered into the no-boat zone near the launch pad. It takes authorities quite a while to get the boat clear of the launch zone. No worries though, there is a rather long launch window for this launch. The boat is cleared away, we have a new launch time, and the countdown resumes. The countdown is once again put on hold. It seems that the winds at the launch pad are too high for launch. The winds have calmed, we are counting down to a new launch time. Once again the countdown is put on hold. This time we have a frozen cryogenic fuel valve. As they are working through the valve issue, it’s interesting to see how people who have been here since 3:00am, are passing the time. A few dolphins stopped by, that kept us entertained for a while. There is a glimmer of hope, around 9:30am the countdown is resumed. A wave of excitement moves through the crowd, everyone gets ready for the launch. Hopes are dashed just as the 9:44am launch window closes, the launch is scrubbed! The valve issue has not been resolved. So we try again tomorrow.
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My wife Robbie and I recently had the opportunity to visit Space Shuttle Atlantis in her new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
In preparation of Atlantis’ arrival, the Visitor Complex underwent a facelift. From the new entrance, to the new building that houses Atlantis. At the entrance to the Atlantis exhibit there is a replica external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters that are huge! From Titusville looking across the Indian River at an actual Space Shuttle on the launch pad you really needed to strain your eyes to see the darn thing. The new replica tank and SRB’s can easily be seen from almost anyplace in Titusville. They make a very striking entrance to the new exhibit. After watching the construction and Atlantis moving from the Space Center to the Visitor Complex it was very interesting to see how it all came together. I think they did a fantastic job!
Once inside the exhibit visitors are treated to an entertaining, humorous, and informative short video about the history of rockets.
Visitors are then moved into an amazing theater. A video of Atlantis launching and working in space is projected onto the walls and ceiling of the theater. You can feel the vibration as Atlantis thunders into space. It’s really amazing to watch.
As the theater fades to a black star filled sky, a large door opens and you find yourself face to face with the real Atlantis.
As you walk out of the theater, Atlantis is looking you in the eye. She is very proud of the many accomplishments that were made in her 26 years of service.
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The upper level of the exhibit is filled with information about Atlantis and the 33 missions that Atlantis flew. On one of her missions, Atlantis and her crew repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. Getting a good view of Atlantis from any angle imaginable is not the only thing to see. There is a shuttle cockpit mockup where you get to see what it was like to fly a shuttle. There are very cool interactive displays. In one of them you are looking at a video of an astronaut during a space walk. Then you become the astronaut. As you move your hand the astronaut moves his hand using a tool to make a repair.
Behind Atlantis there is a HUGE video screen with images of the Space Station and astronauts making space walks. You don’t need to use too much imagination to feel like you are in space with Atlantis.
Looking from the upper level down to the lower level, you get a good look at the belly of the beast. Also you may be wondering, how do I get down there? You have several options. One you could take the elevator, or…
You could take the eery red hallway! Or even better, you can do what we did, and take the way cool sliding board to the lower level! That was fun!
Before you head down the slide, you may want to take a tour of the model International Space Station. It’s like a habitrail for humans. You get a feeling of what it’s like to spend some time in the Space Station. There is a bit of a thrill as you encounter a clear tube 30ft or so above the floor. The girl in the photo was hesitant to cross the gap. I think a push from her friend got her moving through the tube.
Once you make it to the lower level, aside from seeing Atlantis flying over your head, there are many more things to see. I’m not sure I saw everything. There are more interactive simulators, where you can land an orbiter, aka shuttle, or use the robotic arm. They have the Airstream Astrovan on display that carried the astronauts to the launch pad. I’ve always thought the Astrovan was pretty cool. There are lots of things to see and do at the new Atlantis exhibit. We had a great time! Oh, and don’t worry since you need to exit through the gift shop, you will be able to pick up a memento, or two, of your visit with Atlantis. So grab your favorite Atlantis T-shirt and come see Atlantis in her new home!