Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shuttle Successors?


An odd phenomenon is going on across the space nerd community at the moment, a fascinating and funny and sad mixture of joyful experiences from the final Shuttle launch and severe worry about the future.

Amid the flurry, I keep wanting to write a post about my... feelings surrounding the current state of the space program, but so far it's been less emotionally taxing to focus on photographs, spacetweeps and related events.

If go and get all opinionated, I run the risk of realizing the biting political cartoons published of late are a little too scary-accurate:

Space Shuttle Cartoon

Space Shuttle Toon

Cheerful, huh? And now hot on the heels of the biting American political rhetoric, the chief of Roskosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency), Vladimir Popovkin, was quoted as saying, "The shuttles turned out to be expensive toys which havent justified the investment made in them."

So what guarantee do we have that the Shuttle's possible successors will be cost-effective, efficient, well-managed, safe and successful in the long-term for science, for manned space-flight and for the overall betterment of humanity? Well, none really.

But quite a few companies have thrown their hats into the ring for a good try:

Space Shuttle Successors
BBC News picked the "Top 5" heirs to the Space Shuttle, short of someone shop-lifting a Russian Buran and considering it a fixer-upper.

CST-100 by The Boeing Company

Dragon Capsule by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation ("SpaceX")

Dream Chaser by Sierra Nevada Corporation

Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) by Lockheed Martin Corporation

Secret (?) Space vehicle by Blue Origin LLC

And so I shall wrap up this month's Space Shuttle blog theme with some confirmations of the successes, sadness for the end and hope for the future. Time will tell if any of these crew and/or cargo potentials will become the Next Big Thing. Perhaps some other dark horse of the CCDEV (NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program) will come forward?

Whatever happens... some of us will be supportive, but ever impatient with the pace of development...
Space Shuttle Turtle

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The First At The Last


On the morning of the Atlantis STS-135 launch, we were treated to a talk by four-time Shuttle vet Robert Crippen, who piloted STS-1, and commanded STS-7, STS-41C, and STS-41G (once on Columbia and thrice on Challenger). We media nerds had just settled back into the Tweetup tent after watching the Astrovan take the shuttle crew to the launch pad when he strolled in!

So, at a little after 8:30am in the morning, we were literally listening to the first Shuttle pilot speak right when the last Shuttle pilot was being strapped in for take-off! Quite chilling. Bob Crippen spoke for perhaps 30 minutes about his experiences with different orbiters and astronauts, garnering both laughter and tears from the crowd – and from himself, when he choked up a few times speaking about the end of the shuttle program.

"When the solid rockets light, you know they're headed
someplace… and you just hope it's in the right direction!"

Columbia STS-1 scrubbed once, and lifted off on the second attempt on April 12, 1981. This maiden flight of the most complex space craft built to-date was, of course, also the precise 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. In 37 orbits around the Earth, Bob Crippen and John Young performed thorough checks of all the shuttle systems, recorded the orbiters "stresses" and overall performance, and returned to Earth safely, proving the space-worthiness of a craft that would take us to LEO for the next three decades.

In his retrospective above, Bob also scored a few points with the ladies, as indicated by the cheers, for being all space-feministy. We appreciated the nod to Sally Ride (first American woman in space) and Kathryn Sullivan (first American woman to perform an EVA).

John Young and Bob Crippen in 1981

Interestingly, in a related six-degrees-of-separation kinda thing, I once interviewed a Hubble guru at NASA Goddard named Ed Rezac, who tested Bob Crippen's space suit gloves in 1980, prior to their first true christening on STS-1.

And on this same trip, after many moons on Facebook and email, Ed and I finally got to meet at the epic Endless BBQ in Florida! Social Media has truly made the world a much smaller place! So if you are a space fan, and you have not yet attended one of the NASA center media events or Tweetups, keep an eye on the @NASATWEETUP feed for when new ones are announced! You will be amazed at how they bring people together from all over the world, and all throughout the space industry!

Endless BBQ
Space Geeks Unite!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Space Shuttle Tile In Hand


And I mean that literally. I held a Space Shuttle tile in my hand. This was actually back in June at the Tweetup media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but looking back now, I am surprised they didn't have these all over the place at KSC!

These, of course, are what constitute the Thermal Protection System applied to each shuttle orbiter so that their integrity stays sound throughout missions.

Space Shuttle Tile
Side A and Side B

Many of us will get to see Shuttle Orbiters up close soon in nearby museums, and I'm betting they will have some tiles to handle... so remember these fun facts!

- TPS tiles form the skin that separates the shuttle craft and its crew from temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1090 Celsius) as it moves through Earth's atmosphere.

- About 70% of the orbiter's exterior must be covered, requiring over 22,000 tiles per craft. No two tiles are alike, and each must be applied by hand.

- The color scheme of the Space Shuttle isn't accidental. It is separated into black and white, as are its tiles, so engineers know what to use and where!

- White areas are covered with "Low-Temperature Re-usable Surface Insulation" or LRSI, designed for temperatures 650 C or 1,200 F or below.

- Black areas are covered with "High-Temperature Re-usable Surface Insulation" or HRSI, designed for temperatures above the the limit of the LRSI and on up to 1275 C and 2300 F! WOW.

Shuttle Tiles Display
Click for Original Size

There are wonderful displays about the TPS at NASA Stennis and NASA Kennedy, and many thousands will continue to be distributed to schools around the USA.

Back at the JPL, I had the honor of meeting Todd Barber, a veteran and/or ongoing guru for some of the most amazing projects NASA has going: Galileo, Stardust, Cassini, EPOXI... and most recently, he has been working on the Mars Exploratino Rover (MER) missions.

It's no exaggeration to say he is not just a propulsion engineer; he is THE propulsion engineer! And here he is, babysitting the Tweeps with a shuttle tile...

NASA Propulsion Engineer Todd Barber

And Todd's right! You really can do this with a Shuttle Tile. Here is a video of someone who put it to the test with a blowtorch and their own hand.

While poking around to research the history of TPS development, I found some fascinating old videos from the 1970s showing the development of the tiles, as well as more recent explanations of abalation and how the tile structure evolved over time with the use of sand... watch the engineers cook up a batch of modern tiles!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Onward to Mars!


It is tempting to keep saturating myself in all the minutiae of the Space Shuttle. Many space geeks are certainly experiencing a reluctance to let go, particularly if we were lucky enough to be spectators at the launch or landing. Atlantis had a picture perfect touch down early yesterday, and since then, Twitter and Facebook groups have exploded with tributes, memorials of the fallen astronauts of the Shuttle program, and general gratitude toward NASA for 30 years of Shuttle activity... but...

Happy Mars Day! We're moving on, as we always do. Exploration never stops, and pioneering new frontiers shouldn't either. An advanced probe will soon launch for Jupiter in August, and this winter, the Mars Science Laboratory, aboard the Curiosity Rover, will conduct the most sophisticated tests upon the planet Mars.

Who knows what this will bring us in terms of astrobiology? What is the overall biological potential of the red planet? How can we conduct detailed measurements on the surface?

This morning, NASA and the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum hosted a press conference where geologists, project engineers and MSL scientists announced that Curiosity will land near the Gale Crater on Mars.

Gale Crater
Gale Crater is 154 kilometers in diameter (about 96 imperial miles) and includes within it a 5-kilometer high mountain (3 miles of layers) above the crater floor. Three different environmental settings are thought to exist in and around Gale, which may indicate overall habitability of the planet in terms of the water cycle.

Is Gale an ancient lake deposit? Was there microbial life there? Orbiters have detected "signatures" of clay minerals and sulfate salts, known for being distributed by water. The scientists who spoke stressed that this was not a "life detection mission" and MSL is not necessarily looking for fossils -- but simply carbon traces, in terms of determining habitability.

Google Mars
Named in 1991 after Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, the Gale Crater is in the Elysium Planitia, is the second largest volcanic region on Mars, and estimated to be about three and a half billion years old.

Definitely check out Google Mars for precise coordinates of the Gale Crater from varied distances, and also click here for the Topographic elevation map of Gale. It's going to be hard to wait until 2012 to hear all about the landing and roving adventures!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NASA Stennis


So much to do and only so much time in the car to do posts! Even with a mobile Wifi hot-spot, one still travels through large stretches of mountains or prairies where signals are non-existent. I was trying to do the best I could along the way, but this visit to John C. Stennis Space Center actually happened a few days back. Yes, this is the place where the Saturn V boosters were tested for the vehicles that would take mankind to the moon.

A lesser known but no less strategic part of NASA that everyone should go visit!

John C. Stennis Space Center

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi is home to the second largest NASA center in the United states, as Stennis is second only to Kennedy in terms of land. 50 years ago in 1961, when the center was founded, available forest land in Mississippi was was what partly made the 13,500-acre NASA test site logical and practical. A surrounding 125,000 acres of sturdy trees and swamps provides a fine sound buffer when they fire up their massive rocket engines!

Another convenient attribute was water access, and I got to see the old canal system spidering all through Stennis where they used to move the Saturn V rockets around on barges, because they were far too big for trucks!

A-1 Test Stand
Largest rocket test stand in the world

The amazing scientists and engineers here have just completed 35 years of testing space shuttle engines for LEO missions. High-performance, liquid-fueled engines provide most of the total thrust needed during the shuttles' flights to orbit. All space shuttle main engines had to pass a series of test firings at Stennis prior to being installed in the back of any orbiter.

After taking a bus ride around small portions of the grounds, we went to the onsite museum, called The Stennisphere, near Dr. Wehrner von Braun's old offices. There we were treated to views of space crafts, a shuttle simulator, space suits of famous astronauts, an ISS module, and a fantastic exhibit called "Back To The Future" where they re-created how homes and NASA work spaces looked in the 1960s during the Apollo program.

Apollo 4 Capsule
Miss Lily took Camilla on a thorough
inspection of the Apollo 4 capsule

One of the most interesting plaques I read said that the center has gone through more name changes than any other. When founded in 1961 as a Navy site, it was simply "Test Operations", which changed to "Mississippi Test Facility" in 1965. Not too different. But then in 1974, it was absorbed by NASA and called the "National Space Technology Laboratories". In 1988, it was re-named for US Senator of 41 years, John C. Stennis (D), due to his unwavering support for the national space program, in particular manned spaceflight.

Check out the full photograph album in my Pillownaut Picasa Gallery for all the photos of the day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Final Shuttle This, Final Shuttle That


Final Final Final! I'm getting pretty sick of that word, but still can't seem to tear myself away from NASA television anytime I have a decent WiFi connection.

Yester eve, I stopped on my cross-country road trip to tune into NASA television and watch the closing ceremonies of the final Shuttle un-docking. After being attached to the ISS for 7 days for the unloading its 9,400 pounds of cargo from the Raffaello module and subsequent packing of other items for return to Earth, the unberthing commenced.

The all-American, all-spaceflown-veteran crew of STS-135 discussed the unique and historical nature of the mission, whereby the population of the ISS dropped from 10 to 6 again as the STS-135 folks thanked their orbiting hosts and departed.

Space Shuttle Atlantis
A pivotal moment in manned spaceflight, and in human history, to be sure. Currently, the last shuttle landing is due at Cape Canaveral, when Atlantis will touch down at 5:47 Eastern time, early tomorrow morning (Thursday, June 21st). Be sure to watch on NASA TV if you're up!

Astronaut Mike Fossum showed a small model of the space shuttle brought to the station by Atlantis, and that will now stay on the ISS. Astronaut Sandy Magnus snapped many pictures as the Expedition 28 crew bid everyone farewell, but the real kicker happened just before all the hugging started.

Expedition 28
Turns out, STS-135 was carrying a small American flag which had flown on STS-1 back in 1981, saying that it "represented our national pride and honor." They left the flag on Node 2, also known as Harmony, saying that it will remain there until the next astronaut on an American-made craft docks to retrieve it. Wow.

Certainly we all have high hopes for budget changes or commercial companies to fill the gap, but so many unknowns remain; the flag being left behind with that sort of open-ended question was terribly moving, and I found myself crying even more during this broadcast than the launch itself.

Shuttle Un-Docking
So gratifying to see American, Russian and Japanese crew members all embracing one another, wishing each other well on their various mission objectives. It's amazing how far we have come in terms of human relations in our space efforts, so let's hope we can get back on track now with hardware and construction concerns!

Anyone can review the mission milestones at the NASA multimedia gallery for STS-135, including the final Shuttle wake-up songs, President Obama's call, education talks to schools, EVAs, flight day recaps and various shuttle program tributes. Have Kleenex handy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wagons West


Another whirlwind! I wouldn't have it any other way. Marathon road trips should be just that -- marathons, where catching your breath is optional. It has been so amazing to be out on the American highways once again, seeing the terrain of this beautiful land unfold in every direction.

I was quite relieved when there were no Shuttle launch delays, since it felt like limbo to think, "Well, I'll just stay in Florida until the Shuttle launches." Especially when hotel rooms were so hard to come by! But I also have some wonderful friends in many areas of Florida who were willing to host me, whether I darkened their doorsteps for days or weeks! So thank you Bruce, Janet, and Kathy! And Chris, for that epic post-launch party! You were all way more fun than La Quinta ;)

Roadtrip map
You don't want to know what gasoline cost...

I rested in Florida for a couple days after all the crazy Tweetup activities, then headed back across the south to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where I finally visited the NASA Stennis center for the first time. I'll hopefully create that photo album for tomorrow's blog post.

Then it was on to Houston for a few days... work never stops! (In the sense that someone might pay you to walk around Disney parks and call it... "work".) Spent a few days in Austin with my good friends near my old house, then met up with my roadmate Jeff -- and that's when we set the breakneck pace!

Birth Home of President Lyndon Johnson

After a quick stop in Johnson City, Texas to see the giant ranch of the man that space center in Houston is named after, we tore across the prairies, hoping to get Jeff home in time for a product launch his company had accelerated date-wise.

Lots of miles to cover and not much time to do it! We had intended to go to Albuquerque, but instead took a shortcut through the beautiful Gila and Apache National Forests to reach Highway 40. From that stretch, our major detour was to to the Grand Canyon. I have been there many times, though Jeff had never laid eyes on its majesty, so that is always definitely a stop worth making, even when you are in a rush!

Grand Canyon, Arizona
Scary Huge hole in the ground, Northern Arizona

After that, we pulled an all-nighter, my first in many years, back across the California border and down into Los Angeles. Passed through and reached San Diego at about 2:30am, almost in awe that we pulled that off! Now I am just resting a bit and catching up on sleep (or rather, sleep is often catching up to ME).

Tomorrow, it's off to San Francisco to rejoin my hometown friends and family! I'll try not to inflict too many photos on them... but I'm buried in them, now. Fair warning ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Camilla Corona on TV!


Oh, good grief, did I really forget to include my news spot? Almost all the Space Tweeps were in the press in their hometowns over the past couple of weeks, and many people are busy as little bees, compiling lists of all the press items!

I should have shown this last week when we were on the way to the launch, but we were on the road when it aired and did not get to see the news on the home station, FOX 26 Houston. They also ran a print version in their "Offbeat News" section, hilariously titled: Rubber Chicken to 'Tweet' Shuttle Launch!

FOX NEWS: Epic Road Trip to Atlantis Launch

It's all about us driving "Sea to Shining Sea" to attend the launch... and I am so glad the launch went as scheduled, because it makes all the comments in the clip accurate. We all lived in fear of a scrub last week!

It's also stunning now to realize that a week has passed since Atlantis left Earth, though many of us are still glued to NASA TV, watching docking, EVA, and other events. There is an odd sense of sadness and deflation, of everything on the way home now being a bit anti-climactic, even while following the mission... because the big, roaring fiery part is over!

But we really want to thank Ned Hibberd of FOX 26, and all the other reporters who helped BUILD THE BUZZ, for this grand finale of the Space Shuttle program. It has been truly amazing to see space in the headlines every day!

Click to Embiggen
NASA Archives: One of the many bridges
full of space fans watching STS-135 lift off!

AWESOME CROWD! But now, the long drive home. I blazed through Florida and Alabama on Tuesday, not making as many stops this time, just trying to get some miles behind me. Yesterday, I stopped at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the second largest NASA site after Kennedy. Still getting pictures together for that, and will share soon.

Continued on through Louisiana, and into Texas, to meet some folks in various parts of Houston, and will continue west -- trying not to have seizures as the gasoline prices steadily rise! California prices are going to seem even worse now! But, we shall roll with them...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kennedy Shuttle Launch and Tweetup Pictures!


"This isn't the beginning of the end,

it is the end of what was our BEGINNING."
~ Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator

Ah, finally... my Atlantis Launch Day(s) Photographs! I took about 400 photos on Liftoff day (probably over a thousand on the whole trip now) ... so narrowing it down to a manageable "Top 40" was something of a trick! But click here for the entire Picasa gallery, or any of the photographs featured below in today's post.

Doug Wheelock
With Test Pilot & Astronaut Doug Wheelock

But then of course we also had to include the parties afterward, namely the second "Endless BBQ" run by the Space Tweep Society -- so called because when launches scrub, they just go on and on and on.... until an actual launch, and then it counts as the wrap party, LOL!

We were lucky not to have a scrub however, just a successful trip to the ISS in the first launch window -- and even now, many of us left in Florida are still rather wandering about in a daze, saying "Did all of that really just happen?" Maybe we're all dreaming! Sometimes it feels that way. It has been a saturating space overload!

Sesame Street Elmo at STS-135
Astronaut Mike Massimino, his daughter Gabby & Elmo!

It has been a whirlwind of social media, and a truly exciting experiment of how far and wide you can spread your enthusiasm and passion for space events with other like-minded people who all came together in cyberspace! It's quite an amazing phenomenon happening all around us.

Of course, there is the usual disclaimer that I am not a photographer by trade, so set your expectations accordingly. I just take snapshots to share, but Time Magazine, I am not. Although, Time did publish a great video about the event!

Launch Pad Countdown Clock

There were tons of folks there who brought real cameras, so I definitely recommend their photo collections if you want to see more professionally rendered creations of the entire event. Among the best I've seen thus far are those Shuttle shots taken by Jason Major of Lights In The Dark, as he got some both in the early morning darkness, and far more of the launch itself.

Another interesting collection is over on Javier Pedreira's photostream, who captured some interesting imagery of the "feel" of everything around us, and ironically, also caught Jason Major taking a photo of the plume!

Lastly, if you want to see the entire environment as if you are standing in it... check out the 360-degree panorama of KSC Launch Pad 39 Press Site Complex by Shareef Jackson! This view is truly amazing!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bear McCreary Shuttle Atlantis Fanfare


Composer Bear McCreary, largely known for composing the television themes for Battlestar Galactic and Eureka, wrote the Atlantis Fanfare to honor the final Space Shuttle mission! So it seems our STS-135 launch had her very own theme song!

On Day #2 of the NASA Tweetup this past week, Seth Green introduced the song to the growing-more-emotional-by-the-minute crowd:

Shuttle Fanfare Intro by Seth Green

This second one cracked me up. It's rather poor quality, because I wasn't so much interested in filming anything in particular as just leaving the camera on for audio purposes. I wanted to get the whole song.

I figured I would just film the people around me (some of you will see yourselves!), film the video screens showing the astronauts being loaded onto Atlantis (that was happening real-time), and so on. So, as always, sorry for the shakes, but it's worth it to hear the composition!

Shuttle Fanfare Song by Bear McCreary

Right before this, I'd had my picture taken with Seth Green and spoken with him briefly. Apparently, he had the same idea. He was a few feet away, filming the crowd and the NASA TV feed. We were both moving in 360 degree circles.

Around the At around the 1:50 mark, I was filming him while he was filming me filming him, whereby he grinned and waved. Too funny!

I still think of him as the kid in "Radio Days" and the stoner teen from that funky episode of X-Files where he leads Fox Mulder through a fence onto a secret base, LOL... probably not what he hopes for when one envisions his canon of work. But, he appears to be a dedicated space enthusiast who is wants to bring attention to NASA events, so for that, I decided I automatically like him.

A fun and unique event for the Spacetweeps lucky enough to be in the twent that day! Seth also mentioned he will blog about this over on Fragile Oasis!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Shuttle Rendezvous Pie


Space coast still in full party mode! Jimmy Buffet made a surprise appearance at the VAB, all the Tweetup houses are celebrating, all the restaurants and local hot spots are celebrating... and hey, Epic Endless BBQ + Pool shindig last night! Photo galleries still to come when I have more time and bandwidth...

Today, Atlantis is on Flight Day #3, and at 11:07 ET, an American Space Shuttle will rendezvous with the International Space Station for the very last time.

Days to Shuttle Landing Sign
Mission Might Later Be Extended By One Day

Mission Control helped the crew through their sensor and computer checks in anticipation of docking at the Harmony node, and you can watch the open-hatch ceremony on NASA Television!

Have you ever wondered what a recipe would look like if we cooked the same we ran crew procedures for a space shuttle rendezvous? This really kept me awake at night. Wonder no longer...

Pumpkin Pie Checklist
Shuttle Rendezvous Pie

JSC Houston MCC Shuttle Flight Controller Sarah @Saroy designed this "translation into NASA-ese" where she crossed pumpkin pie with the Rendezvous Flight Data File (FDF). Yes, apparently this is what controllers do when they have too much time on their hands...

Check out her original post for this awesome design on her blog, or view the full recipe PDF in all its humorous nerdplay! Awesome, and thanks for permission to republish and link to you, Sarah. Best wishes and good luck with all your shifts on this final, historic mission!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Watching Shuttle Atlantis


Standing beside the Countdown Clock at Kennedy Space Center, I watched Space Shuttle Atlantis, the final orbiter to launch from the United States of America, take to the heavens. She sparked, she smoked, she rumbled, she flamed, and then she disappeared into the clouds while thousands of onlookers gasped, cheered, cried, or simply had their own silent moment to ponder this event.

It's still sinking in. Both the "being right there" part and the "final shuttle launch" part. Thank you, NASA. Thank you so very much. Some of us get it.

Heather with Shuttle Atlantis
Dream. Come. True.

During the day, I saw too many American astronauts to track, four Canadian astronauts, CNN's Anderson Cooper, and Seth Green at NASA Tweetup. Kept my eyes open for Nichelle Nichols and Steve Wozniak, but missed them.

We joked with Elmo, asked questions of Lori Garver, met scientists and engineers galore in every direction, and also found time for a visit to SpaceX and some of the touristy things on Florida's Space Coast. Afterward? A kegger –- no kidding -– in the VAB where Jimmy Buffet played live!

STS-135 Launch
I still cannot believe I took this photograph.

I wisecracked on Twitter that the last time anyone saw this many reporters in one place, Paris Hilton was going to jail. I wish it was actually funny. One of the Kennedy Space Center employees mentioned that they received more press registrations for this launch than any other in the 30-year Shuttle program, topping only the 1998 flight of STS-95, where John Glenn returned to space.

My question? Why isn't every launch this well-attended and exciting? Why is Lindsay Lohan getting into trouble AGAIN worth more air time than the amazing things that this program has accomplished? I will never understand this.

Cape Canaveral
Where I WAS, rather.

I'm sorry there are no links in this post, and I haven't gotten my act or my brain together enough to speak coherently or create a photograph album. Perhaps for the next few days I will just share images and short thoughts, because there really is just too much to say about what this event meant to me… and what it means for our country.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

STS-135 Tweetup Begins!


Today, the STS-135 NASA Tweetup officially begins. So here it is, the crevice of dawn, and I'm ready to roll! For the next few days, I will be at the Titusville press site for Kennedy Space Center, along with a few hundred other social media hacks and journalists, watching all the activities pertaining to the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Kennedy Space Center
The Mothership!

I won't be doing much dedicated blogging for the next few days, because even if there is a scrub on Friday, we will have to repeat the process of fighting traffic to line up along the launch pad viewing sites for many days!

Once all the flurry dies down and Atlantis is headed for the ISS, however, I'll be describing all of our activities as KSC, our visit to the SpaceX Launch Control Center here at Cape Canaveral, and all things liftoff! Tons of pictures to come...

Local stores in Cocoa Beach are expecting huge crowds!

Follow me on Twitter to see all the fun! That is where I will be "reporting" moment to moment. Or really, follow just about ANY space geek on twitter this week. Our lives have all just completely stopped for this event! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Southern Migration


Finally made it to Florida. And such adventures: news interviews, Spacetweeps all a-flutter each making their travel plans and accommodations, Tweetup scheduling emails coming fast and furious... what a week!

Since my last Road Trip Post, we covered five more states, and reached Lucky Number 7! Sometimes we rushed to beat the sunset, sometimes we moseyed to enjoy the landscape... but above all we tried to tweet as often as we could.

STS-135 Road Trip Map
Highlights included the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico, the 175th Anniversary celebration at The Alamo shrine in San Antonio, Texas... and last but certainly not least, Independence Day revelry with live music for July 4th in New Orleans!

Made it to Mississippi last night, and just barely got a flash photo of the sign before the sun went down. Yesterday morning, left the Interstate to enjoy a scenic drive along the Gulf Coast, then caught I-10 again down into Florida.

Mississippi State Line
Sunshine and gators and oranges, galore! Also, kudzu. Wow, I had forgotten all about the creeping vines since I last lived here in the early part of the century. Otherwise, Florida has not changed much. Lush, tropical, massive rainstorms out of nowhere that flash and then disappear! Happened twice. Well, at least the car is clean again now.

We have stopped now in Orlando for an evening, and then will head to SpaceX tomorrow for a tour of the Florida facilities! After that, it's off to Kennedy Space Center for two days of launch preparations, and hopefully a liftoff! Keep your fingers crossed for good weather and stay tuned.

Florida State Line
Click on any of the pictures or click this link to see all the new pictures in my Roadtrip gallery on Picasa, including all state lines, monuments, and even beignets at Cafe du Monde!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

STS-135 Countdown


As referenced in my previous Countdown 101 post, and also my post about T-minus descriptions, the procedures that make up a shuttle launch for many days previous to liftoff are intense!

The first time I read the entire published process and took a look at some genuine checklists, I was amazed anything ever takes off at all.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Countdown
But for the 135th time, all the T-minus magic begins anew! At 1:00 pm Eastern Time today, you can begin following along the STS-135 Shuttle Countdown and Milestones.

Of course, many Tweetup participants, NASA public affairs and other employees will be madly tweeting every update as the countdown draws nearer, so if you choose some space folks to follow, you'll get the scoop from moment to moment!