Archive for May, 2011

My business partner and I placed red, white and blue bouquets at Fort Snelling National Cemetery this weekend. Within these hallowed grounds lay the men and women who, throughout history, have died serving their country. The white marble headstones come from Dorset Mountain, Vermont, carved by Danby Quarry Co., in large underground vaults. Only the purest of their marble is used for our fallen brethren. We have performed this solemn service for the past four years now. Talking to our clients, meeting their requests, and photographing their beloved’s grave site, is both an honor and a remembrance for us all. Our country has given its best and it brightest, and for this I am deeply thankful.

To my father, Randolph, I hold misty memories of his wearing the Naval officer’s uniform, with all the “scrambled eggs” on the brim of his hat. Of taking the Coast Daylight train from our hometown to and from Frisco, to visit him when he did his “two week” training.

  The Coast Daylight

Of vague WWII mentions of North Africa (I still have a designed weaving he brought back from Algeria) and Sicily and Italy. The photo I have of mom and him in South Bend, IN where he taught post-war at Notre Dame (nine months later I was brought into this world – does that make me a Hoosier? My wife would say “yes!”). And the monthly weekend drills held at Chavez Ravine next to Dodger Stadium. (Note: when I joined the Navy in the summer of 1963, the Dodgers were busy sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. Ah, how sweet it was!)

To my uncle, my father’s brother, Lincoln, who served WWII in the South Pacific. I am sure it was no paradise then as now. The silver lining was that he married a Kiwi, my aunt Susie, and they provided me with some cousins to play with.

  USS Chicago (CG-11)

I acknowledge my service in the USNR from 1963-68, and the lessons learned, no matter how painful they seemed at the time. This photo of the USS Chicago (CG-11) underway in some remote waters, took me to Viet Nam, North Korea (USS Pueblo incident) and points in between: Hawai’i, Guam, Midway, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, and San Pedro. Sold for scrap out of Bremerton, WA, in 1978.

To those in my high school who fell in Viet Nam. To those after them; in Granada, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other place way too numerous for my memory, I give my thanks and deeply held gratitude for your sacrifice. This is Memorial Day after all, and your memories are hereby held in the highest regard. Godspeed.

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As they say: third time’s the charm. To recap – the April 19 launch date I got as far as Indiana before getting news of the scrub. This was to be my 7000 miles roadtrip. So I drove back home. April 29 launch was scrubbed three hours from blastoff, and I was there – on the causeway. The bus drove us back to Orlando, and I flew home. May 10 was a dud. And now this – May 16, 2011, 08:56 am on the dot.

I’ll try to describe the challenges of “getting there.” Both flights were typical commercial nonsense. I look at aviation now as a commodity sport. We are sheeple people. If I can, I upgrade for the space it provides my 6’5″ (or is it 6’4″ now?), so that’s me you see in the front of the plane – a faker – wearing a print shirt, sandals, and reading my Kindle. Try leaving Minnesota it that git-up – brrr. The hotels were okay, Apr. 29 in Kissimmee, which turned out to be too far away, and I’m glad I brought my Garmin GPS, Last weekend I stayed in Orlando for about the same price. I got stupid on the first car rental, and bought the gu’ys line for “prepaid gas.” It sounded like they were going to do the fill up and charge my Amex. But no – that’s not what happened and I’m not going to tell what it cost. Just say NO to that plan. The Camry is ______ and the Ford Focus is ______.

Okay, now for the choices to be made for viewing the launch. If I had driven, Titusville is the place to go. Or Jetty Pier. Or Space Camp City. That’s if you drive – AND – you were not lucky enough to win the ticket lottery from NASA. Which I wasn’t, and I didn’t drive all the way there anyway. So, next choice, is to pay either of two tour company’s that offer packages for around $175,  which are referred to as VIP Tours. That gets you to from one of two pick-up sites, to the KSC Visitor Complex, and then, to the Causeway, the closest site the paying public can get to, six miles give-or-take from launch pad 39A. (Luckily I don’t believe in run-on sentences.) The information they provided me was to bring water, snacks, umbrellas/panchos or sunscreen, and a canvas folding chair. The only amenity provided – they said – was some toilettes. So Target provided me with the chair, some trail mix, apples, and protein bars. I also bought a “camel-pack,” that had a two liter bladder inside for water. All this, plus my Nikon, cell phone, iPod touch and then I was ready to go.

Both times, the 80 buses picked us up at Festival Bay, a mega mall in Orlando. On May 15th I left the Baymont Hotel at 10:00 p.m., drove the two miles, navigated the maze of parking lots, paid the $5 parking fee and was boarded on the second bus in line. When it filled, we left. We went about two miles, and we stopped. Bus broke. The mechanic came after about 45 minutes, and couldn’t get it going, Turns out, a new turbo diesel was installed yesterday, but I guess a screw came loose or something. Another 20 minutes and a second bus arrived for us to continue or two hour drive the Kennedy Space Center.

At this point, we entered KSC, and had our gear searched by security. This was TSA-Lite, as at least we kept our belts and shoes on. The reason for the visit to KSC was to keep us there until the buses were searched and relocated to the other side of the Center. I spent some of my time in the IMAX 3D theater watching the repair of the Hubble. Pretty cool. At 4:00 I re-boarded bus #2 and we went 300 feet and waited in  bus caravan line. Then we went down the road for several heavily trafficked miles and came to another security checkpoint, call it Checkpoint Charlie. The driver started to go through, a kind of rolling stop, thinking everything was hunky dory, but no, we were a “fake” bus #2, and needed to go back to the Center and get the correct bus #2 documentation. So here we are, 45 passengers, eager to get to the Causeway, and we make a U-turn, and go right back pass all the traffic and all the buses that had lined up after we had left. They got it straightened out, and back we went, with the hint of dawn on the horizon.

The Causeway is a strip of land that is bordered with water/marshes on both sides. The northern side is bounded by a strand of yellow nylon rope, and that’s where we walked to find our spots. You can see that in my pictures. What you can’t see necessarily, is about two thousand chairs waiting for folks, and concessions stands selling – you got it – trail mix, apples, oranges, soda, water, and other a sundry food stuffs. (My trail mix tasted better.) The people continued to file in, and fill the remaining space pretty much. And oh boy – the cameras and the lenses – drool. (In fact, on the ride from Orlando, my seat-mate was an “amateur” astronomer who brought a tripod, telescope, and video camera – computer driven. Get this – he lives in Irvine, CA, and bought some land in New Mexico four years ago so he could have dark skies for his remote observatory – and he calls himself an amateur? Nice guy, very helpful. Told he to use binoculars for my star gazing. I figured I will have saved thousands by taking his advice.) The NASA people had speakers that carried different conversations throughout the morning, including the launch countdown. The breezes were light, the temperature in the mid-sixties, birds were flying and pelicans fishing, and either a seal or a platypus was lolling out by the buoy. Everyone checked their settings on the cameras, including my neighbor, who had to get tech support from Canon on the phone to fix a glitch she was having.

I was torn between taking pictures and looking with my naked eyes, as had been suggested to me by others. I came to the conclusion, that my telescopic lens acted as a pretty good monocular of sorts, and that turned out to be true. I was seeing the shuttle up close, in great details, and the pictures (hugely cropped by the way) prove my point. I saw it, and then, after some seconds, I started to hear it, as it rose in crescendo to an almost ear-splitting level. The sound was a full bodied shuddr that every organ, not just my ears, got to experience. Thor at work, let me tell you. Endeavor got moving faster and faster, then disappeared into the cloud deck. It peaked out a couple of times, but by then, it was a speck with a light behind it. I am very satisfied with the sequence of shots, and the few I’ve posted prove. To have the camera shoot four pix a second, one right after the other, was a godsend. And I went to video for the thundering sound too, which really ramps up at 0:15 seconds in the video. I believe that’s when the craft reaches “MDV,” or maximum dynamic velocity (which occurs around one minuete after the launch I think.) Anyway, go to full screen, and turn the volume up for a hint of what it was like being there. You can catch a glimpse of Endeavor amongst the clouds between 0:23 and 0:30 on the vid, but you’ll have to look carefully, lower part of the frame, center. I did feel like the ground shook under our feet. In the video, when the crowd starts yelling and clapping, is when we could hear ourselves think again. Enjoy.

The ride back was one of relief and excited chatter, with tiredness tinged all around. This has been the dream of a lifetime, and for many others from around the States, and around the world. I am so proud of all the people that have brought us along for a journey into space, into knowledge and understanding, As it’s been said: “On the shoulders of giants…”

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In Inverness, FL, there’s Citrus Raceway, which Dave & I got pit passes to. They had 25 lap prelims, and then some crazy 8’s, including one run with school buses. (see my Facebook page for those). I finagled my way into the VIP tower (“I’m from National Geographic…”) and got some other shots. They guys in the pits were friendly, and told me a thing or two I never knew about racing – which isn’t hard to do. The End was a gimme.

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Dave, Debbie, and I went out for dinner at the Taco Bus. This is a venerable institution in Tampa and St Pete. The yellow bus actually travels to St Pete Monday through Friday, and then is parked here for the weekend. In Tampa, they are open 24/7 and business is brisk. I had some Mayan inspired burrito and it was delicious. The entire staff is very energetic and talkative, whizzing about like there was no tomorrow. A very welcoming and informal place. Highly recommended.

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The best laid plans of mice and men…

Last Friday was a very long day. I left my hotel room in Kissimee at 4 am, Garmin’d my way to Festival Bay Mall and found where the buses were starting to line up. I had my “camelback,” (a packpack with two liters of water onboard), my camera bag, and my fold-up chair. There were already several hundred people milling around, old and young, singles or families. There was hardly anyone in charge, and the people and the buses continued to arrive, well past the 5:30 am departure time they said we were to leave. And it started to rain, which is normal for FL, but it was another thing to deal with. In the process of finding out what was what, I lost my Green Ticket, which was to get me access to the causeway. Total bummer. Luckily, with all the other documentation I had, they gave me a new on at KSC. It upsets me that I’ve been holding that ticker, looking at it, and making sure it was with me, forever! Even when I left my motel. I think it dropped out when I was trying to find out info from the tour staff, which meant showing them my documentation. And the ticket is really small, and there’s two of them, and then there’s the reservation letter, and then, and then… My responsibility, but it worked out. Phew.

Dawn was coming by the time we left, and the trip took almost two hours I guess. We went through a modified airport security, where my knife made it with no problem. Rain squalls and winds, not to mention the hoards of people made any meaningful visit moot. For instance, standing in line for a cup of coffee was a 30 minute chore. So, I did what any Minnesotan would do, sit in some bird poop. Well, actually, I set my backpack down in it, and there was a little hole and the poop absorbed into my pack – big time. What a mess. I made the best of it for a while, knowing that it just got my apples and oranges (there went lunch), so I meandered here and there, but every time I set the pack down, more oozed out. Of course there were no towels in the restrooms, so I used my precious (sniff sniff in FLA too) Kleenex and hand sanitizer to make do as best I could. Finally, I found a table and bit the bullet, opening my bag and finding – ta ta – the sun screen bottle had opened, and the white stuff was the lotion – not poop! Still, it made the time at KSC pass.

Two hours there, and then we boarded the buses again, same bus #53, same driver, same guide. The line to board “formed” at 9:45 am. Folks, I never did find the end of that line – never! So I sat (not in poop this time) and read my Kindle, and when the line disappeared, I went to catch up. Unknown to me, there was another line, out of sight, that took another 20 minutes to go through. Finally, we left KSC for the causeway,  then seeing launchpad 39A with Endeavor gleaming white on the horizon, visible with your naked eye, had all of us giddy with excitement. We were almost there!


my neighbor murmured “the flight has been scrubbed…” Stunned. We kept going for awhile, turned around, and stopped, giving us a chance to stretch and commiserate with each other. Getting back to the pick-up/drop-off point took three hours, and they considered that pretty good time. It was a long day, and a disappointing one to be sure. Now, what to do? Robert (see picture),  a chicken farmer for the past 30 years (retired) came from Australia with his son and his son’s wife and two children on April 17th, when the Endeavor was first scheduled to launch. They saw a lot of theme parks in that ten day down period. Even if the shuttle was going to re-launch Monday, they would be on a flight back home. A complete bust. At least I have options, but what they are remains to be seen.

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