Tag Archives: NASA

Let’s Do Launch!

Melbourne Beach, Florida – March 15, 2022 – Written by Jim

If there is any one thing that sums up this winter on Florida’s Space Coast, it has been the increased number of launches from previous years. We’ve seen a total of eighteen successful launches and one launch failure so far. There are two more rockets scheduled to head to orbit before we depart Florida. Two of the successes were ULA Atlas V rockets and all of the rest were SpaceX Falcon 9’s. The failure was a tiny 45 foot tall Astra rocket that tumbled out of control after it was out of our view. That ended up in the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting to note that the first launch we saw this season was a crewed flight, as will be the last one at the end of March.

Normally, people tend to favor seeing the night launches the best.

There is just something special about seeing the changing colors of the exhaust plume as the craft soars overhead.

Oddly enough, our favorite launch of the year occurred in the late afternoon. That one was a SpaceX CSG-2 mission that flew south, just off the coast. It went right by us. The stages separated almost directly above us, with the first stage turning around and flying back to the cape and landing. I had my camera on it the entire flight and caught this video:

The only thing that might have made it better is if had occurred the day before, as originally planned. The skies were even clearer then. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas decided to leave Port Canaveral and sail into the Coast Guard exclusion zone, which forced a launch scrub. An investigation is underway on that.

In addition to that video, I set my iPhone on a tripod for that mission and, using the Slow Shutter app, I captured this composite:

This is basically a time exposure. The ascending rocket is the solid line that angles to the right. The interrupted line is the returning booster…with the upper line being the entry (into the atmosphere) burn and the lower line being the landing burn. That is my all time personal favorite! Perhaps had the launch occurred the previous day, this wouldn’t have been so interesting. 😊

So has this season been all launches? Not by a long shot! We were fortunate to see the return of our Canadian friends this year, as the border has reopened between the U.S. and Canada. Our park is much more entertaining when everybody is here! We’ve had twice-weekly shuffleboard tournaments, which is something new this season.

Mark is our line judge; a job he obviously takes seriously.

We’ve had visits from our friends Terry & Diane, Rod & Mary and a contingent of college pals.

Here we are celebrating Jake Jump’s win in Lakeland where he pitched for Fontbonne University. We’ve seen him every year he’s played in Florida. This is his senior year and the end of an era. Dad Jim is taking the photo. We also met up for a rocket launch in Cocoa Beach:

Get your cameras ready. 3…2…1…

…and we have liftoff!

I’ve added a new fixture to our flagpole this year, to let people know when the launches are going to be. It started out as this:

Well, that doesn’t really cover all of the NASA, Blue Origin, ULA and Astra launches that take place, so we updated to this:

I had this flag custom made. That gets the job done! Our neighbors have come to rely on it. 😊

One last thing that is new this winter is my purchase of a new guitar! I haven’t played I probably 25 years, and my old 12-string Guild is in disrepair in our storage room in Michigan. I purchased a Zager 6-string and have started online lessons through Justin Guitar. So much is available online now that wasn’t when I learned back in high school! I was always a strummer and never learned how to pick. That is changing, as I’ve already learned a lot in the month I’ve had it. Our friends Becky and Joe had their musician neighbors Barbara and Jason from Montana visiting here, and Jason asked to borrow my guitar one evening. Here’s a little video of the two of them, with Barbara on her octave mandolin.

My goal is to play like that. Such a light touch!

So that’s about it for now. We are gearing up for a summer’s worth of work on our cabin in Michigan, so stay tuned for that! We are done with subcontractors, so it is Diana and I making it happen from here on out. Lots to do for one summer; hopefully it is complete by the time we head back south! Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Autumn in Florida

Melbourne Beach, FL – December 14, 2021Written by Jim

Rockets, sunshine and a new Costco…oh my! What more could two people want?

Our fall in Brevard County, Florida has been a combination of walks on the beach, launches from Cape Canaveral, sprucing up our lot at the park and buttoning up paperwork from our summer construction project. We’ve had 4 launches since we got here, three of which we watched from our beach.

First up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 daytime launch of Crew 3. When there are humans on board, we all tend to hold our breath a bit. This is a composite streak shot I took on my iPhone of that mission. This type of photography really works well on the night launches, as you will see on my next photos.

Next up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 night launch.

This mission carried over 50 Starlink satellites into orbit There is a lot going on in this composite, which I will try to explain. The brightest streak is the first stage rising from Cape Canaveral, which ends near the top of the arc. That is MECO, or main engine cutoff. There is a slight gap before the second stage lights and the arc continues. While it appears that the rocket is falling at that point, it is actually continuing to rise over the curve of the globe. Note that I was able to get the entire arc into the frame, as the rocket was flying northeast, which is away from us. The squiggly line to the left is an airplane, as is the swooping line to the right. Both were flying towards us and stayed well outside the restricted airspace. The jumble of light at the bottom of the photo is a group of four people sitting on the beach with flashlights and phones and the couple on the shoreline is Bill and Erin, neighbors of ours from the park.

Next up was an Atlas V launch by United Launch Alliance.

That rocket had 5 solid rocket boosters, which really made it jump off the pad. It flew straight east, which made it impossible to catch it all on my iPhone, even at wide-angle. We watched this flight with friends Becky, Joe and Lynette at 5 in the morning. Shortly after this was taken, we could see the 5 solid boosters fall away, twinkling as they fell towards the ocean. After that, we were treated to a rare spectacle:

This is a photo (not a composite) of the second stage heading over the horizon. It is the yellowish dot near the ocean. Above it is the exhaust plume being lit up by the sunrise. While the sky remains dark for us at 5:15 AM, that rocket is high enough and far enough east to see the rising sun. What a treat that was! Two days after that, there was another Falcon 9 launch that we missed, as it was at 1 AM. Becky, Joe and Lynette saw it, but we couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed. 🙂 We have many more launches coming up, including one from a new company on the Space Coast called Astra. Their first two launches were from Alaska, of all places. NASA is planning on launching their first SLS moon rocket in the spring, so that will hopefully happen while we are here. We also received news that SpaceX is building launch facilities at the cape for Starship, their gigantic rocket that performs a belly flop on its way back down from space.

©️ Jay Deshetler @ NASAspaceflight.com

They are currently conducting those test launches from Texas. Starship will be taller than a Saturn V moon rocket and will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. Exciting times around here, for sure.

News closer to home is that we finally have a working refrigerator in the RV! Our previous gas/electric fridge stopped working on electric about a month after the warranty expired, early last year. The service technician we purchased it from came several times last winter, but was never able to resolve the issue. We attempted to get another gas/electric this past summer from Camping World, but twice it arrived damaged. We finally had them refund our money. When we got to Florida, our friends Brenda and Jim told us that their new fifth wheel came with a 12 volt refrigerator. We had never heard of this type, so we looked them up online. It uses a small compressor, similar to a house fridge. The bonus is that it doesn’t have the large absorption unit on the back, so there are 2 more cubic feet of space inside the unit. It keeps things nice and cold, too! Many thanks to our friend Mark for helping us install it.

Back in Michigan, our cabin is online and letting us know that all is well. We have a wifi thermostat that lets us know what the furnace is doing, along with the current inside and outside temperature. Our wall of windows has been a boon when the sun is out, as the temperature in the house climbs above the set point of the thermostat. Free heat is a good thing! We also have a monitor on the propane tanks, so we know how much we have left. The electric cooperative even has an app that shows us our hourly usage. We’ve been pleased with how efficient the cabin has been so far.

Along with our security system, our friends Lane and Patti are keeping an eye on things up there, as are our neighbors on both sides of us. Hopefully these two will be able to bring their fifth wheel south one of these days and hang out in the sun with us. We sure do miss them!

Another fun thing for us is that our barn now has a Menards SKU number, meaning you can go online, get the plans and build one for yourself!

©️ Menards.com

When we designed it, we used their planner…so the design becomes their property. They did ask if they could use it in their ads, so they must really like it! They also have the materials package listed separately on a different page. Search “Valley Garage” on the Menards.com website.

And there is nothing quite like celebrating the holidays on the Space Coast! We kicked off the season on Thanksgiving by celebrating at Jerry and Linda’s place with several other friends. We also went with friends Bonnie and Fred to check out the lights at Wickham Park.

The display is normally a drive through event, but they open it up to walkers one weekend a season. It is huge! Sure is great to see these two again!

Speaking of decorations:

We are all decked out for another holiday season!

We even got the truck into the act this time. 🙂

And last but not least, we have a new Costco on the Space Coast!

Now…if only we could find room in the fifth wheel for this. 🙂

That’s about it for now. Stay tuned for more launches and other Florida fun before we head back north to resume our building project. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Ever since we were kids, Diana and I have been interested in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA.  We’ve been to Kennedy Space Center numerous times, and have watched the shuttle Columbia launch from Titusville along with several SpaceX launches from Melbourne Beach.  We also saw Columbia land piggyback on a 747 at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, and heard its twin sonic booms at Disney World as it came into Kennedy on approach.  We’ve seen many moon rocks and crew capsules around the country, but….

…we had never been to Huntsville, Alabama and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, better known as Space Camp!  Oh, man…had this been here when I was a kid, I would have bugged the heck out of my parents to send me. 😊  We actually weren’t here for Space Camp itself, but to see the artifacts they have from the space program and to take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center…the place where Werner von Braun and a team of NASA scientists developed the moon rocket.   We camped two nights right at the center in their RV park, which was a bargain at $18 a night for full hookups!

Upon entering the main museum building, we saw this interesting graphic.  It compared what human history would look like if it were put on a year long cosmic calendar…with the beginning of the universe being at 12:01 AM on January 1st.

Recorded human history has all occurred in the last 14 seconds, according to this display.  Talk about putting things in perspective!

Before we entered the mockup of the Space Station, Diana decided to pose with Astronaut Scott Kelly.

After spending a year in space, Scott was feeling a bit flat.  😉

The mockup of the International Space Station was really cool, as it showed experiments, crew quarters, exercise equipment and the toilet.  We were surprised that the crew members are required to exercise 2-1/2 hours a day to prevent muscle atrophy!  The other items in the main museum were hands on and mostly aimed at kids, so we buzzed through it fairly quickly.

Two of the displays outside were very impressive.  The first is a mockup of a complete Space Shuttle stack….the only one in existence in the world!  The main tank and the solid rocket boosters are the real deal, but the orbiter is a mockup used in testing when the shuttle program started.

It’s amazing how big it is!  The other thing we had never seen was a vertical Saturn V rocket, the one used to send astronauts to the moon.  That’s the rocket in the first photo of this post.  It’s a full scale model, standing at over 360 feet tall.

Better plug my ears, just in case they decide to light this thing up!

The other museum building on the grounds is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which has an actual Saturn V on its side, similar to the one at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Our guide, Kiri, took us step-by-step, explaining the rocket.  She also showed us many of the other displays in the building, including…

…Ed White’s umbilical, maneuvering unit and helmet from the first American spacewalk in 1965.  

I actually remember when he did that!  Unfortunately White, Gus Grissom, and Grand Rapids native Roger Chaffee were killed in a preflight test when their Apollo I capsule caught on fire less than two years later.

The museum also had the Apollo 16 capsule, a chunk of Skylab that was recovered in Australia, and one of the biggest moon rocks we’d seen yet.

Diana also found herself a rocket scientist!  Lt. Col. Otha ‘Skeet’ Vaughan was involved with the development of the Saturn V, the lunar rover, and several experiments that were flown on the Skylab and shuttle missions.  He began his Air Force career in 1951, started with NASA the day it was founded in 1960, and he is still a civilian pilot today.  He actually worked under Werner von Braun, which we thought was pretty darned cool!  Listening to him talk about those early days when they all were fresh out of college and didn’t know what they were doing was fascinating.  One of the early rockets was destroyed by fuel oscillation; in other words, the fuel was sloshing around in the tank.  One of the engineers discovered that if they floated empty beer cans on top of the fuel, it would dampen the oscillation.  They tried it on the next flight and it worked!  😊

The last thing we did was to take a bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Redstone Arsenal, which is named after the red clay that the base is built on.

This is the stand that they used to test the Redstone rocket; the type that Alan Shepard was launched on to become the first American in space.  The ‘386’ is a scoreboard of sorts, as they would change it after each test to show the number of engine firings they conducted there.

The stand where they tested the first stage of the Saturn V is pictured above.  When they first fired it, they expected to have some windows in Huntsville shatter, so they warned residents of the possibility.  What they didn’t account for was the cloud cover that day, which allowed the sound to travel the 100 or so miles to Birmingham and break windows there!  It also scared the hundreds  of skunks in the vicinity, causing them to stink up the area for some time afterwards.  🙂  It was one of the loudest man-made sounds ever, coming in second to a thermonuclear bomb.

Perhaps the coolest place we saw on the tour was the International Space Station Payload Operations Center.

All of the space stations’ U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian experiments are conducted through this center. These people are in constant communication with the ISS, monitoring each experiment, as well as the crew.  The large display on the wall in front of them showed multiple feeds, including live views from both inside and outside the station.  I checked my ISS Spotter app on my phone and the tracking feature was spot on with the live map on the wall.  😊

We really enjoyed our time at the NASA facilities in Huntsville!  Of special note: the bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center is open to U.S. citizens only.  It is also an additional $20 per person, over and above the museum entrance fee.  We wanted to let folks know that before they make a trip to the facility.  The museums do not carry the citizenship restriction.

When we visited the Museum of the Rockies we purchased an annual membership in ASTC (Association of Science Technology Centers). This covered our admission fee, so we visited the day we arrived as well as the following day. 

Thanks for exploring the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with us!  Be sure to stay tuned to see what vistas we find on our next adventure!

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