Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I wish I was doing that.....
Some of us are fortunate to be touched by a passion, but few are able to pursue it. Dance, music, sports, writing, somehow a light shines on us at an early age and we spend the rest of our lives chasing it. Some never catch it again. Others get close, and a fortunate few are able to make their dreams become reality.
It’s hard to explain what it meant to grow up being fascinated by flight. I’ve been accused of having my head in the clouds, and it caused me a lot of heartache and hard work growing up. But somehow it paid off, I got very lucky, and I now fly for a living, traveling to places I only dreamed about.
There’s an old story that’s been passed around for years that starts out with a student pilot shooting landings who looks up and sees a pilot in a twin and goes “Gee, that looks like fun, I wish I was doing that…” and the story continues up to the astronaut in orbit looking back down on the earth through a telescope and sees the student pilot shooting landings and he goes “Gee, that looks like fun, I wish I was….” In the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon”, Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean said “I thought I had the best job in the world, from the day I entered flight training, until I looked on TV one day and Al Shepard goes up in a rocket. He's gone higher than I've ever gone, and faster than I've ever gone, and most importantly, he's made more noise doing it. He's even on TV doing it. How do I get that job?”
Of course, being a child with an incurable case of Aviation growing up in the 1960s meant following the Space Program, and I fondly remember being…. well… obsessed could be the only word to describe it. When STS-1 launched on 12 April 1981 I was huddled in my room at 4am west coast time with my little black and white tv and the volume turned on very low, and my dad quietly came in to watch it with me.
As the years went by I never made it to space, and the closest I came to a launch pad was taking the Kennedy Space Center tour bus before STS-125 launched for the final Hubble Space Telescope repair. With the closing of the Shuttle program a wild idea took hold of me.
For years I’ve been writing stories for fun and sending them to my friends about flying and other things I was involved in. Occasionally I’d send one in to a magazine and collect a rejection slip but a few years ago a fortunate coincidence took place when a former flying student became the editor of Fly RC magazine and I began reviewing radio controlled airplanes for him. One thing led to another, and last year I had two articles published in Fly Past Magazine in England. Finally getting published was a long held dream, but it also made me realize that while I enjoyed writing, I had only a casual talent for it and I’ve chosen not to pursue it any further.
Thanks to Thayer Syme of Maplegate Media and Fly RC magazine, I now have a published record. To make a long story short, I applied for Press Credentials for the STS-134 launch, and to my surprise was granted them.
After finishing a trip to Shanghai I hitched a ride on a flight to Orlando, and pulled into my luxurious Motel 6 around 1am. I sure have gotten used to the luxury hotels we stay at as international airline pilots, but left to my own devices I prefer something a bit cheaper. (I even turned down the free upgrade to a SUV from the rent a car company, a compact is fine with me.) In a couple days this Motel 6 room will go for $200+ during the launch.
The morning started out with a trip to the fine ladies at the Media Badging Office, where I thought for sure I would be exposed and denied credentials. But lo and behold…. To the historic names of legendary space reporters including Cronkite, Bergman, Caidin, Morse, Neal add a new name: Kessinger.
I had originally just intended the day to be a scouting trip to find out where things were, but arriving at the media center I found things were already beginning to stir. A mixture of events highlight this mission: the winding down of the Shuttle program, Endeavor’s last flight, the attempted assassination of STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly’s wife Rep. Gabriel Giffords and her ability to attend the launch, and the announced visit of President Obama have all created a surge of interest.
At the media center I laid low but kept my head up. When I saw people being assigned desk spots I made a quiet inquiry and ended up with a spot in the back row. The day went by and people drifted in and out, by the end of the day a small group had formed back by my seat and I was able to pick up some great tips. Of course, no plan survives first action, and we’ll see what tomorrow brings.
The press site is where the iconic Launch Clock and flag is.
With nothing much going on, I spent the day sightseeing. Here's the barge the External Tanks were shipped in from Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.
The only place to purchase souvenirs is at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. There's a fee to get in, and the yearly pass is not much more than a daily pass. They've got a decent facility but if you're a space geek there's nothing new.
I take that back, there is one unique item. This is the White Room swing arm from the old Saturn era Launch Umbilical Tower. It's all that's left of those huge structures which were scrapped in the 90s.
There's a decent "rocket garden"
And the Gemini 9 capsule flown by Stafford and Cernan.
and not one but TWO Imax theaters.
There's also a mockup of the STS stack, understandably laid down for easier viewing. You can also walking the "orbiter" and look inside the payload bay and cockpit.
The past- a Mercury era firing room is also there. Nothing indicated if it was a mockup or the real thing.
and the future, an Orion mockup. Time will tell if the real vehicle ever flys.
There's also a poignant area for reflection. The Astronaut Memorial Mirror
In the souviner store you can buy all manners of stuff
Forgotten already? Discovery t-shirts on markdown.
I don't know if this is hopeful or not. This lad is in a room full of space memorabilia but was more fascinated by the Star Wars book.
Until the launch, the Ospreys in the nest by the VAB are unbothered except for a pesky photographer.