MSL on the Atlas V on the Pad
On the evening pre launch NASA tour we were privileged to stand within 150 yards of the Atlas V with MSL perched on top. Silhouetted against the sun this 191 foot assemblly of scientific ambition stood a little less than half the height of the Apollo Saturn V. At 363 feet The Saturn V was the largest rocket ever built and is more comparable height wise to the familiar stainless street sculpture the Spire of Dublin which is 398 feet. After an unlimited photographic bonanza we left the launch pad to head back toward the Vehicle Assembly Building. On our journey groups of red haired hogs appeared , munching in the evening grass as the sun set on an unforgettable day.
Ahead, an invite to a Marstini party and a visit to an Observatory. The party was in a suburban house were everyone seemed to take it for granted that there was a swimming pool in the patio. The Gale House (named in honour of the landing place for MSL Gale Crater ) was occupied by a large group of Tweeps who had somehow managed to put a very cool party together. It was nice to meet up with other folks who had been in touch with me via Twitter before I left Ireland. @TashaVerse such a good welcome , Jen Scheer @flyingjenny said hi because @commanderbyrne had told her too oh !! what a twangled world the Twitterverse is. :-) @Joi_the_Artist showed me some of her richly coloured drawings while I sipped my Marstini before being introduced to @MarsCuriosity and several others whose @ names have escaped me. After some delicious food, I headed to the BCC Planetarium and Observatory with Jane @jhjones for to join in the public evening. The indoor Moon set up impressed me, I wanted to bring it home to Ireland. In the observatory we looked at Jupiter through a 24 inch scope, while soft spoken astronomers called out the positions of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. On the roof I looked at Orion rising on its side, the words of Robert Frost’s poem never rang so clear and true. The constellation looked like it had fallen down the sky, or perhaps it was me who had tumbled down the planet. The sideways view caused by the clockwork artistry of the workings of the night sky.
Next morning I was picked up at 6am on the dot by @Stephist and was twittering away by 06:25.
@TheScienceGuy Bill Nye looking very dapper spoke about everything
. The chief administrator of NASA Charles Bolden gave an impassioned talk about MSL being the precursor of future human Mars missions. Lori Garver the deputy administrator of NASA spoke with great excitment. Astronauts Leyland Melvin @Astro_Flow and Doug Wheelock @Astro_Wheels conducted the astronaut only sport of 'let’s have a midair chest crash just because we can' , and William James Adams @iamwill joined them to speak about education . The Black Eyed Pea star has invested millions of his own dollars in educational programs for young people. @Camilla_SDO said hello to me at the mornings Eyes on the Solar System demo. During the launch group photo that cheeky chicken came flying through the air for me to catch so it could preen its feathers bang on centre of the photo front row.
At T minus 30 I hugged the blow up MSL beside the countdown clock and was then asked to give my thoughts to camera by Lou Braga @Photog4NY so I did. It was very surreal to be there beside this iconic digital clock as I had watched it for years on TV following various launches from Apollo to that pending moment. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the moment was real, the Atlas V with MSL ascended in silence. I looked at it rise and in that muted moment my past present and future merged. The sound followed and engulfed me totally. I watched till the smoke trail dissipated into imperceptible particles before returning to continue tweeting. After spacecraft separation and a huge cheer in the twent, I sat down at my table. 54 years of tears decided to pick that moment to flow. I knew then I was in the right place in my life.
On the plane home as I eased back time to my reality the winder came off in my hand, a timeless moment but for me time had truly stood still when the silent rocket left this planet for Mars.
The Star Splitter a poem by Robert Frost
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My MSL launch video made using my camera for stills and my mobile for sound.
What's Up for December 2011 from Jane Houston Jones
The Astronaut Memorial at KSC
On Thanksgiving Day we returned to Kennedy Space Centre . Jane @jhjones wanted to share with me the memorial wall to fallen space explorers. This magnificent structure of polished granite reflected the blue sky, white cumulus, and the American flag amongst the Astronaut names which were pierced by sun beams of remembrance.
Our morning included a pseudo trip to Mars, the Exploration Space experience, and of course mini Tweetups with pink tagged busy Tweeps including @bphuettner @Conductor222
.Lunch with the enigmatic #labcoatbear in the rocket garden was unmissable, another opportunity to enjoy some Florida rays and good conversation.
Afterwards a long walk on Cocoa Beach was fresh, warm and therapeutic. Somehow I resisted urges to run into the sea which was so inviting. This beach is like a gigantic version of Keel on Achill in Ireland, it included formation flying pelicans adding a Jurassic feel to the wildness.
Flounder with lots of Florida shrimp at the very Hemmingway 'ish Sunset Waterfront Bar & Grill completed our day, we were joined by some of Jane’s colleagues just after the sun bowed out spectacularly on the space coast.
NASATweetup at the Twent Friday November 25th
At the badging office circa very early I met two of the dynamic Stephanie’s @schierholz and @stephist with @doug_ellison . Then I introduced myself to the other foreign nationals including @FailedProtostar for transport to the NASA base. Fully processed and complete with @LockheedMartin souvenir sweatshirt I came to stand within a few yards of the VAB. The Tweetup Twent was huge and accommodated tightly the 150 Tweetup worker bees :-) many of whom were already tweeting away at a rate of knots. Within a short while I had access to KSCCOMM- PRESS Wi -Fi via my encryption key - my Twitterportal to the world was open for business. Trent Perotto @NASA and @NASAJPL gave a welcoming talk and he was followed by Dr Jim Green, and a host of other NASA/ JPL science and engineering glitterati. My Tweeting was too my delight being picked up and RT'ed at home in Ireland , in the UK and USA. A fast lunch before an amazing tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the VAB, and my ’ have to see’ moment the Saturn V rocket.
Bus 2 was my ride for the afternoon, our guide was a wonderful passionate young woman Kimberly Goudace. I have to admire the professionalism of all NASA and JPL staff who together made the Tweetup event an unforgettable experience. If any of them had to be at their work at 4am, 5am, 6am they were on duty with a smile and a positive attitude even if they were in unfamiliar time zones. Kimberley did not even have a job; she was a former Space Shuttle engineer who still carried out her work to the n’th degree.
As we walked through the VAB her enthusiasm and knowledge filled the enormous void as she led us to the penultimate surprise, a close up view of Endeavour. This shuttle was being prepared for its museum 'shelf life after space' trip to California. The Saturn V experience for me was joyous and profound, nothing could have prepared me for the encounter and size of this lets go to the Moon vehicle. My first reaction was how will I get this into my camera? Then I made a spontaneous unscripted video ( below) where all my knowledge of the rocket went out the window as years of anticipation poured out forever.
At launch pad 34 we were kindly allowed to walk around and ponder the loss of life at this place. The past’s devastation visible in deconstructed remains of tormented concrete and twisted metal.
The beautiful sunset light yellowed the bareness and touched our souls as crepuscular rays created nature’s memorial to the Apollo 1 astronauts lost to a fire in the challenge of exploring space. LAUNCH COMPLEX 34Friday, 27 January 1967 18:31 Hours
Crepuscular Rays viewed from launch pad 34
My spur of the moment Saturn V encounter video :-) I was 12 again in a second.
A few images below , check them out !!!
A Saturn 1 B rocket on dispay in the Rocket Garden at KSC
Beaded drops of Irish rain rolled of the wing as the Airbus 330 lifted off destination, Orlando International Airport Florida. An unusual blue November 360 sky received the plane as the Sugar Loaf mountain receded below on the horizon. To Bach’s Oboe Concerto (D minor) I watched the wing flex in turbulent air as the journey continued somewhere over the Atlantic. Clumpy clouds echoed lunar landscapes below as I browsed the available in-flight entertainment.
At MCO airport near the Hertz car pick up point I met with my long time friend Jane Houston Jones @jhjones a lovely warm welcome full of joy and smiles. Our hotel was close to Kennedy Space Centre, the heat was most appreciated by me coming from a cold Irish winter. November sunshine instantly set my vitamin D levels on the rise, the Florida sun and my face met at every available moment.
Kennedy Space Centre Day 1 Wednesday 23rd
As I was a foreign national (an alien) I had to get extra official badges from NASA so I could participate in the Tweetup (Friday /Saturday) and have the right to be in very restricted areas at the launch site , accompanied by NASA personal.At the KSC I wandered in the Rocket Garden and yes I was in the zone, walking down the gantry as if I was going to enter the Apollo capsule for real. Visually there was a riot of textures and shapes that took my eye into future paintings celebrating the power of rockets that leave this planet for other worlds. Christmas trees, Christmas carols and Christmas wreaths around NASA logos in the heat seemed surreal as I explored the attractions of all things space.
One of the most engaging was the Hubble 3D IMAX movie narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy that was fantastic. It included several images of M16 the pillars of creation in 3D which for me was super. I had being drawing it several times for kids at my @ScienceWeek workshops STARSAREUS just before I left Ireland. The movie showed me more detail than I’ve ever seen before, now it’s parked in my head forever. The air conditioning was cold in the theatre I could not wait to get back outside to the bright light and cosy heat.
I met and chatted to several Tweetup people on my walk around , we all had pink badges so we were very visible to each other anywhere we went. Beside a full size model of Curiosity I met a lovely couple, the Lanza’s.They had a daughter who had worked on the Chem Cam on MSL. They were very proud of this fact, we engaged in conversation about the incredible adventure ahead of this robot and how important the science will be for future manned missions to Mars. I took instant delight in the wheels of Curiosity, Opportunity and Sojourner, beautiful engineering, visually stunning space architecture, well displayed at Exploration Space.
Jane kindly got me a ticket to the MSL Guest Briefing at 4:30pm, just before that we met Scott Maxwell i.e. @Marsroverdriver Scott drives the Mars rover Opportunity from planet Earth!!! Off planet driving :-)
At the MSL @MarsCuriosity briefing I was proud to stand for the first time in my life to the singing of the American National Anthem. Excellent NASA speakers outlined the mission, its tasks, goals and mechanisms. Excitement levels climbed as the reality of my visit began to hit home with several days left to the launch.
We enjoyed, no actually enjoyed is too bland a word for the pleasure of eating rock shrimp for dinner that evening at Florida Seafood all washed down with some American beer. Sleep came later to the sound of palm trees blowing in the wind.A few images below from that first day , check them out !!!
A few images from Day 1 Mars Science Laboratory Launch Tweetup buildup