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
Back in April 2011 I told my mam, that I had put her name on a spacecraft called Curiosity for a journey to Mars. She said ‘what good will it do me? I told her that her name will travel approximately 150 million miles into space and land on the red planet in August 2012. Her name will join millions of forward thinking people who have been inspired to send their names on this adventure into the future.
I have a vision I said to her, that when in time humans build a sustainable habitat on Mars, a museum housing the pre pioneers will display their names along with the robot explorers. She looked at me after I explained the mission and its purpose and she said to me as she often did
‘You’re mad ' but she had her little bird smile on and was soon sleeping peacefully.
We can only imagine that a display many hundreds of years ahead will be spectacular. The future is ours to dream about, dreams are our nets cast forward in time to pull us along and help us grow.
Mara Science Laboratory aka Curiosity , is one of our best chances to date to find evidence for life on another world. What an incredible twist that would be in our human trials and tribulations to understand our Universe.
Mam died from cancer on July 16th, 2011, on November 25th Mars Science Laboratory will launch from Cape Canaveral carrying a special tiny payload, a microchip of names and dreams. I think my family would agree with me that it is more satisfying and uplifting that we look at Mars and think of her going into the future instead of being in the past. 4990 Irish people (including me) put their names on Curiosity out of 12,464,445 people worldwide.
I feel totally blessed that I have been invited to what is called The Mars Science Laboratory Tweetup. This adventure will tick the box on one of my top ten bucket list, must do in life things.
With weeks to go to the launch and months to the landing we will be widely informed about this spectacular mission. August 2012 will see the cruise stage punch into the Martian atmosphere to deliver mankind’s heaviest robot to the surface of the red planet. MSL will land at Gale Crater hopefully to the silent applause of rock locked microbes ready for their moment in history An interesting fact was put my way by my dear friend Jane Houston Jones. On Mars there is a crater called Wicklow named after the county in Ireland where I live. Jane and I will meet up once again at the MSL launch; it’s been five years since Jane visited me in Wicklow. It is so poignant that we should meet at this event, one of the most important missions in robotic space exploration and science.
Apollo 11 on TV was the first watershed eye opener toward my continued interest in space exploration. To be actually at the MSL launch and to also see a Saturn V rocket for myself will be my second booster shot / watershed for the future.
The MSL entry decent and landing sequence planned for 2012 has to be the most exciting landing ever conceived in the history of robotic advantures. It reminds me of Space 1999 a TV series by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson that I loved back in the 70’s (they used sky cranes). It also has all the drama of an action thriller. Oh if only a camera was in place at Gale crater to bring us live coverage of this historic space epic. I cannot wait, to see how this mission and my visit to Cape Canaveral unfolds you can follow my visit via my Tweets.
Deirdre Kelleghan is @skysketcher follow also @MarsCuriosity and @NASAJPL and @NASATweetup
What's up for November 2011 from Jane Houston Jones - Mars Science Laboratory