Friday, November 29, 2013

Bombs Bursting In Air

I managed to fit in a bit of fun while at my conference in Florida. It was at Disney World after all. One night we had dinner at EPCOT after which we had a prime spot to enjoy dessert and watch the EPCOT fireworks show (we even got to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks show in the distance, as you can see below in some of the images).


I used a new camera for these shots, a Sony RX100 II, a high end pocket camera. Given that it can hide behind my iPhone, it easily fits in my pocket (it is a couple of times thicker than the phone). The camera is still relatively new to me so I'm still learning what it can do (the lack of a manual doesn't help). So my  "technique" for these shots was just to point and shoot.

I'm not a big fan of Sony gear, having had a number of subpar experiences, and had stopped even considering them when shopping for audio equipment. But I wanted a camera that I really could put in my pocket, albeit one that took good images, and all of the reviews pointed to this unit. I've not been disappointed, as this camera succeeds at both.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In The Shadow

If you've spent any time perusing this blog, you know that rockets aren't the only flying things that catch my interest. And on my recent Florida trip I was able to enjoy more than just rockets.

Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by and is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

And I spent I very nice day wandering about the refuge, both with and without company.

I arrived in the morning and while at the visitor center I learned that there was a guided tour that had just started. They trip started with a walk around the visitor center's lop trail, so I hurried off to find the group.

I headed down the boardwalk trail, enjoying the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

I was sidetracked as I stopped to photograph what, once I joined the group, would learn are banana spiders.

There were quite a few of them hanging in large webs above and beside the trail. Note the size disparity between large female and the rather small male.

There were other spiders, like this one which had a very large web.

I caught up with the group as they were spying on a Florida cooter sunning itself.

We also saw the Florida soft-shelled turtle. the reptiles were finished out with a nicely patterned lizard that I wasn't able to get a good image of. Our guide had hoped to find a rattle snake, but came up empty. Bummer.

The boardwalk part of the trip ended with ...

... damsels and ...

... dragons flying about (much easier to photograph when stationary).

We then loaded up into our cars, each car with a radio, and we headed out to explore.

We got good but distant looks at mottled ducks and reddish egrets, both life birds for me, as well at these feathered friends ...

We ended the tour searching for manatees.

During which time we saw a variety of fish swimming about.

Our fist two spots for manatees resulted in fish and lots of folks in boats.

But at our last stop of the trip ...

... success! With a pair of the large mammals swimming by.

Back at he visitors center I mentioned to the guide that I wanted to find a Florida scrub jay, and he told me that he knew exactly where they would be and that he would guide me there. So we hopped into my rental car and headed off.

And sure enough ...

... they were there. A family group feeding, with one bird always at the top of the tree as a sentinel. Another life bird for me.

I ended the day driving a ten mile loop around some impoundments. The road wasn't in the greatest of shape, but I was able to navigate around the ruts (had I my Ford Escape hybrid, I would have had no problems).  I did get lost at the end, but it turns out any way I picked would have led me out to the main road.

I got very nice looks at a variety of shorebirds and waders, including this nice godwit.

The refuge is in the shadow of the space center, and I wonder how many people are like me and visit both. Given my admittedly small sample, it would seem not many. I had the refuge pretty much to myself as I drove around all afternoon.

In a way that was nice, it was a vey pretty place and crowds would have spoiled my enjoyment. I know, rather selfish of me.

The National Wildlife Refuge system is a true treasure. And it is one that pays back more than it costs. For every tax dollar spent on the refuges close to five are generated for the local economies. A five hundred precent return. Naturally, the tea party assholes want to defund it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The last place I visited on my tour of Kennedy Space Center was the new Atlantis exhibit.

The entrance is marked by the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank.

Which were, to me anyways, surprisingly large.

Like with the Apollo/Saturn V museum, the Atlantis pavilion entrance leads the visitor through a pair of  theaters, which tell the story of the development of the  space shuttle, cost overruns, delays, and all.

From the initial paper plane model.

To the real deal, the actual Atlantis spacecraft.

Which is revealed as the screen in the last theater becomes transparent. A rather large spacecraft coming straight at you. It is a very well done effect. The screen then rises and you walk into the grand hall housing the spacecraft.

I lingered waiting for the (sparse) crowd to clear so I could get the shot I wanted. I made it out with just seconds to spare.

It was fun to see the ship like this, up close and personal as the cliche goes.

Here's a shot of the famous heat tiles.

And one of the cargo bay, highlighting the Canadian robotic arm.

The only way it could have been better is if they let you climb inside. Alas, you'll just have to imagine me waving from the window.

The shuttle was supposed to be NASA's space truck, making flight after flight with quick turn arounds between each. It didn't work out that way. The system was just too fragile, requiring significant work to get ready for the next flight. And two of the shuttles suffered catastrophic failures, Challenger and Columbia, killing all onboard. And of course, for most of the program there was nowhere to truck stuff to until the International Space Station was assembled. And unmanned throw away boosters could lift stuff to Earth orbit cheeper.

A flawed machine with no real mission. But still the first reusable spacecraft. And a model for the craft being build by private companies today. Perhaps all is not lost for my childhood dreams.

Monday, November 18, 2013

We Choose to go to the Moon

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  John F. Kennedy

As noted in my prior post, while visiting Kennedy Space Center  (KSC) I took the Mega Tour. And this tour, like all of the others, ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

When I had visited KSC in the early 1980's, there was a Saturn V rocket lying on its side outside what was then the visitor center, slowly weathering away. Now that rocket is housed in it's own museum, the afore mentioned Apollo/Saturn V Center.

As you might imagine, it takes a large building to house a large rocket. The rocket is mounted in sections above you. And as you can see I was fortunate to be there on a light day, so I had no crowds to contend with. Very nice.

Before you get to the rocket you are led through two small theaters, showing historical footage related to the space program and to the tenor of the times, the rather tumultuous sixties. This prelude ends in a rebuilt mission control, using the original consoles, with the countdown to the launch of Apollo 11.

And then it is off to the rocket.

You begin at the business end of a machine built to go to the moon.

And work your way forward stage by stage.

Some of the stages are left over components from flights canceled because we needed to spend our money on more important things, like killing people in Vietnam (sadly not too different from today).

Other parts are models, built for training or even for this museum.

And some, like this Apollo 14 capsule, are the real deal.

While the one hanging overhead was a model.

My favorite spacecraft was easily the Lunar Module. It just seemed so un-spaceship like. And that appealed to me. It was different.

And of course I so much wanted to ride on the Lunar Rover.

The Apollo project was the stuff of my dreams as a kid. And it was very cool to revisit those dreams for a day. On this coming Wednesday, 11/20/2013, it will be fifty years since the president who started us on the path to the moon, and for whom the space center is named, was assassinated. Did he too dream of the moon? Or was it all just politics? 

What would he make of the fact that the United States, the nation that made the man on the moon a reality, has no capability to launch a man into space?

I trust he would find that very sad and disappointing. Just as I do.