Monday, March 16, 2009

Discovery Launch

I am still at Canaveral. I had the great good fortune to be able to stay long enough to see a shuttle launch. At 7:43 last night, Discovery's engines were lit and she lifted off the pad.

The initial climb was in the evening twilight. The flare from the engines made the sky look black, though it was not.

As she rose, she flew into the sunset, then later into bright sun.

The plume of her exhaust became a milti-colored ribbon rippling into the sky as it passed from twilight to sunset to daylight.

She hurtled on, reaching separation from the solid rocket boosters.

The shuttle and her SRB's took separate paths, one to orbit and two to the sea far below.

It seemed like seconds before all that was left was the dispersing cloud of her passing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kennedy Space Center

Wow. My first day was the typical tour. That was neat, but the second day, I took the NASA Up Close tour. That was remarkable.

The Saturn and Apollo program happened while I was in college. I knew, on an intellectual level, that the Saturn V was big. I know now that it is BIG. Sequoias are the biggest trees on earth. They get to be 325 feet tall. The Saturn V is 363 feet. The biggest Sequoia, the General Sherman Tree, is 33 feet in diameter. The Saturn V first and second stages are 36 feet. Wow.

The Up Close tour was just that – we were up close to the launch pads. Pad 2 is currently empty. We were literally at the ramp at the base of the pad. Pad 1 has the Shuttle on it. We were 5000 feet from it. While the shuttle itself was hidden by the gantry and protection system, the fuel tank and SRB’s were very visible.

On Friday, I saw my first launch. The Kepler observatory went up at 10:49 PM. At first, watching from about 8 or 9 miles away in my campground, I wondered where I should aim my camera. It turns out that was NOT a concern. The lights around the pad made it REALLY clear where the pad was.

At liftoff, all other lights faded to insignificance compared to the rocket.

It rose, more and more quickly, into the night sky.

At separation of the SRB’s the six separated and looked like remnant sparks from a fireworks show, except that they were so high that they just seemed to just hang in the sky, red-orange sparks marking the passage of the larger spark that continued to leave Earth behind.

After, there was just the vapor trail.

I have my fingers crossed that I will see a shuttle launch before the 13th.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Farewell to a friend

Recently my uncle passed away. He was a friend and one who taught me by example, not words. I loved the wilderness; he taught me to respect it. I loved wildlife; he taught me to balance use of nature with preservation of nature. Without his teachings, I would not be living the life I now lead. He taught that one can be strong without using the strength to hurt. He taught patience, respect, tolerance, and the value of listening. Most of all, he taught love.

He had perhaps the best marriage, to a wonderful woman, that I have seen. From it came a son, a daughter who is one of my best friends, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Lonnie was deeply religious without imposing his religion on others. It was simply there, in his actions and the way he related to others. The Dalai Llama said "I like your Christ, but not your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." I think His Holiness the Dalai Llama would have liked Uncle Lonnie.

So, from a distance, I say farewell to my uncle, a friend and a deeply loved one.