Sunday, June 01, 2008
What a Weekend!
Jinkies! This has been one hell of a ride this weekend. As I've mentioned previously, I went to Cocoa Beach to watch the Discovery take off. This all came about because of Unkk. Yes, Unkk is a person. On the game City of Heroes all of his characters are named with some variant of Unkk. We knew that he played SCA as well, and that he worked for NASA, but we had yet to meet him. Well, last weekend at the event we met, and had a very pleasant, if geek-riddled conversation. He then invited us, meaning Duke, Targon, and myself, to accompany him to see the launch. The obvious, and only answer was YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fast forward to Saturday. I readied the Hyperion for her cross-state journey, bade farewell to the COA and her babysitter, and set out for points East. I got there easily, for Unkk's directions were flawless, and joined up with Duke, his lady and youngling, and surprise surprise, Rico. Rico actually lives just a few minutes away from Unkk(yeah, this whole psuedo-anonymity thing is getting a bit silly, but what can you do?) and when he heard of the opportunity he leapt at it as well. Alas, Targon was caught up in end-o-semester grading(he, too, teaches college) and could not come. So we all piled in to Duke's SUV and headed out to the space center.
The traffic getting in was like Disney on a Saturday late morning, but we were all having a great time chatting, so all was well. Let me tell you, when we finally reached the point where armed guards were turning away car after car full of idiots who thought they could just drive onto the base during a launch, it was so cool to be waved on because we had an Unkk with his badge, and this on the dash:
Once past the checkpoint we drove another mile or three into the complex, with Unkk playing tour guide the whole way. We passed through two more checkpoints and then were ushered onto the grass to park. The viewing area was about 2 miles or so from the launchpad, and we could clearly see the orbiter and liquid fuel tank in the distance. So we set up our folding chairs, and coolers, and got ready to wait. Here we are, waiting:
From left to right: Mrs. Duke, Unkk, Unkkling, Dukeling, Rico, Duke, and Yours Truly.
We wandered a bit, and went to the impromptu gift shop/trailer where I got a few trinkets for the ladies back home, then it was time for the launch. There were loudspeakers that carried the launch commentary, so we knew when the countdown drew nigh. It was like being a kid on Christmas Eve for me. At T-15 seconds I turned on the camera's auto timer so that it would record the launch, and I could just watch. Fifteen became ten, then five, then zero. At first we didn't see anything, since there was a hill between us and the orbiter where we were set up, but it didn't take long for the billowing steam clouds from the vibration ablating water tank to rise above the trees, only to be pierced by the brilliant light of those titanic engines. As the orbiter cleared the steam cloud I took off my sunglasses to get an unfiltered view, but immediately had to put them back on as the flame is too bright to look at with the naked eye. As Discovery climbed higher I tilted the camera upward, still not taking my eyes off the amazing spectacle, in the hopes of getting the full trajectory. I got very lucky, as you saw if you watch the video below. Then the sound reached us. And that was the coolest part. It starts off as a low rumble, then a loud rumble, then a thunderous roar, then the roar shreds itself into a staccato rattle as the very air is decimated by those incredible sound waves. Slowly, as the orbiter gains altitude, the sound lessens, but it goes on for a very long time; long after the shuttle is merely a tiny point of light at the top of a long tapering column of smoke. We kept our eyes on the ever decreasing dot, and then the final coolness happened. You can actually see the solid rocket boosters drop away. And then she was gone. It was, quite possibly, the coolest experience of my life.
The traffic getting back out was pretty bad, but we were all high from the launch, and again the conversation flowed. We finally made it back to the Unkkhouse where Unkk, being a computer doctor, took a look at my woefully underpowered computer(which he had suggested I bring with me). He dug out the video card and replaced it with a much more powerful one he happened to have laying around, then proceeded to diagnose what I need to do to get back to playing City of Heroes. Then he put on some diagnostic software that worked wonders on this poor little box. The whole time we were swapping 'no shit, there we were' stories, and talking about movies, and SCA, and just about anything. Unkkwife was busy making 'fire meat' and 'fire vegetables' on the grill, and eventually laid out a spread of grilled meats and veggies that was just incredible. Eventually it was disclosed that this pass that Unkk got was not a usual thing, and it was only the second time, and most likely the last time in his career that he got such a thing. I felt doubly honored at his generosity. After dinner we indulged in homemade ice cream and a French Silk pie made with Bailey's Irish Cream that was positively decadent. And lastly Unkk brought out two of his prized possessions: actual space shuttle heat tiles. They are incredibly light and feel like a cross between Styrofoam and fiberglass. He let me hold them, and I couldn't have been more impressed if they had been the crown jewels. Finally I bade a very reluctant good bye to my unbelievably generous hosts, and made my way back home.
Today was a day of sweat, toil, and good friends. At 10am I joined with several others to load up a U-Haul with Sheep's worldly possessions so that she may cohabit in wedded bliss with our beloved Turtle. It was a day full of stairs, furniture, and traumatized kitties, but the company was pleasant, and the work not that exhausting. The COA had to come with me, and she was less than thrilled, but her mother works not too far from where we were, and came and picked her up just after lunch. The truck was filled by 2ish, and they all headed for points north, where a fresh crew waited for the unload. Then I came home, took a shower, and crashed hard. All in all it was a groovy, fun, exciting, warm, and exhausting weekend. What a ride!!
Marius the Pooped