Occasionally, you have to just do something impulsive. I made up my mind Friday that I wanted to go see the early Saturday morning launch of Endeavour. The shuttle program is winding down in a couple of years, and I still distinctly recall the first launch back in ‘86, I believe it was. “America’s Space Truck”, the shuttle was called back then, and what a workhorse it has turned out to be. Russia tried to build a similar spacecraft, but ran out of money before they were able to make it fly. Update: Alert Reader Austin Cassidy reminds me that the Soviets DID manage to fly their shuttle … once … unmanned. By all accounts, the launch of a shuttle up close is something awesome to behold. I’ve seen several from the beach, but I want to experience it up close. So south we went. And went. And went.
The good news was, it was a ragtop night, and very nice in the convertible with the top down.
The bad news was, we didn’t have a reservation. Though we probably could have found something closer, we wound up all the way down in Vero Beach. At about midnight. With the launch set for 0717, we knew we had to get up early and drive back north to get close to the launch. I was aiming for Cocoa Beach, even though you can’t see the launch pad from there. It’s still only about 15 miles from the pad, and that’s way better than the 150 or so miles from the beach here.
So, we left a 5 am wakeup call, and got about 4 hours sleep.
We got up. I made coffee and grabbed a shower, aiming for a 5:30 departure to the north. About 5:20, I checked the NASA site on my iPhone.
Launch scrubbed. There’s a leaky hydrogen valve. Scrubbed about the time we got to Vero. If I’d have checked before I went to sleep, we could have cancelled that pesky wake up call. Nothing to do but shrug, and go back to bed.
So, with a couple of additional hours of sleep, what to do? Breakfast, and a leisurely meander up A1A, and US1.
The differences between the two are marked. A1A is the beach road. In the towns, there are condos, tacky t-shirt shops, restaurants, and hotels. Some sparkling and new, some left over from the 1950’s and 60’s. Some have made it, some have not. Between the towns, the occasional mom-and-pop motels are interspersed with opulent mansions (mostly further south), middle class homes, trailer parks, and oceanfront campgrounds. But it is instantly recognizable as “beach”.
But on the west side of the Intercoastal, which includes the Indian, Banana, Guana, and Matanzas rivers between here and Vero Beach, is US1. And it is very different from the beach.
This is as close to a launch as we got today. There’s a place in Titusville called Kennedy Point Park, where you can see the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the two launch pads at the Space Center. As you can see, it was a very hazy day today, as the temperature climbed near 90 early in the day, and the one launch pad in the frame is barely visible far to the left of the VAB. There is a motel next door to the park, which you can imagine is very popular on launch dates because of its unobstructed view of the pad across the Indian River. Rack rate at the motel is in the $109 range, but the desk clerk told Andie today that on launch dates, it soars to between $200 and $300. Supply and demand, I suppose. You’re guaranteed a parking place and a view … provided there’s a launch. If it doesn’t go, I doubt the places drops your room charge to the rack rate. But the park is just along US1, and may be someplace to target should we have another wild hair on a launch day. I doubt we’ll be staying in the motel.
Not far from where we stopped to look across the river, I spotted this old-style Florida Cracker house, vacant and dilapidated, begging to have it’s picture taken. This is pretty typical in this central Florida part of US1. I could have spent all day shooting abandoned houses, motels, orchards, and businesses. With the advent of I-95 just another few miles west, travel on US1 slowed to a trickle, with local residents, and the occasional traveler like ourselves, not particularly in a hurry, the only ones on the road. No customers make it difficult for businesses to stay open, and some just walk away from houses and businesses, and they start to crumble in the hot Florida sun pretty rapidly. But they do attract my camera lens.
For pretty much as long as I’ve been coming to Florida, with a few rare exceptions, I’ve been driving past the New Smyrna Beach airport. I’ve flown in there a couple of times on trips from Indiana to Florida. Driving down, it was always the last landmark letting us know our long road trip was just about done. There has always been a restaurant there, and it’s most recent incarnation is Stella’s Skyline Cafe. It may have always been called that, but we learned today that its current owners acquired the property about 3 years ago. In keeping with the aviation theme, the pinup you see here is reminiscent of nose art featured so prominently on aircraft during WWII. We had lunch on the patio in the late-spring Florida heat, joined only by the airport cat, who hung out and occasionally deigned to let us know that a handout would be appreciated. It was a day to fly. Hot, so the density altitude would have been high, but there’s a lot of concrete at New Smyrna, so getting most of the planes at the airport off the ground wouldn’t have been a problem. It was hazy, but fine weather, at least south of Daytona. I hoped we’d watch the airplanes come and go while we had lunch and iced tea on the deck.
We heard one in the hour or so we took for lunch. One airplane. I guess everybody else was at lunch as well.
From New Smyrna, we cut back to A1A at South Daytona Shores and came the rest of the way along the ocean. We hit a thunderstorm north of St. Augustine, put the top back on the car, and made our way home. The rest of the pictures are up on Flicrk. Check out the airport cat.
And I still haven’t seen a launch up close. But sometimes you just have to say “damn the gas prices that are rising for no real reason and the fact that we can see the edge of financial disaster” and just go try. Close your eyes and jump.
Occasionally life has to be lived that way as well.