It's been a while.

We went to Kennedy Space Center last weekend for my birthday. Mitzi had made reservations for a lengthy bus tour of the launch complex, so we had to be there by 1100. I was surprised a bit by the amount of traffic heading into the complex, and grateful for a last-minute Apple Maps update that took us by another route and likely improved our position in the line.

After hustling through security and the ticket gate, stopping by the restrooms (line at the women's because, of course) and finding the bus tour we discovered our tour had been cancelled. Briefly, when Mitzi booked the tour, SpaceX wasn't scheduled to launch on the 3rd. Later, I learned that there was a launch scheduled that day, and we wondered if they'd stop the bus so we could get out and watch. We were certain they would.

Well, they didn't have to. Any time there's a launch scheduled, the only bus that runs is the one that takes you out to the Saturn V exhibit. Mitzi had questions about refunds, but we didn't get those answered until we left the park and stopped by guest services. Because she booked the tour through AAA, she still hasn't been refunded, but she's confident she will.

As it happened, the launch was scrubbed.

I was surprised that Kennedy Space Center is mostly like a theme park these days. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it certainly wasn't what I expected. Lots of lines and attractions, lots of people too. I'd say it's great for kids.

I did enjoy it though. The Saturn V exhibit is nearly identical to the one in Huntsville, Alabama. Worth visiting, even if you've seen it before. You get to touch a lunar rock, I passed. It's more like a pebble, and has been touched by thousands of people. I'm sure they have to replace it periodically due to wear.

The difference between Huntsville and KSC is the entrance, which has an attraction that Huntsville doesn't. You queue up in a room that shows slides of 60s cultural icons, then a short film about Kennedy's goal to send men to the moon in a decade. Then you're ushered into a small amphitheater, which has the launch control consoles from the actual Saturn program at the front. Videos play on three screens above it, while audio from the the Apollo 11 mission is played and the consoles light up in sequence with the events, culminating in the display of the liftoff on the three screens accompanied by a very loud soundtrack. It was pretty cool.

The highlight of the visit was the Atlantis exhibit, which is very well done. Same sort of procedure as the Saturn exhibit, although there is no amphitheater, you're standing the whole time and the line was rather lengthy.

I was disappointed that the buses that run out to the Saturn exhibit were all diesel, though there is a large solar farm at the center. I don't think it generates enough power to run the visitors' attractions, but it's fairly substantial. Outside of the base, you may pass rather a significant FPL facility.

We were staying at a kind of boutique hotel in Cocoa Beach and by then of course we knew SpaceX was doing a StarLink launch on the 4th. We went up on the deck at oh-dark-thirty only to learn it had been delayed. We returned about 0815 and got to see it go up. I only brought a 150mm lens, which was an error.

I thought we'd see the launch on the 3rd from the Space Center, and I knew I'd want to be taking a lot of photos so I debated between carrying the 12-100mm/f4, which is a very sharp but somewhat heavy "pro" lens, or my 14-150mm/f4-f5.6 zoom. I wasn't going to wear the Cotton Carrier G3, so I wanted something light. I removed the RRS tripod plate, mounted the 14-150 and used my sling, thinking I'd be seated much of the time on the bus tour so I wouldn't have any back issues.

I brought along the 12-40 as a backup lens in case the 14-150 failed (It's more than a decade old, a "super-zoom" with internal ribbon cables. It hasn't failed yet, but it had been my most-used lens, so I'm not certain it'll be there when I need it.)

In hindsight, since we were going by car, I should have just loaded my bigger bag with a larger assortment of lenses. I needed something much wider than 12mm on Monday, and 150mm didn't serve me as well as 300mm might have, or 400mm.

As to witnessing a launch from Cocoa Beach, very cool. You can definitely hear it, though several seconds after it actually launches. We did not hear a sonic boom, which was unusual according to the landscaper we spoke to. Perhaps due to atmospheric conditions, I don't know. Visually, it was of course more impressive than what we're used to over 100 miles north, but it was the sound that really made the experience. I can barely imagine what it must have been like when a Saturn V when up, or a Space Shuttle. The SLS is likely equally as impressive.

On the way down, we saw a billboard for a warbird museum, and we looked it up while we were staying at the beach. It's the Valiant Air Command, and they have a large collection of military aircraft, many of which are restored to flying condition. It's in Titusville and well worth visiting if you're in the area. Admission is a bit steep, perhaps, at $22.00, but they do some remarkable work.

The highlight of that visit was the Tico Belle, a WW II C-47 that flew three missions on D-Day, two airborne paratrooper drops and a glider tow. It also flew in nearly every operation subsequent to that, including the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden (A Bridge Too Far). Later it participated in the Berlin air lift. Then it was transferred to Denmark where it became the official aircraft of the king and queen of Denmark. It was eventually returned to the Air Force and finally ended up with Valiant Air Command.

It still flies today, and participated in relief operations to the Bahamas following a recent hurricane. It's been restored to its D-Day configuration, except a toilet that was installed in the tail for the king and queen is still there. Not sure it's "fit for a king," but it's there. We were able to go aboard and look around.

Of course, we did this on the 6th of June, so I was feeling kind of gooey during the whole thing.

We headed home after that, stopping at Buc-ee's for chopped brisket sandwiches. I watched the WWDC presentation on my phone as we neared home, but that's another post.

Anyway, that's the weekend update.

Originally posted at Nice Marmot 08:18 Saturday, 10 June 2023