Sunday, April 2, NASA

Sunday, 04/02/17 –
After the so long hard day of travel – WE MADE IT – it was hard to get going this morning. Both girls slept in, which Aurora never does past 7:15am. But, she hadn’t had a nap all yesterday, got to sleep a little late while on the plane, and then was awake after landing all while I hunted down luggage from across two different terminals and then the ride to the hotel. So yeah, she slept until I woke her and Amber shortly after 8am!

I still had to call and deal with the original airline to get a refund this morning. Not a voucher, since I will never again fly Frontier after the way we were treated, but an actual refund. I also wanted to get the tickets canceled and refunded before the flight was to board so that two other people would be able to get on. Yesterday when they gave me the tickets I asked if today’s flight was oversold and they said yes, but not for me to worry because they had just assigned me seats. Anyway, it wasn’t hard, just took some time and talking to three people on the phone to get the refund and not a voucher. We were already in the car on our way to NASA by the time that was done.

Getting there was easy. The drive up to the island NASA is on in Cape Canaveral was wonder filled! It’s this long straight-a-way with a water canal along the side of it and then what I think was swamp along side of that. But beyond both sides of this too straight and flat to be a natural land bridge was water. Lots and lots of water, with waves. Nice view. Then, on the left side, you can see a large box building very far off in the distance looking a bit grey behind haze. The rocket storage house! There was a tall, but not as tall as the building, thin structure sticking up not too far from the building. We surmised it was a launch pad.

A couple minutes later, on the right side, you can see the orange of the external tank of a space shuttle standing up, and not so far away!! Immediately the two booster rockets on each side of it are noticed too. That’s where I want to go!

And that’s where we went. The Visitor Center Complex, which has the rocket garden from long ago and some new exhibits, such as Atlantis. Yes, the actual and real space shuttle.

We drive in and park. As we get out of the car, still a bit weary and worn from the previous day’s events, I begin to feel happy anticipation. Walking up to the gate area, all the negative melts away as I get excited. We’re here! It’s NASA! And we didn’t have to miss any of it! Rebecca and I take the girls inside the information center to get sunblock put on them while Michael goes and picks up the tickets at Will Call. It takes him a long time. When he comes back, he says “Merry Christmas” and hands me two small pieces of paper. I look at one, and it says “Lunch with an Astronaut”. YAYAYAYAYAY! Amber and I get to go have lunch with an astronaut after all!!

We didn’t have much time until we had to line up for the lunch, about half an hour. So we went to the rocket garden. The girls enjoyed climbing in and out of a rocket capsule that only fit one astronaut. Then Amber had an even better time playing at the water fountain that was about a dozen arches of water ringed in a circle around another straight up spout of water. I managed to drag her away from that to go into another capsule, which was a little larger and held three astronauts side by side.

Then to lunch. Rebecca and Michael took the two infants to lunch somewhere, I don’t know, but it had hotdogs. Amber and I waited, then were seated for our lunch. It was a buffet, with some really good pierogis, and other food, and good desserts. Sam Durrance (Dur-RANce) was the astronaut. He was a payload specialist – twice- due to being one of a team of 5 who had designed and worked with a special telescope that was built into the space shuttle. They did it that way because it saved a lot of money and resources to use the space shuttle as a platform for the telescope than to build a free floating telescope that needed to power and resource itself – like Hubble soon after was.

After everyone got their food, Sam gave a short, very informative and interesting talk, and then a nice video presentation. He was then supposed to walk around to each table to meet us all, but someone asked a quick question. That prompted others to raise their hands, and the moderator chose to have an open Q and A session instead of having Sam walk around to each table. Sad.

Still, we got to meet him for 10 seconds when we had our picture taken with him. They said everyone should line up in family groups to get pictures (they were not going to do individual pictures with Sam). They had the tour groups that needed to be on their buses by specific times go first so they wouldn’t miss the tours. There was a group of educators also there for a special visit, and they were told to wait to last and they were going to get a special picture with Sam in the rocket garden. I had Amber and I wait for a while at the table to line up so we wouldn’t be standing in line long. Amber scouted out the line situation twice, and the second time said it was short enough that we should get in it. So I headed over. As we walked out of the banquet hall to go to the line, we found Michael, Rebecca, and the other girls had arrived to meet us. Aurora wanted to be held by me, so I took her. Then Amber, Aurora and I lined up for the picture. Hey, they said family groups! So Aurora got to be in the picture with us. :)

After that we hung out in the air conditioning for awhile while I got Aurora to actually eat her lunch, Amber went out and played in the water fountain, which was right outside the glass doors of the banquet hall building, and Kathryn pushed the double long stroller by herself (not kidding!). Amber played over half an hour there, pretending I don’t know what, but she very much enjoyed it!

Then we went over to the space shuttle exhibit and experience. On our way we saw a mural of the ISS. And I spotted a space suit that was moving! Not as dramatic an effect as when I spotted the same when I as a teen here at NASA with Mom and Michael, but still sweet to be able to get a picture with someone in a full space suit!

Then on to the space shuttle exhibit and experience. It. Was. SO COOL. To see and be SO close to the external tank and booster rockets. They were so big, just about as big as I expected! It was amazing and awe-some to walk under them. Just SO much. Then into the exhibit building.

On the way in we are put into a line that leads to a large presentation room. We scoot in as they say the doors are closing, since 3 of our group were across the threshold when it was said, so we rush the rest in. The room goes dark before we can get to our positions. I slide Amber and I up and in as far as I can so the screen doesn’t look distorted, kindof abandoning Aurora back in the stroller with Michael. The presentation gives a brief theatrical version of the conception of the shuttle program through trying to figure out how to actually build a reusable rocket / airplane-esqe glider through the major setbacks to finally the day of the first launch. 12 years, one of the lead scientists said. 27 years said one of the administrators. Either way, it was MUCH longer than the government had wanted or anyone had anticipated. When the lights come on, I back up and pick up Aurora, to make up for rushing off.

Then they open a long set of doors and put us in an IMax-like room, but not a smooth dome, overhead is broken in arches staggering higher, to show us the shuttle launch. I was excited! Because I’d never managed to be presented for one before the shuttles were retired. This was as real at it could be, I expected. Amber couldn’t really see over all the adults though. So I quickly hand Aurora off to Uncle Michael, and as the lights go down I jump-lift Amber up on to my shoulders . It’s pretty cool to watch, but they move quickly through that and a bunch of events in orbit around Earth, including a cool view from the astronaut’s perspective in his space suit helmet looking back at the space shuttle while space walking over Earth. Finally they have a dramatic music and narration lead up to the end of the shuttle program, and as they are saying “Welcome Home, Atlantis, for the last time” the back wall pulls up –
And there is Atlantis. For real and as big as life. It was SUCH a powerful, overwhelming moment for me! I was literally in tears. Tears of awe, and gratefulness, and joy at this moment. There it was. What I’ve wanted to be in for most of my life, since I was a child about as young as Amber. There, was a space shuttle. An actual, honest to God, real life, it’s been to space, space shuttle. And it is close enough to touch. (Which I did try to do. Got about 2 inches away! Michael could have reached it, if he had wanted to.) If I had have been willing to be kicked out of NASA, even though we were on the third story over open air, I would have climbed over the glass wall to the half foot ledge on the other side and reached out and touched it’s nose.

I am shocked at how it looked though! When you’re close up, you can see the white parts are all fabric like and sewn together, with an occasional set of rivets. The black parts are foam. “Of course,” says Michael, “because it has to be light.” So I go back to the tail end and look at the engines. They can’t be fabric or foam, I reason, they have to be some kind of metal to withstand being melted! Sure enough, the look like pleated metal, but I can’t figure out which. I soon find an exhibit about the engines which says they are stainless steel.

- Cockpit recreation
- Virtual fix-it simulators: Amber just walks up, follows all the directions, and is done is 11 seconds, no issue. I had problems with the Left arm not doing what I wanted it to do. Other adults had even more issues and either didn’t finish in the allotted 3 min or just gave up and walked away.
- Amber never wanted to leave what she was doing, wanted to keep doing it over and over
- 3/8ths scale ISS. I saw no signs saying kids only or no adults, I read them all! I pick Aurora up so she can crawl in the entrance opening. Then I exclaim, *dramatic fake concern* “Oh no! My one and three quarter year old managed to climb into the structure! I have to go after her!” and I do! Rebecca follows me in. Aurora did very well crawling through it, down one little slide part, through module connections and even around a corner. Until the last part which was a clear see through tube, and you found out this model was suspended 2 stories high over open air. Aurora REFUSED to go on. I sent Amber ahead, then crawled with only three limbs while half holding half dragging Aurora with my right arm while biting back my own fear of heights. Normally I would have handled it fine by just scooting through to the end quickly, that wasn’t possible this time! I asked Rebecca behind me to please wait to enter the tube until Aurora and I were through. She cried and then screamed the whole way, but we made it!
- S turns of the descending space shuttle done on foot, slowing down to a spot that trigged the double bang! sounds of when the shuttle goes subsonic, ending with double steep slides (to simulate the shuttle coming in for a landing at 7 times the pitch downward of a commercial airline). Turns out the reason for the twin explosion sounds is that the nose of the shuttle crosses the sound barrier half a second before the tail slows down enough to also cross the sound barrier. Wow! I didn’t think the shuttle was that big to have that noticeable of a delay between nose and tail!
- Amber and I go to shuttle launch experience!
- Aurora asleep on Michael. Transfer to me. Amber does the slides two more times.
- Michael and Amber go on shuttle launch experience. Without Rebecca, oops.
- Astronaut memorial
- Send Michael and Rebecca to Mission to Mars, even though it’s time we’re supposed to leave, b/c I feel bad I got to do everything I wanted to, but Michael only got to do one of the 3 things he wanted to do. M2M was another one of those 3.
- Amber, Aurora, and I stay in gift shop (not the one I wanted) but get our pictures, and then my professional looking NASA T-shirt, also a gift for each of the girls, so good. Amber wants the $60 astronaut suit, and has fits and whining for ½ hour over it
- Meet up at big gift shop. Two quick run arounds through the store, buy a couple more things. We’re off.
- Finding food via google on phones not so easy, nothing we could agree on nearby or on way to motel. Finally just turn into mall looking parking lot, and yes found food.
- Quickly bathe the girls, put them to bed.
- Write
- Out talking on second story motel outside walkway until my bedtime.
- Michael says shuttle intro was the highlight of the NASA visit
- Today I think Aurora might have diarrhea

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