Friday, February 27, 2015

St Augustine - Costillo de San Marcos

St Augustine has many spectacular buildings and one of these is the Castillo de San Marcos, 320 years old this year. The image below is not my image - I got it from the St Augustine website. But, it shows the beautiful, defensive star design with the sally port, the entry, on the right hand side and the bridge to the Castillo itself. You can also see the dry moat with its wall around it. Note that the walls are built at a slant to make it just that much more difficult to storm it from out side. First you’ve got to charge up over the slight hill leading to the moat wall, then down into the dry moat and across, then up the 14’ tall sides - all the while being a perfect target for anyone inside firing at you. Here’s a picture showing the short wall, the dry moat and the slanted walls of the Fort. Do you want to attack this?
Pretty intimidating. Of course, you’re running in heavy metal armor, carrying and firing a heavy wooden and metal musket and then you’ve got that heavy curved helmet on your head. Then you have to stop in plain sight to fire your musket. Are you a perfect target, Are you hot and sweaty? Is this what you’d really want to do on a beautiful sunny Florida day? Wouldn’t you rather be sunning on the beach?
Started in 1672 but not finished until 1695, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental US. Florida was first ‘discovered’ by Ponce de Leon in 1513 and named ‘La Florida’ because of the bounty of flowers he saw. (By the way, did you know that Ponce de Leon sailed with Columbus on his second voyage?) But this area was not colonized until 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles sailed in with his fleet and named this particular area St Augustine because they had landed on the day of the festival of St Augustine. No gold and silver here and the land was poor for farming but it did have strategic value since it could protect the Gulf Stream which the Spanish galleons used to shoot between the Bahamas and America to get to Europe.

But, the Spanish were not the only ones who wanted to colonize North America, both the French and the English staked claims here: Jamestown was founded in 1607, Quebec in 1607, Plymouth in 1620. The friction between these 3 was great. St Augustine was often under attack and at one point Sir Francis Drake razed the town and fields. 9 wooden forts had been built and failed. A much stronger fort was needed to protect the city, the Spanish interests and the pathway to Europe. Castillo was built to satisfy these needs. Not a lot of native materials to make a strong fort but there was an abundance of coquina - an amalgam of crushed shells and sand which could be mined locally. Cut it out, stack it up and voila!!! a strong fort. The neatest thing about coquina is that it is filled with air pockets and when a cannon ball is shot at it, it just penetrates and stops embedded in the coquina. That coquina ate cannon balls. Most cannon balls shatter cement and stone and other materials. Not coquina. Plus it was fire resistant. Cheap, abundant, fire resistant, cannon ball resistant - what more could a fort builder ask for?
Here’s a picture of the outside of the fort with its coquina sides. The indentation is where a cannon ball hit and just mushed a small hole. It sure didn’t penetrate the walls of the fort.
And, Castillo de San Marcos was soon tested. In 1702, 7 years after its completion, the British attacked from Georgia. The British forces, led by General Moore, burned the city but could not penetrate the Castillo's walls. The British attacked again in 1728 with the same result. In 1740, they attacked under the leadership of Governor Oglethorpe with 1400 soldiers and Indians. They laid siege to the fort and blasted its walls with cannon for 51 days. Meanwhile the citizens of St Augustine moved into the fort for the duration of the siege, all 1500 of them. Here you can see the central courtyard - the only open space for the inhabitants of the Fort.
Oof - da. Lots of people, little space - and no way to take baths.

Because the walls were so thick, the ‘rooms’ inside were quite long and could hold a lot of stores, food, ammunition, extra cannon and people. But, there’s not much light coming in since it is a fort. And, in the summer those walls would be wet with humidity and the air would be heavy with no circulation.
They had brought all their grains and food into the fort and put their cattle and other animals into the dry moat area around the fort. But, the British soon gave up and retreated back to Georgia. The British were never able to take the city of St. Augustine but in 1763, the end of the French and Indian War, they got it by treaty while the Spanish got Cuba and everyone in St Augustine moved to Cuba. They took everything in their homes even the latches on the doors and windows. The Spanish got it back in 1784 after the American Revolution but relinquished it to the America in 1819 in return for a payment of $5,000,000. There were some in Congress who thought it a bad deal, that no one would want Florida, ’No, sir. No man would immigrate into Florida - no not from hell itself.’ He continued by denouncing Florida as a land of swamps, insects, reptiles and misfits. Yep, there were nay-sayers in Congress even then.

The Americans called the Castillo Fort Marion, honoring the revolutionary patriot from the Carolinas, General Frances Marion. The U.S. Government used Fort Marion as a prison for Native Americans in the late 1800s.

The fort was officially taken off the active list of fortifications in 1900 and it was preserved and recognized as a National Monument in 1924. Congress renamed the fort in 1942, reverting to the Spanish name, the Castillo de San Marcos. At over 315 years old, the fort is a lasting landmark of seventeenth-century St. Augustine.

We joined two Ranger talks about the Fort and thoroughly enjoyed both and learned a lot about it. The walls of the fort are 14’ at the bottom and 9’ at the top, with over 400,000 blocks of coquina stone, all cut and set by hand. No wonder it took so long to build. Look how wide the tops of the walls is. You could almost have a parade here. And, this made the rooms underneath quite long. Here is a cannon on the top of the wall, pointing towards St Augustine in case the attach came from inland. 
One of the neatest things about the fort is the old graffiti. Lots of people have lived and worked here and have made their mark on the walls. The most prevalent graffiti is a picture of a ship. You can see the ship with masts and wood sides here.
The theory is that those in the fort were anxious to see a ship, their link to the outside world. We liked the fort and its story and obviously, so did others since so many are here today. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

St Augustine, FL - Muriatic Acid and Gasoline

Mention Civil Rights in America and names like Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery come to mind. Not St Augustine. Mention St Augustine and you think of Spanish history with mentions of Great Britain and the French. But, as we were walking through Plaza de la Constitucion in the heart of the city, we looked down and saw some blocks commemorating the Civil Rights struggles, some plaques further on and a statue. That set us to research on Civil Rights in St Augustine when we got back to the RV and found some interesting stories. Interesting, not pleasant.

Martin Luther King had planned a sit-in during the St Augustine Movement, a part of the larger Civil Rights Movement. In the midst of this, on June 18, 1964, some protesters, both white and African American, jumped into a white only hotel pool. Here’s a picture from NPR of the hotel owner pouring muriatic acid into the pool. I also came across a conversation in Story Board with two of the protesters talking about the incident.
J.T. Johnson, now 76, and Al Lingo, 78, were two of the protesters in the pool that day. On a visit to StoryCorps in Atlanta, the pair recalled the hotel owner, James Brock, "losing it."

"Everybody was kind of caught off guard," J.T. says.

"The girls, they were most frightened, and we moved to the center of the pool," Al says.

"I tried to calm the gang down. I knew that there was too much water for that acid to do anything," J.T. says. "When they drug us out in bathing suits and they carried us out to the jail, they wouldn't feed me because they said I didn't have on any clothes. I said, 'Well, that's the way you locked me up!'

"But all of the news media were there, because somehow I guess they'd gotten word that something was going to happen at that pool that day. And I think that's when President [Lyndon B.] Johnson got the message."


The following day, the Civil Rights Act was approved, after an 83-day filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

The second story that I read was about a dentist, Dr. Hayling, and some others following some Ku Klux Klan members, being discovered and beaten within an inch of their lives. They were then ’stacked like logs’, gasoline was poured on them and they were only saved because someone had gone for the police who arrived before the gasoline could be lit.

After we had visited the St Augustine ‘oldest house’ we walked over to the Lincolnville section of St Augustine to see the small museum and some of the plaques throughout this section of town commemorating the Civil Rights movement in StA. Not knowing where all of these were, we stopped to talk to some older men sitting together in one yard. Sure enough, they knew where all this was. The mother of one of them was actually in the protests but had sent him and his siblings down to Miami to stay with relatives while she was protesting. She didn’t want any harm to come to them.

Right in back of them was the only remaining slave cabin.

We walked around the area finding homes where King had stayed (he could only stay one night in any home because of the threats to his life - I can’t even imagine his bravery and the bravery of those who welcomed him into their homes).
We saw the church where the protesters had met prior to their protests, where King had spoken.

We saw the Black High School built during the ‘Separate But Equal’ period in our history.

We never found the museum and we think it has been closed due to lack of funds.

But walking the streets and seeing the homes, the school, the church and talking with the man whose mother had been in the protests certainly added to our visit to StA.

Monday, February 23, 2015

St Augustine, FL - Dull and Duller

I know, you all think we’re Mr and Ms Excitement. And, I hate to disabuse you of this characterization. But sometimes we are Dull and Duller. I doubt that we could even interest babies, dogs or cats.

Yesterday we made the long jaunt from Titusville to St. Augustine. All of 82 miles. We pulled into our spot and, as we were unhooking the Jeep, we noticed that the couple next to us was having some trouble. Gary went over to see if he could help and the guy told him that they had just bought the RV and Jeep combination and had never hooked it up. Gary asked if he could help and they started in. Meanwhile I noticed that the woman, who had sat down on the picnic bench, didn’t look good. I went over and asked if she wanted to go inside to lay down. She sure did and I helped her get up and move slowly into the RV. Relieved she sat down and lay her head on the table. I asked if she needed a glass of water. Yes, and I got one out for her.

I looked around and noted that this RV was not ready to travel down the road. Dishes and a toaster oven were out on the counter, papers and books were scattered around, glasses were standing up on a shelf. Not the way I would leave it to travel. I asked if I could help her get it ready to move. She said ‘please could I do it all?’ As I said, she was not feeling well. Then she told me she had been in the hospital last night. Yep, I could believe it.

I did the best I could putting things away, I helped the woman to the navigator’s seat, the guys finished with the hitch and they were ‘ready’ to go. Not to my belief but they took off.

OK, time to finish unhitching the car and getting our ‘home’ ready for a 2-week stay. We put our ‘house’ together and walked the campground. Before we settled in for the night. I noted that I couldn’t find my Jeep key but, knowing that it was somewhere close at hand, I put off looking for it. Well, today, when we started out for St. Augustine for breakfast and to tour some of the town, I really noted that I couldn’t find it and began a more systematic search. Now, there are not a lot of places to look in an RV, it’s not that big. Nor is the car. However, we checked it all over, looked around the RV on the ground and found nothing. I kept waiting for the moment when I would say ‘aha’, remember where I had put it and rush to find it. No ‘aha’ moment, just an ‘oh darn’ moment.

Yeah, but, let’s go for breakfast and we can find it later. While we were in town, we found the Jeep dealer and asked about a new key. Only $226. Oops. We’d better look some more. We did but the result was the same: not to be found. We even went over to meet out new neighbors so we could scour the grounds around their rig, thinking that I might have dropped the key while I was helping the woman.

I guess we have found the definition of lost ‘ can’t be found.’

The excitement is palpable.

As you know, Gary and I are not big TV watchers, we like to watch the NBC news at night though will watch ABC and CBS. I also like to watch Downton Abbey but have learned over 4 years that it’s not wise to get involved in a serial TV story since we move around a lot and can’t always get PBS on our TV antenna. Being in the dark ages, we still use the little Batwing antenna on our RV. We noticed that we cannot get PBS in this location so decided to see if Camping World had anything for us. CW is at the next exit and we drove up.

To make a long story short - we have not been able to find anything that will help us get a weak station that is 80 miles away. If we were closer or if the station was stronger - but not if both of these are against us. Maybe we should drive down the road and park in a rest area.

On the way out of Camping World, we saw a Gander Mountain and wheeled our little Jeep into their parking lot. We both need shoes and this looked good. Mine look from the top but the bottom is wearing thin. Gary’s waterproof hiking boots have quite a few holes in them. Gary mutters something like ‘I’ll wear them in the mall.’ We found new shoes, I told the clerk to toss my old ones & the box - Gary brought his old ones home and says he’ll wear them for work around the RV.

See, life is not always exciting around our RV.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Titusville, FL - Bird 'Jam' and the Atlantic

It’s been 23 years since we’ve seen the Atlantic on a vacation and 30 years since we’ve lived close enough to visit regularly when we lived in New Hampshire. Does it still exist? Well, I haven’t heard in the news that it has dried up so I am assuming that it does still exist. But, today, it’s time to see for ourselves, to see the great ocean and enjoy its beauty. I’m just sure that when we ‘retire’ and ‘settle down’ there will be an ocean nearby. Although also getting close to the mountains that I love to hike might limit our choices.

We had our leisurely Sunday breakfast along with cleaning the house, doing a load of laundry, downloading pictures - um - that doesn’t sound so leisurely to me. Finally, we decided it was time to head on over to the Canaveral National Seashore. Since there are two parts to this and a channel for boats between them, we had to choose which section to see and we chose the southern section where the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was also. We can get a two-fer here.

Interesting, the Wildlife Preserve and Cape Canaveral National Seashore are preserved here because NASA needed a safe secure spot to launch their rockets, missiles and satellites. A place with no one around that could be harmed if something went wrong. In fact the beach is closed off when there is a launch. But, when opened, Cape Canaveral is a beautiful beach and Merritt is a wonderful preserve.

Our first mistake was taking a wrong turn and droving for a few miles looking for the visitor center. But, on the way we saw a ‘Bird Jam’. A ‘jam’ in a National Park is where there are loads of cars parked off to the side of the road and everyone is out with binocs and cameras. You’d better stop and see what all the fuss is about or you’ll miss it. So, we stopped and noticed hundreds of birds on the side of the small canal along the road. (When they put roads through a marsh they dig canals on the side and put all the dirt into the middle to make the road. Thus, most roads are lined with an 8’ wide drainage canal.) we could almost reach out and touch these birds.
Whoo-eee. What a show these birds were putting on and not paying a bit of attention to us. Look at this small egret - looks like he’s having a bad hair day. Nope, he’s preening and showing all he’s got to catch some female in the bunch. When another preening male came near, he squawked him off. A cacophony of screeches, squawks, and chirps. Several fights among the birds. Must be over some female.
And, then I noticed our second mistake: I had forgotten to bring either camera. We have two and both were in the RV. Gary had put them away after the last time we had used them and, for me, while packing up for today’s activities, they were ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Ah but we still had our iPhone and it takes pretty good pictures but, even though it is the iPhone 6S, it still isn’t as good as a camera. It doesn’t have a very good zoom which is what I wanted here. We obviously need a list by the door so we don’t leave important things in the RV: keys, billfolds (and yes, we’ve even gotten a ways down the road and realized neither of us had a driver’s license or money or - well, anything), food, cameras, binocs, etc. And, now, we have a list by the door. Imagine being so old that you need a list by the door of things to take when you travel. My, we are aging right before my eyes.

But, luckily we took the wrong turn or we might have missed this bird jam. Then, since we were on the wrong road, we took a turn through what is named the Black Point Wildlife Drive and saw these magnificent Roseate Spoonbills flapping their wings and giving us a great show.
OK, let’s get on track. Off to the beach. And, what a beautiful beach it is - miles long, white sand, lots of tiny shells along the water line and people sunning themselves. Look at all the interesting birds on this beach. Hey, look, over there - isn’t that the Red-necked Midwestern Matron? And, there, I can see a White-legged Canadian Tourist. Ooh, isn’t that the Leering Teenage Chick Spyer? Ah, aren’t there interesting birds on the beach? These must all be tourists - I’ve never seen so much pale skin. I doubt that there are many Floridians here today. The temperature might be in the high 70’s but the blowing wind puts a bit of a nip in the air. I think Floridians have enough sunny days that they aren’t out on this marginal day. Only us pale Northerners.
PlayalindaBeachWalk-7-2015-02-22-08-21.jpg PlayalindaBeachWalk-6-2015-02-22-08-21.jpg
Of course, we could see the vehicle Assembly Building on the Kennedy Space Center. It always stands out.
But our walk was fantastic. Everyone was having such a good time. There were people fishing, kicking a soccer ball, wading, surfing, sunning, chatting, building sand castles, shelling. Fun. What’s not to like about a sunny day on the beach?
Interesting information on the marsh: some birds like the water and having the marsh full while other birds are waders and like the mud flats. It’s tricky for the Wildlife Service to manage the water so that all are happy in all seasons and they are continually moving water around through these culverts.
We met 3 couples in our walks today. One saw Gary’s Glacier NP t-shirt and told us they were going there this fall. We chatted with them for a while about places we had all been and places we planned to go. Another couple we met told us that the world was going to hell in a hand basket. Doom and Gloom. You an imagine which couple we preferred to talk with.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Titusville, FL - Cape Canaveral National Seashore

Today, we headed on over to the north section of the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Just can’t get enough of the ocean. Saw this sign along the way.
Aren’t all trucks, and most cars for that matter, heavier than 1 ton. Our Jeep is close to 4000 lbs or 2 tons. Are only bikes allowed?

We also liked this strangler fig. Poor palm tree hasn’t a chance - although it is fully alive.
We headed north and found what is today called Seminole Rest, which is a large home built in the 1890’s upon a large midden from the Timucuan Indians dating from 4,000 to 500 years ago. A midden is where the Timucuan Indians gathered and shelled calms and tossed the remains into a mound now 18’ high although it probably used to be higher. We don’t know much about the Timucuans except what we can glean from this midden.

In the 1890’s a family called the Snyder’s purchased this land and built two homes one their main home and the second a caretaker’s cottage. They probably liked the elevation of the midden - gave them a great view of the ocean. The Snyder’s refused to sell any of the shell midden which at that time was being used as pavement material for highways. Luckily, they did this because it preserved clues about the Timucuan way of life. They were nomadic hunters and gatherers, lived on small game and deer that they had killed and oysters and clams from the ocean. They were considered very good hunters and would use a deer skin to cover themselves as they stalked their prey. Several Spanish diaries made reference to a race of giants and we think that they were a tall group.

We followed the trail around the property but the house was not open for touring. Here is a picture of the home about 1911. From this picture you can see how tall the midden is. Remember, this is Florida, it is flat. And, of course, that is why the house was situated on top of the midden - the highest ground around.
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‘When they were building the roads - or railroads - the wanted to buy the shell. Granddaddy said he wouldn’t sell. He said it would spoil the beauty of the property, that’s why we have the elevation here.’
                                                                                                Marion Snyder Porta, granddaughter
Next we headed over the bridge to the Canaveral Seashore where we found Turtle Mound, another Timucuan midden. There used to be considerably more mounds but very few remain: Snyder Hill and Turtle Mound being 2 of them. The Timucuan were a nomadic band who had winter camps along the coast.

Turtle Mound is actually quite tall and the Park Service has built a wooden boardwalk to the top to discourage everyone making their own trail.


Another interesting spot along the Canaveral Seashore is the abandoned village of Eldora. Named for Ellen and Dora Pitzer, daughters of two of the town’s founders, it used to have a population as high as 200 hearty souls who lived on their citrus crops and as a winter home for northern residents. It is on a spit of land and the steamboats, which used to stop regularly, brought the tourists and took away the crops. Several freezes ruined the crops and the coming of the railroad further inland ended its popularity as a winter haven as tourists moved further south. Slowly but surely the population dwindled until by 1975, there were only a couple of year-round residents. There is still one home which has been refurbished by the Park Service and which houses a small museum about the town.
We took a few minutes to talk with the volunteer in the museum and to rock on the chairs on the porch and let the time pass by. The oak trees gave valuable shade.
As we walked back to our car along the prescribed path we saw this sign telling us that we were in the ‘most dangerous lightning area in the US. In recent years, several lightning-strike deaths have occurred here. Over a recent 25-year period, Florida led the nation in lightning deaths with almost twice as many as the 2nd-leading state. ’ Then the sign went on to compare Florida on the right with North Carolina, Texas, New York and Tennessee:
Then, of course we walked along the beach. Quite a few out today since it is so nice. Oops, looks like we’ve discovered the nude beach and I’ve got to pay particular attention to the ocean. Can’t look towards the beach for a while. ‘Put that camera away, Nancy’, ‘Hey, look at that sailboat out there.’

Whew, I think I’ve got this censored enough.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Titusville, FL - 'One Word - Suction'

Here we are in the Mosquito Coast - oh, no, now it’s called the Space Coast. Sounds much better doesn’t it? Who in the world wants to visit the Mosquito Coast? Wouldn’t you rather stay home? Ah, but visiting the Space Coast - everyone wants to do that. Sounds like a marketing ploy to me. Actually, its old name of Mosquito Coast was a nickname of the late 1800’s but the region was more famous for its Indian River Oranges. It seems that a Captain Dummitt acquired some land after the Seminole Indian Wars in the mid 1800’s and began to grow oranges. He used to wrap them in Spanish moss and ship them by dugout canoe to the coast for shipment all over the world, places like Russia and Europe. Even today more than 6,000,000 bushels of Indian River oranges are shipped worldwide.

That was then, this is now and the Space Coast is known for: get this - its space launches and exploration of space. We were especially lucky to have seen an actual launch a month or two ago and, even though the official US space program is on hold for a while, there are still launches and this is still the nerve center of America’s space exploration. We decided today to venture over to the Kennedy Space Center for the day to check out what they had here. We got there early since we knew we would be there all day and still might not get to see everything. We actually parked in the first row of the parking lot. As we walked in we got out picture taken with this strangely garbed fellow. We must be in space territory. I think we’ve got as much clothing on as he does - it was a bit cold today. Do I look stiff or do I look stiff?
Here’s just a short chronology of the space race that I wanted to see to help me remember these events:

        1961 - President Kennedy’s challenge to America to fly to the moon and back

        1957 - Russia sends Sputnik, an artificial satellite around the earth

        1959 - Russia launches Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon

        1961 - in March, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin, circles the globe

        1961 - in May Alan Shepard’s 15-minute ride in the cramped nose cone of a rocket

        1961 - in May President Kennedy makes a bold declaration that America would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade

        1962 - John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth

        1969 - Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon - 8 years after Kennedy stated this as a goal

        1981 - the US begins shuttle flights as a result of decreased funding

        late 1990’s - concentration on the International Space Station        

OK, the dates are out of the way, let’s explore. We had a map that the Space Center passes out listing the ‘Must See’ things and quickly lined up for the bus tour around the grounds, by the massive cube-shaped 525’ tall Vehicle Assembly Building,
by the 1,000,000 lb Crawler which inches its way to the launch pads with the rockets and satellites on top,
by an actual launch pad used currently by SpaceX and ending at the Apollo Saturn V Center where we saw a 363’ long Saturn V moon rocket. Here is the bottom of it.
The picture below compares the size of the Saturn second from the left and the shuttle rockets on the left to the Statue of Liberty and a football field.
I’ll have to admit that the Saturn V was a real ‘WOW’ moment. It was impressive. But, then it had to be to launch the craft that it did. It was a 3-stage rocket and lo-o-ong, 363’ long. Here also were several short films, one in the Firing Room Theater which features a re-created Apollo launch and the other in the Lunar Theater which depicted the first lunar landing. Each giving a realistic idea of what it was to launch and watch from the control room.
There was also a room with a chronology of space suits. This one makes an astronaut look like a knight in shining armor.
The third building we entered was devoted to the Atlantis shuttle program. Out side were the rockets that launched the shuttles. By the way, in case you hadn’t noticed that little guy standing in front - it’s Big Gar.
They also had one of the shuttles with its cargo bay open here.
And, here are the tiles on the nosecone that were always of concern when the shuttle re-entered the atmosphere. In one case they didn’t work right and the shuttle was lost. Terrible terrible tragedy. The space program was terribly thrilling in the beginning and then it became so regular that sometimes I think we all forgot exactly how dangerous it was. The two tragedies in the shuttle program certainly slapped us up along the face and made us realize the danger. The Kennedy Space Center did not shy from all the dangers, the failures and the deaths that occurred during space flight. It covered the space program, warts and all.
Lunch now and don’t ask me about the lines. We were there at 2:00 and the lines were still long. Oh, yeah, did I tell you that this is the weekend of the Daytona 500. We saw hundreds of NASCAR caps and t-shirts. Luckily, we hadn’t planned on a short day-trip to Daytona this weekend. There are 6 restaurants in the Kennedy Complex and several coffee kiosks. This matches the number of gift shops in the Complex.

Finally, the last thing we did was to watch the 2 IMAX movies: one on the building of the International Space Station with incredible footage of the parts needed and how they are all interconnected. Parts made by different countries at different times which all fit together perfectly. Absolutely amazing. What precision, what collaboration. We may view Russia warily here on earth but in space, we’re all on the same team. Filmed by 25 astronauts aboard the ISS the space station, it was an incredibly difficult, intricate project and this is all conveyed in the film but the funny things are conveyed also. Making a taco sandwich with the tortilla turning cartwheels in the air, watching astronauts flying around the space station from compartment to compartment on their stomachs, watching tools fly around, hearing an astronaut say that going to the bathroom is ‘one word - suction.’ The humor comes through but knowing that there are an infinite number of things that could happen that could cause the Space Station to spin off into space or watching them doing extra vehicular activity knowing that one wrong move would send him or her off into space is is anxiety-producing.

The second film was on the Hubble telescope, both on its incredible views of space and the last shuttle mission to Hubble to make needed repairs so that it could continue to send us those mesmerizing, breathtaking views into the future. The Hubble has been sending these images back to earth for quite a while now but every now and then it needs repairs. This film is about the last shuttle flight to make these repairs and how incredibly difficult they were and how well trained this crew of the last shuttle mission was. One of the ‘repairmen’ likened repairing the Hubble to surgery wearing oven mitts. Meanwhile the conditions under which they are making this repair are nothing like repairing a refrigerator in a kitchen. It is often dark, the temperatures are 200 degrees below zero, tools could float away if not tethered, as could they. Of course,their backup is pretty stupendous and, if they need advice, they have mission control there to help them. In one case, they worked more than 3 hours to remove a bolt form a large handle when, finally, someone on earth monitoring and helping to manage all this said: ‘just pull it off.’ The astronaut yanked and the handle was in his hands - solved the whole problem. 3 hours of intricate, exhausting work and one good yank solved the problem.

However, the repairs, the training and the mission are only one part of this incredible film. The star of the production is Hubble itself and the incredible images it sends back to earth of the millions of galaxies out there in magazines and on TV, but these are in 3-D and - WOW - are they wonderful. One of the displays said that if you could see as well as Hubble you could see the two individual headlights of a car in California from New York. Or that you could read a newspaper from 1 mile away.
I have a picture of part of a mock-up of the Hubble but couldn’t get it all into the picture. I understand it’s as big as a bus.
Hubble has crystal clear images of nebulas far off into space. Billions of stars in millions of galaxies. The colors and images are something else. I read that regular 2-D Hubble images were converted into 3-D environments to give us, the audience, the impression that we are traveling through space and time. This was a second WOW moment for me. The colors, the images, the 3-D effect had me in awe. I suppose I had never seen images quite like this nor had the feeling that I was zooming in towards some far off nebula, watching stars form then zooming back into the present day.

And, what is even more amazing is that these images are for anyone to see, not just astronaut and astro-physicists. They’re in books and on TV. The 15th - 17th century age of discovery was an amazing time for the world but most people didn’t know about it instantaneously. Newspapers didn’t publish the wonders of the new world, TV didn’t shine pictures into every living room and we didn’t have the immediacy of the internet. But the pictures sent back by Hubble are for everyone to marvel at. We thought that the IMAX film on fixing the Hubble and the last voyage of the shuttle an awfully good film. It certainly had me entranced.

Finally, on the way out of the Center, we wandered around the Rocket Garden (someone has a sense of humor.)

And, now, it’s 5:45, time to be heading out - especially since the park closes at 6:00. Did we miss things we would have liked to see? Absolutely. We saw a few of those things that were marked ‘Must See’ and had to skip the others. But that’s for the next time we’re in the area.