Original Mission Control
Pad 38B with Shuttle Atlantis
Saturn I Rocket
Carmen "Right Stuff" Witten
04.04.2002 - Day 7
Our spirits are high as Kurt and I pull into the parking lot at Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. We have been anticipating this date for well over a month – we managed to obtain a package including tickets to tour the visitor’s center, have lunch with an astronaut, and – the true icing on the cake – view the launching of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-110) from as close as NASA allows the general public.
Unfortunately, our ecstasy is short-lived; the security guards will not let us in with our backpack, so we have to take it back to the car. As we are transferring needed items from the pack to our pockets, we overhear a man walking toward a near-by car stating that the mission had been scrubbed for at least 24 hours! Reluctant to believe the bad fortune, Kurt and I hurry back to the visitor’s center for further investigation. Sadly enough, it’s true. A hydrogen leak has grounded the Orbiter for the time being. Dejectedly, Kurt and I begin our tour of the Visitor’s Center. Somehow, it just doesn’t have as much color as it did thirty minutes earlier. Even though there is the possibility that the Shuttle might lift off on Friday, we determine that taking the risk to possibly see it is not worth giving up our last day of diving.
By noon, Kurt and I have grown very tired of lines and mobs of people and are definitely happy that we’ve managed to spend most of the vacation to date away from the big Florida tourist attractions. Eventually, we are guided into a huge lunchroom filled with round tables. Our servers escort us to a buffet line where we fill up our plates prior to ‘meeting’ our astronaut: Story Musgrave. Story first joined NASA in 1967, after receiving multiple degrees from various institutions – including an M.D. from Columbia – and serving in the US Marine Corps. Dr. Musgrave is a veteran of six space flights (all on one Space Shuttle or another) and was involved in the design and development of the Skylab Program as well as all Space Shuttle extravehicular activity equipment (including space suits and MMUs). In fact, he conducted the very first Space Shuttle extravehicular activity to test his new equipment. He also was involved in the first Hubble Space Telescope servicing and repair mission during which the Hubble was restored to its full capabilities.
The ‘lunch with an astronaut’ basically entails Story roaming the room with a microphone answering questions while we eat. Although we are still disappointed that we won’t be seeing a Shuttle launch, Dr. Musgrave is a very entertaining speaker. If you would like to learn more about Story Musgrave, please see his website at www.spacestory.com.
Once the luncheon is over, Kurt and I have really only one thing left to investigate at NASA – the Saturn V Museum. This building is located several miles from the main visitor’s complex and the only way to get there is by bus. Once again, Kurt and I are forced to wait in line for well over an hour to catch a ride to the remote area. The bus passes within a couple of miles of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), but sadly not close enough for a good picture despite the size of the building. We also pass by the viewing platform for Launch Pad 39-B, where the Space Shuttle Atlantis sits awaiting its launch. Alas, we are not allowed to stop here either due to heightened security measures. We finally reach the Saturn V Museum where we spend a few minutes looking at the rocket and other historical artifacts. We attempt to capture a few pictures of the launch pads, Space Shuttle and VAB, but we are really too far away to get anything worthwhile.
Once back in the Toyota, Kurt and I drag out the maps to determine how to best navigate to our next destination: Ginnie Springs, the site of our final day of diving in Florida. Amazingly, our route takes us right through Palatka, FL – a town where an old friend of ours now lives. So we call her up to see if she’s free to accompany us to dinner – she is! Catching up with Faith was definitely the highlight of the day.
Ginnie Springs is located approximately 45 minutes northwest of Gainesville. By the time we reach the college town, Kurt and I are so tired we almost forego our original plans of camping out for the night. We’re thinking that catching a few ZZ’s in a soft bed might be more enticing – but we decide to stick it out and investigate the Springs area anyway. The Ginnie Springs resort area is located WAY off the beaten path, about 20 miles from any major road. It’s after midnight by the time we pull into the campground itself so of course there’s no one at the entrance gate. Since this has never stopped us before, Kurt and I follow the signs into the densely wooded and very deserted camping area. We follow the road down numerous twists and turns, never seeing a soul along the way. Finally, we catch a glimpse of what appears to be water in our headlights – so we pull into a camping spot and step out of the Toyota. Sure enough, we are right beside the river. Although we hadn’t seen any sign of human habitation on the way in, the area is definitely teaming with nightlife – the wild kind. A fanfare of frogs, crickets, and a myriad of other night creatures serenade us as we pitch our tent and crawl inside. As I lay there gazing at the stars through the lofty pines above and listening to the orchestra engulfing us, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fall asleep with all of the racket. That’s the last thing I remember… (To Day 8)