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Mar. 17, 2009

A Shot in the Dark in the Sunshine State

by Science Friday Education

I knew the STS 119 Launch scheduled on March 12 at 9:38pm was a shot in the dark both literally and figuratively-speaking, but at 3am I jetted from the John F. Kennedy Airport to the Kennedy Space Center just in case. When Louella, the Astronaut Relations Manager at Virgin Galactic gave me tickets to see the launch at Banana Creek, which is only 3 miles from the launch pad, I was ecstatic. 3 miles may sound a bit far, but anyone who scootches much closer is at risk for death by fumes, flames, etc. After the launch was scrubbed, I went back to the Space Center to hear a few speeches. One retired astronaut confessed, “I remember the first time I went to space….we were strapped on to that big explosive manufactured by the lowest bidder and everyone else got into their trucks and drove miles away to watch us from a safe place. It’s a good thing they give us astronauts diapers. Just in case... ”

STS 119STS-119

Ah to be an astronaut…ahhh to be human! I wonder, since there is a market for poop as art or collectibles (see Piero Manzoni’s canned crap: “Merda d’Artista,” or Celebrity Stools for reference), if perhaps NASA could stop pleading with Congress for more funds and start selling astronaut diapers on E-Bay to help pay for the cost of future missions? Besides, spending tens of thousands of dollars on biodegradable items like poop is very environmentally friendly. But I digress!

Since the launch was delayed, my friend Cameron and I had time to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame. The most amusing relic of all was not a set of complicated machinery, but a plain old tin container. I like to guess what things are before reading the labels, and this one seemed pretty easy. It was obviously used for storing some equipment, right? Nope– it was a make-up container for female astronauts! I’m pretty sure that there is a cost of thousands of dollars per pound launched into orbit…but I guess lipstick is an essential. Personally, I would want my green mascara, just in case of a run in with aliens (assuming they like green…).

Atronaut Hall of Fame

Atronaut Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame also boasts some fun rides. My favorite was the 4G Experience. The jolly fellow who operates the machine reassured me, “People puke in here a few times a month, but you can’t smell a thing, can ‘ya?” The janitors deserve due credit in the Hall of Fame too: I would have never known the 4G ride was vomit-vehicle had I not been told.

The thought of losing my lunch reminded me that I was hungry, so my next stop was to Lou’s Blues, a hamburger and beer joint on the beach– or so I thought. There must have been a misspelling– I’m sure the locals know it as “Lou’s Booze and Bras” or “Lou’s Crib of Death.” Old people wearing Hawaiian shirts danced under a chandelier tangled in a mass of dusty, deteriorating bras, and life-sized skeletons popped out of every corner. It seems there are two types of people in Florida: those who are waiting to become astronauts and launch themselves 60 miles up, and those who are waiting to be put 6 ft. under ground. There’s not a whole lot in between.

To top off the trip, Cameron and I were run out of town by an alligator. We had stopped by a nice grassy patch and were munching on bagels when a rather large lizard (see him in the back left of the picture) slithered out way at full speed. We bounced like a pair of frightened bunnies and took off for New York, but I would love to go back and see a launch if ever the opportunity crops up again. I’d rather be snuggled up next to a psychopath in the New York subway than snacking by a swamp in the Sunshine State.

6

Alligator!

About Science Friday Education

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