Tuesday, July 5
Tuesday was an awesome day, as it was the beginning and end of our work week. While Wade and Cameron stayed behind, the rest of us caught flights to Florida for the final shuttle launch. Since we arrived early for our flight, we didn’t find ourselves rushing through security and the gates to board our flight. Despite the stereotype, getting through security was uneventful, aside from the strange fact that security asked Henry to pull up his pants to prevent indecent exposure. But soon, we were on our way and made it to Orlando around 11:30 a.m. after connecting through Chicago. Armando, Ryan, and David flew separately to Daytona. After picking up the rental van, a group of us headed over to Kyle’s house where we would stayed for the week.
Wednesday, July 6
At 11 a.m., we all met at the hotel in Orlando, where we boarded buses for a tour visit to KSC. Despite the long drive and lack of lunch, we all enjoyed the tour of Kennedy where we were able to stand underneath an actual shuttle in the OPF and walk around the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). We were approximately 200 yards from the launch pad with Atlantis and its Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and fuel tank assembled. Following those tours, we got a chance to walk around the KSC visitor center where we could ride a launch simulator, view exhibits, and take advantage of the SRB booster and tank orientation for Kodak moments. We learned something from this experience—never believe tour guides when they say the bus will leave on time without you.
Thursday, July 7
Today’s programs commenced earlier at about 7 a.m. Thankfully, this time breakfast and lunch were provided throughout the day. The “Unconference” began with a short introduction of astronaut and former NFL Detroit Lion Dr. Leland Melvin and the purpose of the conference. We then broke up into our first “question/discussion” session for the day. Throughout the day, there were four topics for each breakout session: aeronautics, space exploration, technology, and robotics. Each session had its own pros and cons but ultimately many of us found the discussions to be less than what we expected—we had hoped for a more technical dialogue. After two sessions, lunch was served and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek) spoke to us about the importance of racial diversity, collaboration at NASA, and something about rainbows. Next, we heard from Ricky the astronaut, who was a middle school teacher from Saudi Arabia prior to joining NASA. He and each of 170 students were photographed! The final breakout session followed lunch and the day concluded with closing remarks and a raffle. Henry, Ryan, David, and Tucker were lucky and brought home signed posters of the shuttle. The rest of us got other things. After the conference, the group staying at Kyle’s grabbed dinner at the Tilted Kilt restaurant and casino. From the incipient of the betting, Kyle seemed to just win it all—beating out Tucker, Henry, and Scott. Then the tides turned. First Henry and then Scott won back their loss to break out even. Then Santiago’s faith in Mexico robbed Kyle of the rest.
Friday, July 8
We woke up to head out at 3:45 a.m. to make it on time for the buses that were to leave at 5 a.m. sharp. We didn’t leave until 5:45. We then headed over to the causeway at Kennedy, where we would hopefully see Atlantis’ final launch. Despite only having a 30% chance of launching, Atlantis blasted into space in a spectacle none of us will forget. Even with the clouds blanketing the sky, I think it’s safe to say the sight was worth the trip. After a 4 hour bus ride back to the hotel and then another hour back to Kyle’s we headed out to celebrate and just have fun. We headed to a place that should have been more appropriately named World of Cougars—and laughed and hung out for the night. Tucker had an early flight the next day so we headed home not too late and hit the sack immediately. Armando and Ryan headed to Armando’s brother’s house in Clearwater for the weekend.
Saturday, July 9
We finally slept in after days of waking up at the crack of dawn to get on board buses. It was pretty much a day of bumming around the house. Around 3, we thanked Kyle’s family for their hospitality and headed out to the airport for our flight back to Cleveland. After arriving back we noticed none of our room cards worked. Luckily someone opened the door for us and we were able to catch the hotel attendant to update our keys. Those who were back spent the rest of the night chilling and enjoying some pong.
Sunday, July 10
Armando and Kyle still remained behind in Florida. They spent their time hiking and traversing suspension bridges, wading across rivers, throwing sticks at entangled fishing buoys in trees, going to a trampoline arena, and then heading out for a fun time at Clearwater Beach at sundown. Their evening ended with a good meal at a reputable restaurant and night dip in the local pool. They flew back in the morning. As for the others, nothing happened so here’s a summary of the trip.
Overall the trip to Florida was worth it. We got to see the final space shuttle launch of the iconic thirty-year program at NASA. In addition to having a break from work, I think we all got to know each other a little better.