Frozen And Starved...

December 12-13


Fast forward to Friday, five days after the originally planned arrival. I met up with Glen once again. We had lunch at the employee cafeteria, took some mandatory touristy pictures (to date I failed to take a picture with the original Mercury countdown clock!) and headed to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). With surprise and delight we were joined by our old friend Dex, who somehow managed to escape his mundane everyday life as an astronaut and flew his personal bus to the cape to join the occasion. Gotta hate having to accumulate flying hours...

We set up my automated camera and headed to midfield to watch the landing. We were treated to a flyover, followed by a clean touchdown. The SCA taxied back to the start of the runway and was pulled towards the MDD. By now three hours have passed, the SCA was still standing in front of the MDD, and Peter's words were starting to make sense. It was around this time when Dex climbed back into his bus and jetted back home. Either he's more jaded, or a better husband - probably both.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (96 pictures)
Images shown below are a small selection.
In slide show, click on image to return to index.

From here, things are fairly easy to sum up. It was my job to stay out of people's way - you know, people who are actually trying to get some work done. I hung out at the SLF building and periodically serviced my automatic camera and snapped a few pictures on the way to and from. The weather was incredibly cold - 40F / 5C, to be precise. This is Florida, baby, but there was a reason for no babes at the beach. According to the folks who work on the demate procedure, they were supposed to be done around 3AM, but the cold had tightened the bolts that are holding Endeavour to the SCA, so we would have to wait a little bit more.

I will admit that I have never watched paint dry, but I have a feeling that it's more exciting than watching this. If nothing else, it's more comfortable because you usually don't paint in freezing temperatures. For some six odd hours, absolutely nothing happened, at least not to the naked eyes. It was the cold, it was the wind which just had picked up; Endeavour was still sitting on top of the SCA. Then, eventually, ironically shortly after the official NASA film crew had left, at 3:25 AM, Endeavour ever so slowly lifted off the SCA, which was subsequently pushed back.

And then nothing happened again for hours.

One of the perks of a full fare ticket is that you can change it as many times as you want, without paying a fee. I guess that's what you get for paying yourself silly in the first place. I swear that American Airlines allows their phone operators to work from home: I wasn't connected to Calcutta or Bombay but rather to some poor woman's basement, or bathroom for that matter. No background noises, no nothing, just this hollow mumbling and the constant "oh my computer is slow / connection just died, can you call back later?" This way, by 6am I had changed my flight three times.

The sunrise was one of the highlights of the experience. First of all, one could stand strategically and gather some sunlight, thus freezing less. But visually, it was very nice, too: I happened to be swapping the memory on my automated camera, so I stayed a bit longer and took some more photos. I was supposed to be on the plane at this hour (if we skip over the fact that I was supposed to be on the plane four days ago at this hour), but we were still with wheels up, dangling in the air. 9AM was the new official estimate for "being all done" (as in, towed to the OPF). That was at least until the engineers couldn't get the landing gear out, which pushed the estimated completion time to noon - but this time really. I made two more calls to American.

At noon it's been 24 hours since I last ate, and 30 hours since I got up. See, I couldn't nap because if I did I would of course miss the next decisive moment - be it Endeavour detaching from the SCA (for which I waited for 9 hours), the wheels coming out (add 6 hours), or for Endeavour to touch down (add 3 hours). All of these milestones were "imminent" whenever I asked someone at the MDD... Life is full of tough decisions. Some of them are decisions that I'd rather not make, because either way you're making the wrong call. My last possible flight was at 5:30PM, which meant I had to leave no later than 3PM, in other words, 12 hours after the "completion estimate." Do I stay, miss the last flight to my wife's family event, or do I bail and miss the end of this never ending saga? 3PM was here, and with it another change of shifts. I chose to leave.

I was rewarded with the most leg room you can ever have on a plane: If you ever fly on an American 757, you should request seat 10A or 10F. With an unrestricted ticket you can actually reserve them. It's not just an exit row - it's an exit row with no seat in front of you. You literally have more leg room than you can ever use, even if you are a basketball player. An additional benefit: even though you have a window seat, you have an aisle seat at the same time. Just get up and walk forward. This may startle the poor souls sitting in row 9, but is a lot of fun. Trust me.

I am not one who takes pictures out of the airplane window, or pictures of sunsets in general. But on this flight I have seen the most impressive in-flight sunset: there was a complete cloud cover of cute little poofy clouds, combined with the dark blue sky and the red line of the sunset. After ogeling it for a few minutes I felt compelled to dig out the camera and take a few snaps.

I arrived in San Diego at 10PM and showed up to see my very surprised but happy kids. It seemed like they really missed me while I was gone "for work" (can't mention rockets with Rachel, she'd be majorly jealous!) Days later, Dex told me that Endeavour finally arrived at the OPF around 6:30pm, more than three hours after my departure. Sigh.

What else can be said? The pictures and movie should speak for themselves. You're either into it or think this is totally retarded. Would I do it again? No - this is one of those things that even I would do only once. Besides, this time, my beloved and very understanding wife would really have my balls. But I am glad I did it. Any regrets? Aside from being on the wrong side of the runway for the landing, I think the decision to leave early will bug me for a long time, if for no other reason than the fact that the movie is unfinished. But it was the right thing to do.

I would also like to thank Glen, Kenny, Bill, Scott, Bob, Al and Dex for their help and hospitality. Hanging out with them was most awesome. And Peter - you may have been right, but I'm still glad I went ;)

Now, there are still a few items on the wish list... hmmm... ;)

Scenes from the demate procedure. You get to hear the sounds and see some of the activities,
as well as the decisive moment of Endeavour detaching from the SCA.
Time lapse movie of (almost) the whole procedure. 26 hours of work are compressed into a little bit more than three minutes.
2970 frames from a Canon 40D camera were used to create this movie.


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