STS-126 Demate

Watching Paint Dry
or, mission almost accomplished

December 7 - 13, 2008

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Last modified: January 04, 2009

Mating Season!

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It may have become apparent that I am a crazy space nut, that I will never turn down an opportunity for anything spacy, and that my wish list of things to see in the space program is very long. As a matter of fact, in early November 2008 I shared my "wish list" with a number of friends who work in or around the space program. At the very top of the list was seeing the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and the Mate-Demate Device in action, which statistically were to happen 0-2 times before the Shuttle program ends. It's also an item for which my friend Peter called me crazy: "And you thought that the crawler was slow! This would be like watching paint dry!"

Be it as it may, on November 30, at 13:25 Pacific time, Endeavour landed in Edwards due to bad weather in Florida. As fate may have it I was with my family in the park, with Rachel launching her air rockets, when my phone rang and a friendly voice at the other end of the line flat out asked: "wanna go to Florida?" and laughed.

The departure of Endeavour on top of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified 747, was scheduled for Sunday, December 7. In order to hook up with my escort at Kennedy I had to leave around the same time. So it came that once again I abandoned my wife and this time two kids and sat on a redeye flight to Orlando, on a full fare 50k mile ticket. I was definitely getting my share for the ticket price - the plane was almost empty.

By the time I arrived in Orlando it was clear that I was in for another typical NASA experience: I was here, but the SCA was still at Edwards. While the weather was great, they could not fit the tail cone onto Endeavour. Still in upbeat spirits I dragged my four bags (including "foot stool") to the rental car place, where I was confronted by the friendly "pick any from this row": featuring countless Chevy HHRs, one Prius and one Dodge Avenger. Normally, given these choices I'd pick the Prius, but this time I was traveling with north of $20k in camera gear and really didn't want to get a hatchback, one that doesn't fit into the landscape at that. So I picked the Avenger, factory fresh and even with Sirius radio. Instead of Cocoa Beach I headed west to Sarasota to visit my friend Lee Hayes. On the way I quickly learned what's wrong with the American car industry: this 2009 model car, not truck but car, combines the handling of a Hummer, the inside space of a Corolla with the outside dimensions of a tennis court; the gas mileage of my S4 with the performance of a Yugo. It did have two redeeming qualities - the aforementioned Sirius radio, particularly helpful in Florida; and the "single tap for three blinker flashes" feature, that puts it almost in the same league as its European counterparts. At the same time that I was on the freeway in my Avenger, paying toll every quarter mile, Chrysler and GM and Ford were begging for a bailout in DC. You have to be kidding; remember, I spent a week in a Corolla earlier this year, and right now was yearning for the Prius. To rub salt into the wounds, on my way I managed to see a McLaren SLR, all the way from California. I am sure that drive sucked.

I spent the day with Lee Hayes and Steven, and in the morning was back on my way to the cape, where I was supposed to pick up my badge and meet with Glen, my guide. On the way back I was entertaining myself with the accuracy of a 3rd party speedometer application for the iPhone. It was showing quite some absurd results, and I was almost willing to blame a bug on our end for it, until the application showed actually negative speed. No matter what idiotic results the iPhone API may be returning, going back in time is not a viable result.

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Once at KSC, Glen and I briefly visited the Mate-Demate device (MDD) and scouted out a strategic place for my automated camera. With that out of the way, I headed to my motel where I scored the same room as last year - and was delighted to see that the faucet was still just as broken as before. Then I headed to Coconuts On The Beach, which by now has become a tradition: exactly a year ago, I was sitting in the same spot, at the same table. Back then, Paul was here with me, the weather was much better and there were roughly two more babes at the beach - for a total of two. Last year, we waited for STS-122 to take off, with Dex in the driver's seat, but it was being grounded by a faulty $1 connector. In the end after waiting for a week we never got to see it fly (Paul did return for the 2nd attempt in February, but I was too busy having a fresh kid). This time, I was waiting for the weather to improve (just like at STS-59, 101, and a few more which I suppressed): Even though by now they had the tail cone fitted, they were behind a bad weather front. The SCA doesn't fly through as much as a cloud, forget about a storm. So I'd have to wait, until Wednesday they said.

The following few days could be summed up with: Coconuts, Motel 6, more Coconuts. Free wireless at Coconuts! And more Motel 6. I have filled out some long overdue forms, fixed some long overdue bugs in my favorite pet application, calibrated my lenses, and spent more time at Coconuts. I did get the occasional strange looks at Coconuts, since I was squatting there for hours on end, with three iPhones and spare laptop batteries. But it's not like I was taking away any valuable seating place: the whole place was empty. Did I mention there were no babes? And that the SCA was further delayed? But there was progress: On Wednesday I got a number of emails from Dex, Jay and Peter from Houston, all of them emailing me pictures of the SCA with Endeavour, which did a very nice flyover over the NASA Johnson Space Center. We were halfway there.

Good things will come to those who wait. So, on Friday, the big moment had finally come...  See Part II -->

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