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Attempting to take advantage of our proximity to the nation's spaceport, we ventured east to the coast to see the recent launch of the Phoenix mission to Mars's north polar region. the launch was scheduled for 5:26 [] a. m. local time. Confident that I could get to Cocoa Beach in 45 minutes, and that we were going to a spot slightly closer (Jetty Park), I planned to leave at 4:30. We missed our target departure time by only 2 minutes, but I was sadly mistaken on the time it takes to get Jetty Park. With almost no margin for error, we ended up scrambling to get to a viewing spot on the side of the road a scant 3 minutes before launch. This made for a stressful rather than anticipatory pre-launch wait, but the Delta 2 rocket made a spectacular and rapid ascent through a clear Florida sky, leaving behind enough exhaust at high altitudes to generate a colorful and ring-shaped high altitude noctilucent cloud. Having learned from our experience of not leaving early enough for a launch, today we set out to Titusville to see the launch of Endeavour to the International Space Station two hours before launch, with a driving estimate to the viewing site of 30 minutes in normal conditions. We had not prepared, however, for the normal driving conditions just to get the five miles from our house to the road that leads to Titusville. Forty-five minutes later, we were still stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and had traveled about four miles. This is the kind of thing that will eventually drive me insane. Amazingly, ten minutes and one mile later the traffic opened up suddenly and we were speeding to the private dock where our gracious host, UCF student Nate Lust, was waiting with reserved parking spaces on the edge of the Indian River (the name for the stretch of the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway between Titusville and Kennedy Space Center). Still, I had not totally exhausted my means of messing things up. There are two shuttle launch pads, 39-A and 39-B. Both are visible from the shore in Titusville, but I could not visually tell which one actually had the shuttle on it. Opinion on the dock was mixed, and I confidently convinced myself (and anyone who cared to listen) that the shuttle was on the pad on the left from our vantage point. Thus, I happily trained my video camera and binoculars on this empty launch pad while the shuttle soared skyward completely out of my field of view. Of course, I quickly turned my gaze , but I missed that exciting first couple of seconds as the steam cloud first erupts and the shuttle with its bright solid rocket motor glare emerges from behind it. Any disappointment was more than compensated for by the friendly visit of a manatee a few minutes later as we prepared to leave the dock. Anne-Marie's eagle eyes spotted the manatee, and Nate simply turned on a hose, and the manatee appeared shortly, attracted by the fresh water. Very cool. I'll post pictures of the manatee and crappy video of the shuttle launch shortly.


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