Dec 11

First blog on my Mars Science Laboratory #NASATweetup experience , the first of several as the event was too HUGE for one blog


A Saturn 1B rocket at Kennedy Space Center


Beaded drops of Irish rain rolled of the wing as the Airbus 330 lifted off, destination Orlando International Airport Florida. An unusual blue November 360 sky received the plane as the Sugar Loaf mountain receded below  on the horizon.  To Bach’s Oboe Concerto (D minor) I watched the wing flex in turbulent air as the journey continued somewhere over the Atlantic. Clumpy clouds echoed lunar landscapes below as I browsed the available in-flight entertainment.

At MCO airport near the Hertz car pick up point I met with my long time friend Jane Houston Jones @jhjones a lovely warm welcome full of joy and smiles.  Our hotel was close to Kennedy Space Centre, the heat was most appreciated by me coming from a cold Irish winter. November sunshine instantly set my vitamin D levels on the rise, the Florida sun and my face met at every available moment.

Kennedy Space Centre Day 1 Wednesday 23rd

As I was a foreign national (an alien) I had to get extra official badges from NASA so I could participate in the Tweetup (Friday /Saturday) and have the right to be in very restricted areas at the launch site , accompanied by NASA personal.

At the KSC I wandered in the Rocket Garden and yes I was in the zone, walking down the gantry as if I was going to enter the Apollo capsule  for real. Visually there was a riot of textures and shapes that took my eye into future paintings celebrating the power of rockets that leave this planet for other worlds.   Christmas trees, Christmas carols and Christmas wreaths around NASA logos in the heat seemed surreal as I explored the attractions of all things space.

One of the most engaging was the Hubble 3D IMAX movie narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy that was fantastic. It included several images of M16 the pillars of creation in 3D which for me was super. I had being drawing it several times  for kids at my  @ScienceWeek workshops #STARSAREUS just before I left Ireland.  The movie showed me more detail than I’ve ever seen before, now it’s parked in my head forever. The air conditioning was cold in the theatre I could not wait to get back outside to the bright light and  cosy heat.

I met and chatted to several Tweetup people on my walk around , we all had pink badges so we were very visible to each other anywhere we went.  Beside a full size model of Curiosity I met a lovely couple, the Lanza’s.They had a daughter who had worked on the Chem Cam on MSL. They were very proud of this fact, we engaged in conversation about the incredible adventure ahead of this robot and how important the science will be for future manned missions to Mars.  I took instant delight in the wheels of Curiosity, Opportunity and Sojourner, beautiful engineering, visually stunning space architecture, well displayed at Exploration Space.

Jane kindly got me a ticket to the MSL Guest  Briefing at 4:30pm, just before that we met Scott Maxwell i.e. @Marsroverdriver Scott drives the Mars rover Opportunity from planet Earth!!!  Off planet driving 🙂

At the MSL @MarsCuriosity briefing I was proud to stand for the first time in my life to the singing of the American National Anthem.  Excellent NASA speakers outlined the mission, its tasks, goals and mechanisms.  Excitement levels climbed as the reality of my visit began to hit home with several days left to the launch.

We enjoyed, no actually enjoyed is too bland a word for the pleasure of eating rock shrimp for dinner that evening at Florida Seafood all washed down with some American beer. Sleep came later to the sound of palm trees blowing in the wind.

@skysketcher follow me on Twitter 🙂

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