"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"
- Helen Keller

Monday, March 24, 2014

Captain's Log: Mission Control, Houston

Captain's Log: Mission Control, Houston

 If you remember anything from the 60's and 70's, you probably remember our space program was tasked with putting a man on the moon by then president Kennedy. That happened, of course, in 1969 when Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. Those missions and all the space missions prior to it and every mission since then including to the current International Space Station missions have all been handled by Mission Control in Houston, Texas. Since we were in the area, we decided to check it out.

The first thing you notice when you get there is parking costs $6. When you actually get to the parking lot, there's a, no kidding, real space shuttle parked in the lot. At least they parked it in the back. The space shuttle, by the way, is huge with three monster engines poking out the back. Hard to believe they were able to piggy back it on another plane to transport it. Very cool. It should be even cooler when they're done refurbishing it for a future exhibit. I always try to park my big fat truck in the back of parking lots, so it was just the space shuttle and us.
Trudy and Matthew

So we hiked in from the space shuttle parking to the entrance of the Houston Space Center and found out we weren't old enough for the senior discount so $45 for a couple of tickets to get in. No problem. However, I was about to enter a government building and I was carrying a pocket knife (rule number nine). That was a problem. So back to the truck to drop off my weapons.

Shuttle mockup you can walk through

Lunar lander mockup hanging from the ceiling

Cockpit of the space shuttle, lots of Rockwell stuff here
The Space Center is actually a collection of buildings arranged like a campus. It is, in fact, on the campus of Rice University. The building we were in was a museum packed with all kinds of cool space stuff from Goddard's first liquid fueled rocket to the international space station. And two gift shops. What it didn't have is Mission Control. That was in another building, but they had a train that would take you there. While we were waiting, we took a tour narrated by a very knowledgeable older gentleman that included some stories that made you think he was actually there for the moon missions. Turned out he was, as the representative for Lockheed Martin, the contractor who designed and developed the moon lander among other things. My first job as a young engineer was working for Rockwell Collins in 1973. Collins had equipment on every space launch from the first Mercury through all the Apollo missions. Following that, Rockwell built the Space Shuttle. I never personally worked on the space program, but I worked with people who did and remembered some of it.
Mike, John Matthew, and Trudy on the tram

Outside in Rocket Park

If you saw the movie "Apollo 13", you saw what Houston's mission control looked like. That mission control still exists exactly like that today, although it is no longer used (the current mission control is very modern and is one floor below the old one). It required a short train trip and hiking up four flights of stairs (187 steps according to our guide), and was way worth it. All the original equipment in the original stations. No computers. Most of the stations were connected to the building's single main frame computer which took up most of another floor, but that was it. And that main frame had a total of memory of four megabytes (I think). Your cell phone probably has several thousand times that. That was for sending manned missions to the moon and back. There in the back corner was a station labeled as the "Contractor Representative". In the movie, he was the guy who kept reminding everyone that the lander was not being used for what it was designed for after the Apollo 13 mission turned into a rescue mission. Now I wonder if our first tour guide was there for Apollo 13, if he was that guy. Exciting times indeed.

One engine on the Saturn V rocket

Matthew gives some perspective
 as to the size of the rocket
On the way back, the train stopped at rocket park. We were on our own for this part and were ogling the various rather large rockets on display on the grounds of rocket park. Until we entered the building housing the Saturn V ("Saturn five"), the three stage rocket used for the moon missions. Inside the building was an entire Saturn V on its side. The stages were separated enough to see the engines for each stage, and it included the Apollo capsule. It was massive. The largest rocket ever built. 363 feet in length. Over 30 feet in diameter at the base, with a cluster of five main engines that made the space shuttle engines I was so impressed with look like toys. Along the wall were displays for all the Apollo missions. Truly impressive.
The Saturn V from the capsule end, the brown thing is the actual capsule.

John's phone he still uses is in here.
Its in two pieces but its there. Well, that
confirms it, he is an antique.
Back at the main building we were having some fun with the hands on displays when our friend's son noticed a display of some random cell phones thrown together to show how far technology has advanced in even the last decade. There in the display of antique cell phones was the flip phone that I'm still using. So I took a picture of it with my phone's camera.

Next time you're trapped inside on a rainy day and maybe feeling a little claustrophobic, remember some of the early space missions. Seven days in capsule with two other crew: no kitchen, no bathroom, no shower, no getting out of your chair for any reason. Followed by a fiery plunge and ending with a 30 mph crash into the ocean. Incidentally, the soviet capsule, the only way to currently get back from the International Space Station, lands in the desert at about 50 mph.

Happy trails. No crashing.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Betty's is a blast!

So when we left Mississippi I thought I had decided not to go to Betty’s but the closer we got the more I knew if I didn’t call and at least see if she had a spot for the 4 days we had I would regret it. So when we got to the Passport America Park at Duson LA (Frog City) I gave her a call and we were lucky as someone was leaving early so a spot had opened up. Yea!!!!

This is Betty's porch where all the happy hour fun happens

Now if you know about Betty’s RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana, then you know you are in for a treat. This was our first time there but many friends have been there and given us the scoop. The park itself is a scattering of FHU sites around Betty’s home and many people that come are sure when they pull in that they will only stay a night and why is it people rave about this place. Well I will tell you why: it is Betty and her hospitality as well as the welcoming hospitality of all who stay here.  She helps you get parked and as soon as you are set up fellow RVers begin coming out to greet you and everyone wants to make sure you know that happy hour is at 4:30. It really only takes one happy hour to make you see what the buzz is all about. A more welcoming place, I don’t think you’ll find one. We knew our time would be short but let me tell you next I’ll have a reservations and definitely stay longer. An added treat to our stay was that John and Sharon that we had just gotten together with in Ft. Walton Beach were already there when we got there so more good times with friends. They were smarter than I and had scheduled 2 weeks at Betty’s and as of writing this I think they extended their stay even longer because they are having so much fun. 

During our time there we visited a couple of the local eateries. The first one was the Villager Cafe. This place is a very local cafe and the specialty is their Poor Boys. Now we had had a Poor Boy before and really weren’t that impressed but this place turned that around. We shared a shrimp one and it was yummy. Then on Friday we went to Suier’s Grocery and Restaurant. It is actually a counter inside an old fashioned grocery store in Kaplan. This is a unique place and they have daily lunch specials and that day I had the Turtle Picante with a piece of fried catfish. Definitely unique and more food than one person should need to eat.
Betty and Seline

The Poison Ivy is leafing
We also visited Palmetto Island state park with John and Sharon. It was a beautiful day for a hike, though a little muddy on some of the trails. It was especially enjoyable as John is a wildlife biologist. He spotted a water snake sunning away, a leopard frog, alligators, turtles, lots of fun birds and numerous plants including a summary on how to spot poison ivy. It’s not everyday you get to hike with a wildlife biologist.

Alligators on the shore

The two Johns trying to read a trail map, are we lost?

We had to leave before the weekend so we missed out on all the fun music but know that the next time through I plan on doing it all. Even with just a few days we are so glad we went and like most people who meet Betty we look forward to seeing her again.

Leopard Frog
The reason our time was short was we had a rendezvous with my good friend Trudy, her husband Mike and their son Matthew at Lake Livingston TX.  Matthew is on spring break so they were stopping to spend time with us before continuing on to Galveston and then back to spend a couple more days with us. They had a very long drive but arrived late Saturday evening after driving through lots of rain. The campground looked like a lake but we found two spots together. 
John and Trudy

A rough day on Lake Livingston.

The next day was fun just catching up. Monday they headed to Galveston and we made a plan to meet up at the Houston Space Center on Thursday. This is getting long so I will save the Houston Space center for another post. I am handing that one over to John as it is right up his ally.

Happy Trails...........................

Friday, March 7, 2014

Buccaneer State Park and Bay St.Louis MS

Our site at Buccaneer State Park
One of the many wooden sculptures
along the Gulf Coast as a memorial
to Katrina victims. 

It has been a relaxing kind of week. We had great weather the first two days then rain for three but today the sun came out and though a little chilly it was great. After our Fat Tuesday in the rain, we laid low through the rainy days and then today we knew we wanted to get out and about. We drove back into Bay St. Louis and wandered through the downtown. Found a great kitchen shop with a few things I may need to return to get.   In one gift shop we struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was manning the shop. I’m not sure how the conversation turned to Ram trucks but it did. His son is the art director for an Ad agency in Houston and he is the one that put together the Superbowl 2013 ad for Ram. It was over a year ago but I knew right away which one it was, because it was a favorite of mine. The ad was a testament to the American Farmers. It was a rather long ad but I thought it was amazing. In the shop he had a coffee table book that was published by National Geographic that developed from that ad. The proceeds from the book were to benefit 4H groups. We really enjoyed chatting with him. It’s the people you meet along the road that make this journey so wonderful.
Downtown Bay St. Louis

We are enjoying our time in the park. The craziness of the last week of Mardi Gras calmed down by Ash Wednesday and by Thursday the park was relatively empty. It filled back up today but not even close to the previous weekend. This is very much a family park. It has a huge wading pool, game room (not open yet), and a water park that not only has all the slides but also a wave pool. The water park isn’t open yet either but you can certainly see the appeal to family campers. We really enjoy seeing the kids. I like that they are out running around, riding bikes, making friends and not in front of the TV or video games. It makes me wish we had done a lot more camping with our kids. Neither John nor I came from families who camped so though we did give tent camping a few tries when the kids were little, it wasn’t a big part of their lives. My youngest son Mitch does love camping in spite of us which is good since I plan on taking Evie (the granddaughter) camping every chance we get.  
One of three new shower houses in the campground

This building has a laundry, camp store and game room.
It is next to the wading pool.

Isn't this an amazing wading pool
On Wednesday we also stopped by to meet fellow bloggers Faye and Dave who we found out were also in the park. They are from Vermont and have a new Grand Design fifth wheel. This is a relatively new company that was started by a group that used to be with Keystone. It was a beautiful rig. He is still working but able to take the winter off and get away from Vermont.  It was fun to get to know another couple out on this crazy journey and we hope to run into them again somewhere done the road. 

We are leaving here on Sunday and headed into Louisiana for part of the week. We are still toying with the idea of seeing if Betty has a spot next week for a few days, who knows. Our next big stop will be at Lake Livingston State Park in Texas where my BFF Trudy and her family are going to meet us for a few days. Can’t wait to see her.

I also want to thank everyone for the thoughts and prayers for my brother. He had his bypass surgery on Wednesday and all went well. He is already out of the ICU and in a regular room on the cardiac floor. My niece tells me the nurses are surprised at how well he had done. Now it is on to recovery and rehab, but I have confidence in him and his desire to get well.

So until later,
Happy Trails......................................

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Goodbye Florida, Hello Mississippi

Kayaking the bay. View of the bridge into Ft. Walton Beach

After 3 months it is time to say good bye to Florida and the Fort Walton Beach/ Destin area. The last 3 weeks we actually had more good weather than bad. The last 2 weeks John and Gayle were there and there were some fun times at McGuire’s and just generally catching up. We went to the villa they were renting in the Military Rec Area one morning for donuts and coffee. Several other Cedar Rapidians and a local friend of theirs were there. We had so much fun that breakfast turned into lunch and the party continued. Though their stay was short it was fun to have them here.

We also were able to meet with fellow bloggers John and Sharon of the On the Road to Retirement blog. I have followed their blog for a long time and we have some things in common including a love of microbreweries so we met at Props. It was fun getting to know them and catching up on their travels. They were headed to Betty’s in Louisiana and I am sure it will be a fun time. Betty is known for her hospitality and the RV park is actually her front yard. We were thinking of going there but in the end decided against it; we know we would spend too much money and right now we have other places for that money to be used. We will go to Betty’s someday and when we do I want to go and do everything Betty recommends.

Sharon also turned me on to an app for my phone called Nike Training Club. It has workouts for all levels and it uses mainly body weight and a few simple pieces of equipment all of which I have. I’ve done a couple of the beginner workouts and they are tough, can’t imagine the advanced ones. Thanks Sharon, I love it! 
Alex and Janie, and to think he is the shortest of his brothers.

The thing I will miss most about the Emerald Coast is spending time with my nephew Alex. We went to a wine tasting and dinner last Friday night. He is such a great young man and we got together about once a week. I will definitely miss him. His brother Austin and fiance Ashley are coming to visit at the end of the week and he is pretty excited about that. 

On Saturday we packed up and moved on to Buccaneer State Park on the gulf near Bay St. Louis. This park took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina and has spent the last few years being rebuilt. All the facilities are brand new. This park had a water park with a wave pool too. All that had to be rebuilt and finally opened at the end of last season. The park now has 206 FHU sites and last weekend I think they were all full.

It is Mardi Gras season on the Gulf Coast and that is serious business around here. This last weekend there were parades in almost every town right through today, Fat Tuesday. It looks to us like the schools and lots of the businesses were closed today. We decided to take in the local parade in Bay St. Louis. The weather was awful, with cold (for here anyway) and rain, but it didn’t stop the parade. This isn’t a large parade but everyone was having fun and because of the weather there weren’t too many people which meant lots of beads for everyone. We enjoyed it in spite of the rain.

It is nice to be back in a park setting. The longer we do this the less I like crowds and cities. Give me a park, even one filled with kids and crazy people and I am a happy camper. I chose a site here with a fire ring because I have missed my campfires but just one problem: no firewood. We asked at the office where to get firewood and were told in town at the grocery store. Well after 2 grocery stores and multiple convenience stores, no luck in finding the elusive fire wood. There were plenty of people who have fires even in spots with no fire ring but I guess they all bring it from home. We are so used to parks selling it and not wanting you to bring it in, it caught us by surprise. I guarantee the next time I see firewood for sale, I will be buying several bundles.

Just before we left Florida we got a call that my older brother Larry had suffered a heart attack. The blockage was taken care of but they found other blockages too and so tomorrow he will be having bypass surgery. Heat disease and type 2 diabetes run in my family as it does in so many. Just a reminder to all of us that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. I know there is much more John and I need to do to stay healthy this way and it is sad that it takes someone close being affected by it to drive the point home. Please have Larry and his family in your prayers, I really don’t want to think about a world without my big brother in it. 

So stay safe and healthy and 
Happy Trails..............................................