The misadventures of Commander Merlin and the crew of RV-103
Thursday October 2nd 2014

05-12-10 Progress Report From the Garage

We heard from Jason at Ballantyne RV and Marine today.  RV-103 had lost the “boots” on the back breaks resulting in complete brake failure in the rear brakes.  We also lost an ABS sensor on a rear wheel and since the front brakes had to take all the weight down the mountain, they were “destroyed” too.

Workhorse is the manufacturer for our engine, transmission, and braking system.  Jason told us that Workhorse was well aware of the defective “boot” problem but had not issued a recall.  Workhorse was going pay for the back brakes, which Jason said was good news since it would have cost us “hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”  But, Workhorse said they would not pay for the ABS sensor or the front brakes because they had nothing to do with the “boot” failure in the rear brakes and we would have to cover the cost of repairs which run about $450.

Hmmm….back brakes fail first, but the ABS and front brake failure that occurred right afterwards are not related?  Sureeeeeee.  I guess Workhorse never heard of “cause and effect.”  I think I will be speaking with a lawyer this summer to teach them about it.  Their “boots” damn near got us killed.

Anyway, we have been informed by the garage that Workhorse does plan on doing a recall this fall for the brakes.  The brake boots and related equipment will be replaced by the same models that failed, and then we will have to bring the RV in this fall after we received the recall notice and have the work done all over again with newly designed parts.

RV-103 will be repaired Thursday or Friday.

05-10-10 Finding the Perfect Campground

One silver lining having RV-103 in the garage is that it gave us time to check out the campsite we were going to stay at.  We drove down to it with the intention of talking with the owners.  Once there, we decided we would drive around the campground first.

To be polite, it was subpar.  There were many fifth wheels there that stay year round and they were in various states of filth, disrepair, and had cluttered yards with junk and trash.  This place struck us more like a low end trailer park instead of a RV park.  After looking over the place for about 15 minutes and taking another 15 minutes talking about it, we all agreed that we would not be camping there.

I will not name that campsite or some of the other ones we looked at since we did not stay there.  That’s just the fair thing to do.

Other campsites we looked at were either overpriced, out of cell phone range, or similar to the first campsite we looked at.

We finally found a nice campsite in Cuba NY.  It is basically a large open field with all the hookups our RV requires, next to an old farm, and very peaceful.  They do not have a web site up yet, but I’m told it’s in the works and I will provide it once it’s online.  The place is called Maple Lane Campgrounds just off Interstate 86 at the Cuba NY exit.  The price for an entire season is only $650, which works out to about $108 per month for the length of our planned stay.

This place, due to not being on the web, is a well kept secret.  This is a great place for an overnight or for RV’ers who don’t have children who wish to stay long term.  The year round fifth wheels are in good condition and the place is kept neat.

If you do have kids, please note that they do not have playgrounds or pools, but many state parks are nearby and this campground makes a good place to settle down for the night after your day’s activities.  We do know that many families with kids do come and the kids bike all around having free reign of the campground.  There is also plenty of space to set up volleyball nets, yard games, and room to hit around some golf balls.

Cuba is nearby with its shops and cheese stores.  Cuba is famous for its cheeses and is also the birthplace of Charles Ingalls for Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder book fans.

We are looking forward to getting RV-103 back and settling in there.

05-09-10 Mother’s Day

Cold and snow today.  We have been used to mid 70’s to high 80’s for the last several weeks driving home from CA and traveling up here.  It is a surprise to see it actually snow on Mother’s Day.  It is supposed to be in the upper 20’s for the next two nights.  I guess NY didn’t get the memo that it is now spring time.  Gloomy day for a gloomy time.

Thank you!!!

Folks I want to thank you so much for reading and forwarding this post I did on Obama’s April 15th speech. It has truly traveled around the world and been seen over 6,000 times now.

Keep the pressure on your congressmen and senators. Ask them to support Constellation and our Human Space Flight Program. It is still possible to save this in Congress, but only if you keep their feet to the fire. You can find the number and address to your representatives at www.congress.org.

Obama's New NASA Logo

05-08-10 Visiting RV-103

Gypsy’s son and daughter-in-law drove down with us to Ballantyne RV and Marine in Victor NY to check on RV-103 and to retrieve a few items we had forgotten.  I ensured that the refrigerator was still running on propane and did a quick inspection.  Hopefully we will learn something on Monday.

05-07-10 How Do You Stop A 28,000 Pound RV?

We got up the next morning and proceeded on our way.  We had a disagreement with our GPS system.  She wanted us to take on some back roads in PA and we thought we should stay on the Interstate.  We stopped for lunch and went over the maps trying to decide the best route.  We knew we were going to be able to make our campsite in NY that day and were excited to see the traveling come to an end.

To take the interstate route it required us to take an extra 100 miles, making our way east, then north, then back west again.  The GPS wanted us to take PA SR 46 straight north almost to the NY border and close to our campsite.  We figured that a SR could not be bad, so we went with the GPS recommendation.

One thing about GPS systems: They aren’t driving and they don’t know what you drive.  They don’t know the width, weight, or length of your vehicle nor the terrain.  They don’t know the quality of the road.  All they know are routes and estimated times (which they never get right) in getting there. We have been led wrong before by the GPS and, to be fair, have been led right also resulting in saved time, beautiful scenery, and saved fuel.  It’s a judgment call you have to make at times and sometimes it just doesn’t turn out right.

We ended up on PA SR 46 and quickly found out that Pennsylvania’s idea of a State Route is way different from what other states think.  It was partially paved and for a large portion of the road, all gravel.  We decided to stay on it since the scenery was so nice and it was wide enough for the RV.

Eventually we ended up in Potter County PA.  For those of you who have never been to Potter County, it is a wonderful place of raw natural beauty.  I had visited this county nearly 30 years ago and never forgot it.  This was where I saw my first bear and beaver in the wild.  This is where Punxsutawney Phil lives, the groundhog that Groundhog Day is named after.  It also has a “Class A” stream with beavers living in it.  “Class A”, as it was explained to me many years ago, is a stream rating that indicates the stream is nearly exactly as it was 10,000 years ago, pure and pollution free.  Also, due to the mountainous terrain of the area, I have been told it resembles Korea and was once used by the Army to train their troops before deploying to South Korea.

As we were enjoying the scenery, we were descending and ascending some pretty large mountain roads.  As we started to descend one steep mountain road I noticed I was having some problems slowing down.  The brake pedal was getting “mushy” and soon gave way to the floor.  I commented quietly to Gypsy that I was having trouble slowing down and stopping, but I guess I said it calmly enough that she didn’t realize just how serious our problem was rapidly becoming.

This particular hill entailed about a mile long descent on a two lane, partially paved road cut into the side of the mountain with a pretty large drop off on our left.  I tried gearing down the transmission, but the RV just kept speeding up.  I found that I could pump the brake pedal and get some slowing, but even that was starting to fail.

Our RV weighs about 28,000 pounds, give or take a couple hundred pounds, and behind us is a 650 pound tow dolly with a 2,000 pound SUV on it.  Once gravity takes hold of our vehicle, it becomes quite an adventure to wrest control back and that’s when the brakes are good.  To say the entire descent was a white knuckle drive is pretty much an understatement.  I kept quiet after my initial comment to Gypsy because I was working so hard trying to prevent our untimely deaths and the loss of RV-103.

I finally got her stopped at the bottom of the mountain and pulled off the side of the road in Galeton PA.  I got out and went to check on RV-103 and found the wheel wells radiating some serious heat, especially the rear wheels.  No brake fluid on the ground or splattered on the wheels.  I checked the brake fluid reservoir and found it hot and thin like water, but still full.  I went back in tried the brake pedal again.  It went all the way to the floor without any resistance.

I then went outside, pulled out a cigar, and sat down with the shakes for about a half hour.  At first Gypsy thought my “shakes” were funny, but it soon dawned on her just how shook up I was.

“Why didn’t you tell me how serious it was?” she said.

“I thought shouting out “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!” was a bit unhelpful at the time and besides I was quite busy just trying to slow down and keep her on the road.” I replied sarcastically in a quivering voice.

We knew we were only 50 miles from our final destination and very briefly (like 20 seconds) debated if we should risk it and finish our journey.  Common sense took over quite quickly and we called our roadside service, Freedom Care, and sat down to wait for a tow truck.  We waited about 2-3 hours before he arrived and I spent the next hour helping him get RV-103 hooked up.  We loaded a few essentials into the car, placed Commander Merlin into the pet carrier/escape craft and locked RV-103 up.  I got a bit choked up to see the tow truck take her away not knowing how bad the damage was nor how much it was going to cost me.  Since it was a Friday evening, the garage would not even look at her until Monday or Tuesday.

Oh my poor baby!

When your car breaks down, it is an inconvenience.  You can borrow a car, use your second car, take a taxi, etc, but you usually find your ability to run around town still intact.  Not so for a RV.  When it breaks down, especially in another state, you are homeless.  All your belongings, clothes, food, etc are with your RV and since your RV is in a garage or on the back of a tow truck, you are separated from them.  You go quickly from living the high life to being a street person with just a car.

We called Gypsy’s son and arranged to stay at his and his wife’s place.  We got in the SUV and started the last 50 miles towards their place.  It was a quiet and worrisome drive.

05-06-10 Back on the Road

We got up the next morning and resumed our journey.  As we were driving along Interstate 79, we finally saw a black bear.  Unfortunately for the bear, it had been hit by a truck and was lying by the side of the road while the truck driver was explaining what had happened to the WV state trooper.

We pushed on and ended up at the Bellefonte State College KOA where once again I used some of my KOA points.  Cost for the night was about $15.  It was a nice clean RV park and we had no problems or complaints.

You Can Follow Us on Twitter

Since I don’t post every day, some folks write me after a few days asking if there is a new post on RV-103.com or not.  Our website is now linked to Twitter under the account Random230.  Every time there is a new post on RV-103.com, a message will be sent out on Twitter.

05-05-10 Visiting With My Oldest Daughter

We got up in the morning, unmolested by any bears, and proceeded on our journey.  Our next stop was just outside of Huntington WV at the Foxfire KOA.  My oldest daughter is a junior at Marshall State University and we had stopped for the night to visit.

I had told my daughter, DeeAnna that we would call her once we got to the campsite and settled in.  Patience is not a virtue of hers and she once again proved it by calling me and informing me that she was right behind me in her car as I was pulling into the campsite.  She helped me set up the RV and was full of questions about how everything worked.

Shortly, afterwards, Dee and I left to tour Marshall University.  She pointed out all the spots where they filmed the movie We Are Marshall.  The movie told the tale of Marshall University’s loss of their entire football team along with many prominent citizens of Huntington WV in a airplane crash and their rebuilding of the team and the school’s morale.

Dee and her Daddy

We then went to eat at a legendary eatery in this little college town called Hillbilly Hotdogs.  Hillbilly Hotdogs started out in a old school bus and eventually moved into a small shack that somehow can accommodate about 20 guests.  This place takes Hillbilly to the nth degree with dining booths made of tubs, shower curtains, and plungers and another one made in a outhouse.  There are many funny pictures all over the place and the warning sign above the men’s toilet warning you not to dive due to shallow water was a hoot.  They had a 15 inch hot dog with all the fixings called the Home Wrecker and a 10 lb (yes, I said 10 lb!) hamburger called Bubba’s Double Wide.   They have deep fried hotdogs, and about 2 dozen types of toppings for your hotdogs.  My friend, Roy G. from KSC would absolutely love this place.  After eating, I promptly took a double dose of my cholesterol medicine before my arteries could harden to concrete.

We returned to the campsite and spent a couple hours outside enjoying the evening sun and talking.  All in all, it was a good visit.  Later that evening Dee left to return to her dorm to finish up some assignments for school.  It is finals week.  I’m quite proud of her and she seems to be doing well in school.  Her major is Math with Music as a minor with the intent to be a Math and/or Music instructor someday.

The Foxfire KOA is a pretty nice park and of course I used some more of my gazillion KOA points.  We stayed there for less than $15.

Flying J Truck Stop Review

During our travels we have found that we prefer to get our fuel at the Flying J truck stops.  Flying J realized that not only do tractor trailers use a lot of fuel, but RV’s.  With that in mind, they have created islands at their truck stops that cater to RV’s only.  These islands have diesel, gasoline, and propane along with air hoses and extra long window cleaners all in one convenient place.  It just makes it so much easier for us when we fuel up.  I have not seen any other truck stop chain do this.

I would suggest to Flying J one thing about their RV islands.  It would be easier for the drivers if they moved the islands into the tractor trailer area instead of the car area.  The car drivers zip in and out and for some reason seem blind to their impending doom as a 37 foot RV turning in front of them trying to exit the truck stop.

Because of our frequent visits, we thought it might be a good idea to become a Flying J R.V. Real Value Member.  The brochure says we can save up to 30 cents per gallon and that always sounds nice to me since I’m frequently sobbing uncontrollably into Gypsy’s shirt while fueling RV-103.

After reading over their brochure we decided it wasn’t worth it.  You automatically get a 1 cent discount for being a member which means if I filled our empty tank, I would save 75 cents.  Big deal…NOT!  The only way you can get any substantial savings on your fuel is to make large monthly purchases from their store.  For example, to get that wonderful 30 cent per gallon savings, I have to buy $400 worth of merchandise from their store.  That’s a lot of chips and dip!  And, the discount is good only for the first 100 gallons of fuel for the entire month.  I have a 75 gallon tank so I would use up nearly all of my monthly allotment in just one fill-up.

This club is more of a tool to get you to give up information for targeted marketing from Flying J and their “third party” friends.  The membership is really not worth the trouble or worth giving up your personal information.  I would recommend giving this one a pass, but I am still going to use their RV islands during our travels.

05-04-10 Lions, Tigers, and Bears…Oh My!

We started our travels again today and drove all the way through SC and NC, finally stopping in Wytheville VA.  As we were searching for a campsite, we decided we would cash in some of the gazillion KOA points we had accumulated and stay at the Wytheville KOA.  Because of the points, our total cost for the night was only $11.  Not too bad considering a KOA would normally cost around $35-40.

Wytheville KOA is an older park that had shorter than normal pull through sites for RV’s.  We just barely fit in ours with the RV and the SUV on the tow dolly.  I spoke with the owner the next day and found them to be former Floridians.  Nice folks and I have to say that their KOA was one of the nicer ones we had stayed at so far.  They did have one sign out that gave me pause…watch out for the bears.  I guess they have had a little bear problem in the past due to campers leaving food and trash outside.  But, the owners are pretty stringent about the campsites being clean and that seems to negate the bear problem.  But, just to be safe, I limited my time outside after dark.

Overall, it was a nice place to spend the night.

05-02-10 Here At The Rock…

I got a call this morning that really caught me off guard.  It was from the mysterious Dan C. calling from an undisclosed location at KSC inquiring about my geographic status.  On the speaker phone with him were other members of his team and Dan’s current class for that day.  Don’t worry, the call was made during their lunch period and they won’t have to charge it to their time card.  No auditing required.  If you have ever worked at KSC, you will know what that means.

Dan C. is an educator for United Space Alliance at KSC and a very enjoyable teacher with the most unusual and creative sense of humor I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of and a victim of.  Also on the phone was Mark S., my Zero G partner, and Irene C, a wonderful friend and good debater who has challenged me many times over the future of the space program.  The entire USA Educational Department contributes to our Human Space Flight Program in meaningful ways that the general public is unaware of.

These people have the tough job of keeping the KSC workforce up to date on the the new processes and procedures that are used to work on the Shuttle and Constellation programs, reinforce the current procedures, and ferret out any misunderstandings or problems concerning the processes as it impacts the workforce. This small group of people have the large responsibility to keep a workforce of over 10,000 people “on the same page.”   The job requires a person who is flamboyant, witty, and basically a misfit seeking a place within the company to call “home.”  Thankfully, the company gives these people a “home” called the USA Educational Department.

We had a nice talk and it really moved me that they took the time out of their day to call.  Most times, when you leave a job, life goes on and you are forgotten pretty quickly.  In this case, Dan C. and his team reminded me that the old saying, “Gone but not forgotten” is sometimes really true.  Thanks guys!  You really don’t know how much you made my day with your call.

Wait, I hear the door creaking open to the classroom….Ahem…”Here at the rock…”

When Things Go Viral

About a week ago I posted an analysis on Obama’s speech ending our Human Space Flight Program.  I was surprised to find it being featured on at least seven web sites, including NASAwatch.com.

My first clue was when I couldn’t log on to my website.  The message I kept getting was that my bandwidth was exceeded.  I had my server increase my bandwidth and found that my post had gone “viral.”  Before the week was over, I had had over 5,000 visitors and still average about 100 visits per day to that particular post to this day.  Overall, about 95% of the readers that bothered to comment on my site and other sites have been supportive and agreed to my analysis.  I have had visitors from all over the world literally involving all continents, and visitors from all the NASA centers and Congress.

I want to take a moment and thank you for visiting and reading the post.  I also ask that if you agree with it, please continue to forward it, submit it to the media, etc.  Obama and the NASA admin want to make people think that the matter is “settled”, but it is not.  Congress has yet given its blessing on the plan and still may not.  Keep the word spreading and keep the pressure on Congress.  Call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to support the Constellation Program and save our nation’s Human Space Flight Program.

05-02-10 Hardeeville RV Park

We got up early this morning and broke camp.  We traveled all day through Florida and Georgia, stopping in South Carolina.  The only problem we ran into during our trip was the generator.  For some reason the generator runs, but doesn’t kick on the AC power.  I was told it might be a “relay switch” problem, but haven’t really trouble-shoot it just yet.  We first discovered the problem when we stopped at a rest stop to have lunch.  We were going to brew a pot of coffee and heat up some food in the microwave.  I’m sure I will get the problem solved once I have time to research it.

We stopped for the evening at Hardeeville RV Park.  We used our Passport America membership discount and was able to stay for $21 a night instead of the customary $35 per night.

Gypsy and I agree that Hardeeville RV Park is probably the best RV Park we have stayed at so far.  It is about 15 miles off Interstate 95 and worth the drive.  This is what we always thought a RV park should be.  They have two areas you can stay.  The typical open field or a wooded area, of course we chose the wooded area.  We are not crammed in like sardines like other RV parks and it is so quiet and peaceful.  The lots are nearly level and the campground is very clean.  And, it has a campfire ring!  Camping is just not the same unless you can have a nice campfire in the evenings.  The scenery is so nice that I am actually typing this blog outside RV-103 and enjoying the ambiance of the surroundings and a glass of my favorite wine.

Hardeeville RV Park has free wifi internet, but we were not able to use it very well due to being on the outskirts of the park.  They also have free cable with about 100 channels.  Because of the cable, I did not have to set up the satellite dish.  The owners, Len and Rita Thomas, are very nice and sociable.

The place is so nice we decided to stay a extra day.  Below are some pictures I took of our campsite and of Commander Merlin enjoying the view.

View out our front door.

Commander Merlin Surveying the World from the Observation Deck Onboard RV-103
Commander Merlin says, "What are you looking at? Get back to work!"

Let’s Talk About Passport America for a Moment.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that we use Passport America quite often when traveling. Overall we have been quite pleased with Passport America and found them useful, but we do have some issues.

  1. I would venture to say about 10% of the campsites we have visited so far in Passport America are subpar.  They are more like trailer parks than RV parks.  I don’t know if Passport America inspects their campsites like KOA does, but maybe they should.
  2. They seriously need a good editor/proofreader/fact-checker for their book.  For example, one campsite in Florida was listed in their book being on the wrong side of the state.  Another example is the campsite we will review in the next blog entry.  The address is not even in our GPS and we tried to use the GPS coordinates given, but our GPS said they were not even within 25 km of a road.  Thankfully they did have the correct phone number listed and we could get directions.  Their map even showed the campsite in the wrong place.

Seriously, Passport America, you need to fix this!  Not only the RV’ers depend on accurate information, but your clients, the RV parks, depend on you too.

Next up: The best RV park we have ever visited so far!

05-01-10 Jetty Park at Port Canaveral

Our first stop was only a short 3 hour drive to Jetty Park in Port Canaveral.  It is the only “public” campground we usually go to right on the Atlantic Ocean.  We usually stop there when we are heading north in order to visit with family and friends due to the proximity and the fact they took Passport America membership discounts.

We ran into some problems at Jetty Park.  I had called them two day prior to leaving to reserve a campsite and they said they did not take reservations and for me to call back the morning we were leaving.  I expressed some concerns that the campsites would fill up if we waited until Saturday morning to call, but they reassured me that it was nearly empty.  So, I waited until Saturday morning and called.  20 minutes after they supposedly opened, they finally answered the phone.  I asked for a reservation and they refused, but said they would hold a campsite for me.  ????  Isn’t “holding a campsite” the same as a “reservation?”

The second problem we encountered was the fact that Jetty Park doesn’t honor Passport America on the weekends and we had to pay full price.  Fortunately, since they were a public park, the price was only $21 instead of the usual $12 discount we would have gotten if we came during the week.

When we arrived the place was packed with campers.  They assigned me a lot that had a large ditch like depression running through the middle of it.  I couldn’t get RV-103 into the slot without trying to plow a new ditch with my rear end.  I called them and said I was taking the last empty campsite next to ours.  They said ok and we parked there and set up camp.  That was when I discovered that they had no septic system at the campsite so we could dump our tanks.  After sitting at the RV Processing facility for 8 days, things were pretty ripe.  It didn’t help that I hooked the water hose up to the sewage flush outlet instead of the water tank.  It filled up quite quickly and nearly overflowed the toilet.  That’s what happens when you’re tired and rushed to get set up before guests arrive.

We packed up the RV and went to the dump station by the office.  After dumping the contents of the tank, we returned to our campsite and set up all over again.  Meanwhile, Commander Merlin had to keep excusing herself and go back to the bedroom to laugh hysterically.  After we got set up again, she took her place on the dashboard and enjoyed watching the people and their pets walk about.

Later on that evening our guests started to arrive.  My Father and Step-Mother arrived and soon afterwards, a good friend of mine from KSC, John Kuhn showed up.  We had a wonderful time talking over coffee and finally got to bed about mid-night.  Knowing John’s talented ways of telling a story, I’m sure he will have some good tales to tell my former co-workers Monday at KSC (see the yellow highlighted areas)

05-01-10 Mission #3 The Empire (State) Strikes Back.

RV-103 is finally restocked and ready for Mission #3  We will be returning to the Empire State of NY for research, recreation, and to await the crew’s birth of their first grandchild.

Gypsy has been hard at work provisioning RV-103 with all the needed supplies while I had to dress down Rocketman for being AWOL.  I don’t know if he has been hanging out on the beach or the golf course, but he has a very suspicious dark tan.  He claims he has been working hard outside at the RV Processing Facility, but we all know what type of a goldbricker he is.

Anyway, RV-103 launched on her third mission at 1100 hours with me at my customary seat behind the crew meowing out orders and overseeing the crew operations.  No problems encountered during the first leg of our trip except for Rocketman complaining about the seatbelt chafing his sunburn.  Too bad!  He will just have to suck it up.

Commander Merlin

In the RV Processing Facility

Yesterday I took RV-103 to Preventive Maintenance Service of Florida for her oil change and to have our damaged door panels looked at.  The owner, Al Cruz, came out and looked at the damaged door panels.  I told him that along with the oil change and safety check, I wanted him to determine a estimate for me to straighten out the doors.  I would have the rest of the body work done in NY or upon my return since we were short on time before leaving again.

He called me later in the day and said that he attempted to straighten out the doors, but backed off due to fears he would mishapen them to the point we couldn’t get the doors to latch.  He did install a screw that had sheared off to ensure a panel would not fly up during our drive and of course completed the oil change and safety check.

I walked over there today to pick up RV-103 and was informed by the staff that the owner himself did all the work on the RV.  I thought that pretty nice of him.  They said that each door would run me about $350 apiece to replace at their body shop and I told them I will have them do the work when we returned.

I went to back out RV-103 from their parking lot and the front desk clerk came outside on his own volition and assisted me in backing up walking with the RV until I was safely out of the lot.  I left the lot and went back to the storage yard.

As I discussed in a previous post, Preventive Maintenance Service of Florida is our preferred garage for our RV.  I have never been disappointed in their work and it has always been top quality along with their customer service.  If you are in the Tampa area and need your RV worked on, I heartily recommend them.  Tell them that the crew of RV-103 sent you.

How Do You Connect to the Internet in a RV? A Review of Verizon’s MiFi.

When we were in New York during our Shakedown Cruise (see Mission #1), we found that wireless internet at the various campsites did not always live up to their hype.  Connections were spotty and many times nonexistent.  Since we spent a good amount of time online researching, reading the local and world news, and surfing we needed something more reliable.

I ended up purchasing a MiFi from Verizon.  It is basically a mobile phone that serves as a router and you can connect up to five devices to it.  There is no keypad or screen to the device.  It is just a tiny black box that can fit easily into your shirt pocket.  You hook it up to your master computer to set up the network and then you can disconnect it and place it anywhere you wish on the RV so that all your computers can connect easily.  Though it was originally designed for car pools where each rider needed to access the internet, it is nearly perfect for the RV.

Set up was not that easy, but after consulting with my personal tech support, my brother Alex, I discovered that the problems had to do with me and not the device.  Because of Alex’s help, I got the network set up and viola!  We were on the net!

My iPhone is through AT&T and so is Gypsy’s and the MiFi is through Verizon. You know those ads that have been running lately on TV with each company claiming to have better coverage? Well I can tell you from experience who does.  Sorry AT&T, the trophy for best coverage goes to Verizon.  I have yet to drive or camp anywhere where our MiFi can’t get a connection, but have had many occasions where AT&T has dropped calls or lost signal altogether.

MiFi can operate on battery alone, which lasts about 4 hours of steady use, or can be plugged in to an outlet or into your computer using a USB slot.  That makes it nice when we are on the road and Gypsy can work on the internet while I drive.

I do have one large bone to pick with Verizon though.  They only give you a monthly 5 gigabyte limit at a cost of $60 per month.  Though that sounds like a lot, it truly isn’t.  I had gone over that limit slightly (within 100 megs) twice now and each time my bill would nearly double.  Verizon pretty much rapes you on overages. I would suggest to the company that they have one flat rate for unlimited usage such as landline and cable based internet providers do.  It would make them far more competitive and may encourage folks to drop their at home internet providers for the MiFi just like people have dropped their home based phones and have gone totally cellular.

Overall, we have been quite happy with Verizon with the exception of the 5 gig limit and overage charges.  The coverage is excellent and widespread and the download speeds are fast enough to make surfing the web enjoyable.  I would recommend this device to any RV’er seeking a more reliable internet service provider.

April 23rd, 2010 Mission #2 Westward Ho is Accomplished

We awoke that morning and struck camp.  We exited without any problems and finished the final leg home.  We decided to come down Florida Route 19 instead of I-75 and had a nice scenic drive.

The last 20 miles were the longest.  We hit Clearwater traffic right at rush hour and the going was slow.  But, at 1730 hrs we arrived at the RV Processing Facility and parked RV-103.  Keeping with the 30 year tradition of all Shuttle Commanders, I issued the final command by meowing “Wheels Stop.”  Our mission was done, more items crossed off our bucket list, and we were home.

RV-103 will be prepared and repaired for our next mission.  Meanwhile, I and crew will spend a well deserved week home resting and catching up on personal business.

Until our next mission, I and the crew of RV-103 thank you for following our misadventures and hope you will join us again for Mission #3.

Commander Merlin

April 22nd, 2010 Houston, There Appears To Have Been An Anomaly.

We got up that morning and packed up the RV to continue on our way.  We had been staying the night at Martin Lake RV Park.  As we started to leave, we ended up having an anomaly during our exit.

The exit is lined with wooden poles sticking about 3 feet up from the ground.  They are very decorative, but don’t leave much room for error when trying to negotiate a turn in a 37 foot RV with a tow dolly.

I needed to make a 90 degree right turn to exit the park and was trying to work my way between the wooden posts lined on each side of the road.  I was watching the posts on my left side as I started to swing wide to make the turn when I heard a sickening crunch.  I looked out my side mirror and it appeared the tow dolly had struck a pole on my right side.  I started to back up to free the dolly when I heard another crunch.  Gypsy looked out the side door and exclaimed it was the RV not the tow dolly.  I got a very sick feeling in my stomach.

I placed the RV into park and got out to inspect the damage.  I was right up against one of the damn poles and had no way of moving without damaging RV-103 more.  I went to the camp office to find someone to dig out the pole.

One of the owners came out and inspected the situation.  He stated that most folks usually hit the poles on the left side while exiting instead of the right.  At least he confirmed to me that this was not the first time someone had done this.  He said he had talked with the other owners in the past about taking out the wooden poles to prevent such accidents, but they refused.  I took some pictures, and I then allowed him to dig out the offending pole and free my RV.

The damage was severe to one door, the right rear wheel well, and slight damage to two other doors.  Obviously, it would take some body work to make her look new again.  The owner dug out the pole, and I finally got her free.

Not a good way to neither start my day nor finish up our Mission #2.  To add insult to injury, Martin Lake charged me about $5 more than what was listed in the Passport America book.  That is the first time I’ve had a campsite charge me more than what was listed in the book.  I am not happy with them nor will I bring my RV back there.

We proceeded on and ended up staying the night at the KOA just east of Tallahassee FL.

April 21st, 2010 Back on the Road Towards Home.

We finally packed up from our nice rest just outside of Houston and continued our re-entry back home.  It had been a nice break from traveling,  and we really did enjoy the campsite we were staying at, but it was time to press on.

Stennis Space Center Visitor Center

Not long after we started our journey that day we found ourselves crossing the Mississippi state line we stopped at the rest stop near Stennis Space Center.  Stennis is where they test the Space Shuttle main engines.  Most of the employees I understand have been laid off due to the Shuttle Program ending, but they still conducted tours.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to take a tour, but I did get a nice picture of their Visitor Center Building and a mock up of the Lunar Module at the rest stop.  That’s a shame for I would have enjoyed seeing the facility.

Lunar Module Mockup at Stennis Space Center Rest Stop

Below is a picture of me with one of the three Space Shuttle Main Engines prior to installation on a shuttle for flight and a External tank that fuels those engines.  One turbo pump on the Space Shuttle Main Engine can empty a olympic size swimming pool in about 25 seconds  The External Tank holds liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and the shuttle’s three main engines will empty that big boy in less than 8 minutes.

One of the three Space Shuttle Main Engines that go on a Space Shuttle
Greg and ET Tank in VAB 04-18-2006

To the folks at Stennis Space Center, job well done and thank you for your commitment and dedication to our Shuttle Program.

We proceeded on and ended up staying at Martin Lake Resort in Biloxi Mississippi for the night using our Passport America discount.

April 18th, 2010 Visit to Johnson Space Center Visitor Center

On April 18th, our fearful leader Commander Merlin allowed me some shore leave.  Since we were just outside of Houston, I drove over to see Johnson Space Center’s Visitor Center.  I have spent many hours at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center (I’m even shown briefly twice on the bus tour video with Commander Eileen Collins!) in the past, and was looking forward to seeing what was at JSC.

JSC Visitor Center is basically a large room with a couple small side rooms.  It was not very large and seemed to be overwhelmingly dedicated to children.  There was a large playhouse that stood two stories and I joked to one visitor that it must be the model for Obama’s new deep space ship.  Nearly ½ of the room is dedicated as a children’s playground.

Martian Matrix Playground or Obama's New Deep Space Ship
Obama's New Rocket

The first thing I noticed when I walked in, after paying $20, was a large toy rocket that could only be Obama’s new rocket.  It was as apt to fly as his new plan.  Next to it was a large display for a real Human Space Flight Program called Constellation that Obama had just cancelled.  Thankfully NASA had not had that pulled yet.

There was a forward section of the space shuttle, called Adventure, that was very realistic and people could climb the stairs to view the interior of the unnaturally spacious cockpit.  I understand the expanded space since it would have to accommodate thousands of visitors each day, but folks really do not get a good grasp at just how cramped the Shuttle cabin is especially with a six man crew.

There were a few simulators, such as a landing simulator where you could land the Space Shuttle, a simulator ride, and an actual simulator used by the astronauts to train for using the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) while working on satellites during the Shuttle’s heyday.

I spent some time on the MMU simulator with great success.  Basically it is a something like an air hockey puck that floats on a table.  You lie in the seat and try to work various tasks on a panel above your head without spinning away.  You have to work two controls that puff out jets of air to keep you centered under the panel.  You have only a limited amount of “fuel” in those air jets and a limited time to complete the tasks.  I surprised myself by completing the tasks in less than one minute and saving 2/3rd of my fuel.

Hey! I'm fully trained. Get me on that last shuttle flight!

It took me less than one hour to see just about everything inside the center.  Compare that to KSC Visitor Center where you can take up to two full days to view everything.  To be fair, I did skip the IMAX movies since I’ve seen them before so I can’t give you a review of their theaters.

I was going to take the tram tour (KSC uses full size air conditioned buses), but there was rain coming and the trams are open to the weather.  The tour takes you to some of the training areas, mission control (which was closed to the public due to Discovery being in orbit), and the Saturn V exhibit.  The line for the tram was over an hour long and the staff warned us that they might close the tram due to the storms.

I decided that I wasn’t going to take the tram and instead hung around for a little while talking with the tourists.  I met several JSC employees that were there with their families and guests.  They are just as angry at Obama and the NASA administration as the KSC folks are.  I also spent time talking with a engineer from England who used to work on the Rolls Royce Power Plants that powered many fighter jets.  He was stranded in Houston due to the Iceland volcano.  He asked why Obama was killing the program and just couldn’t believe our nation would allow it.  I told him there were many things I couldn’t believe our nation has been allowing of our so called leaders lately.

I then left the Visitor Center and drove over the JSC’s version of their rocket garden and the Saturn V.  To be blunt, I was disappointed.  There were two rockets, a Bumper rocket and a Mercury Redstone, and two engines.  That’s all!  It is nothing like KSC’s visitor center which has about 15 rockets from every major Human Space Flight Program.

JSC Rocket Garden Note the unmowed grass.

The Saturn V rocket, which is one of the last three remaining ones, was mounted on a trailer and had a metal structure around it.  The metal structure reminded me of those garden sheds we put in our back yards.  There was no space inside to get a decent picture of the rocket and not very many exhibits.  Compared to the Saturn V Center at KSC, it was disappointing.

I did shoot a video as I walked down the length of the rocket at a normal pace to give you an idea of the size.

Summary:

Like KSC Visitor Center, the world comes to JSC Visitor Center to view our past and current achievements in Human Space Flight.  I heard languages from all over the world.  A NASA Visitor Center is a place for our country to put its best face on for the world and make a good first impression of our commitment to science, Human exploration, and peace.  KSC Visitor Center accomplishs that above and beyond without using taxpayer funds.  Delaware North runs the KSC Visitor Center and has always put a good first impression for our country to the world.  I am afraid that JSC Visitor Center does not.

JSC Visitor Center is owned and operated by a non-profit group called The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, Inc.  I would strongly suggest this group have Delaware North do some consulting for them.  Currently the JSC Visitor Center is more like a children’s playground with a few adult exhibits thrown in, than a quality state of the art center like KSC Visitor Center.

It’s a shame that JSC NASA does not do more to help improve the visitor center.  But, since NASA does not seem to care much anymore about Human Space Flight, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

If you want to visit a top notch Human Space Flight Visitor Center, then go visit KSC Visitor Center.  It’s worth the drive and expense and it has no difficulty showing our nation’s pride in Human Space Flight.

Now that's a rocket garden! Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center Rocket Garden

If you just want a day out with the young children, the JSC Visitor Center would work just fine.

Obama’s April 15th Speech at Kennedy Space Center

Credit: Florida Today

I watched with great interest Obama’s speech at Kennedy Space Center and had to take a few days to think about how I would reply to it.  (Please also see this post.)

I think the first thing that needs to be covered is the ending of the Shuttle Program.  I have found, that when I discuss Obama’s new space policy on different forums, such as NASAWatch.com, the first thing thrown up is that Obama did not decide to end the Shuttle Program.  That is correct.  President George Bush made that decision over 6 years ago.

The employees and contractors at all of the NASA centers have had 6 years to prepare for the ending of the Shuttle Program.  Many of my former co-workers have done what I’ve done by pursuing a higher education, improving their resumes, saving money for lean times, and improving their work skills in order to be more marketable and possibly be hired into the Constellation program.  Many of my classmates I went to school with while pursuing my Masters degree were fellow workers.  We knew and accepted that the Shuttle Program would end in September of 2010.

Criticizing Obama’s new policy for NASA and our country is not about the Shuttle Program, but about our nation’s Human Space Flight Program overall.  Constellation was to be the successor.  A program that would have taken us beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), back to the Moon to learn to live on another world and develop new technologies, while providing our nation with a new ship that was designed to transport our astronauts for the next 30-40 years.  Now, for the second time in our nation’s history, we are throwing away the Moon and for the first time in 50 years we are throwing away our Human Space Flight Program and our leadership in space exploration and technology.

Obama started out his day visiting the KSC area by avoiding the workers.  Though NASA and United Space Alliance had sent down word that no personal opinions of the employees would be allowed (also no twitter, Facebook, or talking with the media) or tolerated, many of the workers, from what I’ve been told, had left their jobs briefly to line the road and express their “opinion” of Obama’s new policy.  But Obama the coward took a back route in from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to get to his teleprompter at the Operations and Checkout Building many miles away from the workers.

Obama did visit one spacecraft, the untested Falcon 9 rocket that will be test launched by Space X next month at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Elon Musk, the founder of the Internet PayPal, owns Space X.  Space X has had four launches so far with their Falcon One, and three of those have failed as of the date of Obama’s speech. The Falcon 9 rocket has never flown and is uncertain yet how well it will fly, but Obama is betting on this particular company and rocket to fly our astronauts someday in the far distant future to the ISS and back.

Obama packed his audience with only supporters and several captive current astronauts.  These astronauts are not allowed to voice their opinion about his plan or they could jeopardize their careers with NASA.  Obama and NASA, to lend an illusion of legitimacy to his plan, used them as props.  In fact, only one retired astronaut is on record supporting Obama’s plan, and he not only got to attend, but to fly on Air Force One.  That astronaut was Buzz Aldrin.  The rest of the Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Harrison Schmitt, and Gene Cernan, are on record being against the plan and were not invited.

The only congressional politicians invited were Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (who represents the Kennedy Space Center and north Brevard County).  Both are Democrats and support Obama’s plan.  Left out were Florida’s Republican Senator George LeMieux and Republican Congressman Bill Posey (who represents south Brevard County), both who oppose the plan.  For supporting Obama’s plan and selling out the KSC workers and our nation’s Human Space Flight Program, both Bill Nelson and Suzanne Kosmas got to fly with the President on Air Force One.

Another guest of Obama was Al Neuharth, who is the owner of USA Today and Florida Today Newspapers.  This may explain why the Florida Today newspaper has not been fighting actively for their readers and the local workers.  I will leave that up to you to decide if Florida Today sold out Brevard County, as did Senator Nelson and Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas.

Though to be fair, Mr. Neuharth did write an editorial a few days later for the local paper criticizing Obama’s plan.  I am not sure if he thought things over or if he wanted to keep his local customer base by playing both ends.  Either way, it’s quite easy to sum up that Florida Today did not do their job for their community by asking and demanding answers from Obama with some hard questions on April 15th, or any time leading up to it.

Another person in attendance, and privileged Air Force One passenger, was the new NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.  Mr. Bolden is a former Shuttle Astronaut and a former general in our armed services.  Mr. Bolden went out of his way to give a very “glowing” introduction for Obama.  It was so “glowing”, that I half expected a priest to show up and marry the two.

I used to have great respect for Charlie Bolden as an astronaut, and though it was Senator Bill Nelson that was his patron and got him the administrator job, I still thought he would do fine.  I had no idea he would sacrifice his honor and integrity and sell out our nation by being the instrument of Obama in killing our Human Space Program.  I often wonder how he can look the astronauts and workers in the eye at Johnson Space Center and the other space centers around the nation when he walks the hallways.  I know from visiting Johnson Space Center recently and talking with some of the employees there that they share the same view of him and Obama as the people at KSC do.  I cannot begin to  imagine being hated by so many thousands of your peers as Mr. Bolden is right now.

When I first heard Obama’s speech, I thought someone had put a Star Trek Movie on his teleprompter.  It was so out of touch with reality that I am sure there had to be many seasoned aerospace workers watching on TV shaking their heads wondering if Obama was proposing to build a Star Ship Enterprise and applying for the position of Captain Kirk’s role.  In fact, Leonard Nimoy, Spock of Star Trek Fame, once said in response to a question about Obama, “But why does he believe that the president is sincere when he says he supports NASA and human spaceflight?  Nimoy had a simple explanation, “I know for sure that he’s a Star Trek fan because when I met him for the first time three years ago he did this” and put up his hand in the iconic Vulcan salute.  “So that did it for me.”” Obviously Mr. Nimoy confuses a man being a fan of a Science Fiction TV show for being a supporter of Human Space Flight.  As we have found out with Obama’s actions, that is just not true.

Obama’s Speech

Credit: Patriot Post

After thanking his guests and Air Force One passengers for coming, Obama named most of the previous Human Space Flight Programs done by NASA; Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  He left out Skylab and the Shuttle Program.  Another thing he left out that was glaring to me was the “name” of his Human Space Flight Program.  If you can’t define your space goals well enough, you can’t name it.  Constellation had defined goals and had a name not only for the program, but the individual rockets, manned capsule, and lunar lander. (Ares I, Ares V, Orion, and Altair)  All past programs had well defined goals and names for their programs, but not Obama’s.

He then spent a few minutes discussing the history of NASA and what it has contributed to our country and world.  He then defended himself saying, “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.”  Nice words, but his actions speak much louder and that is where Obama is found lacking.  He acknowledged the concerns and worries of the aerospace community and the people in our nation who follow our space program and who wonder what it’s future will be.  But, he so far had not mentioned our Human Space Flight program, just “space program” in general.

Obama then went on talking about the lack of support in the past for NASA saying, “But we can also see it in other ways: in the reluctance of those who hold office to set clear and achievable objectives…”  That is partially true.  Currently NASA only receives ½ of 1 cent in funding from the federal tax dollar.  But, when George Bush changed NASA’s Human Space Flight program to Constellation, he did set up “clear and achievable objectives” such as a heavy lifter, crew module, and setting foot on the Moon by 2019 to learn to live there, before moving on to Mars.

Obama then got to the “meat” of his program and outlined his “new” program:

  • Increase NASA’s budget by $6 Billion over the next five years.
    • That is good, but since NASA’s budget is decided year by year, it is a promise I don’t anticipate him or Congress keeping, especially after the 2012 election.
  • Ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system.
    • Ummm….we have been doing that for over 50 years with great success and what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
  • Send a probe to study the Sun’s atmosphere.
    • Ummm…we have SOHO already there for a number of years studying the Sun’s atmosphere and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
  • New scouting missions to Mars.
    • Ummm…we already have those missions on the books, being built, and prepared for delivery to Mars and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
  • An advanced telescope to follow Hubble.
    • Ummm….that one is already being built and it’s called the James Webb telescope, and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
  • Earth based observation from satellites to improve our understanding of our climate and our world.
    • Ummm….we already do that and have done that for over 50 years.  And, once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
  • We will extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) by more than five years and use it to conduct advanced research, as well as testing and improving our capabilities in space.
    • Ummm…we are already doing that and have been for over 10 years thanks to the Shuttle Program.  Sigh, at least this has something to do with Human Space Flight though right now we will be paying the Russians over $55 million per astronaut for a ride there.
  • Work with private companies to reach the ISS and make getting to space easier and cheaper.
    • Well at least that’s Human Space Flight Program, but no private company has ever, nor will in the near future, place a Human crew into LEO.  Maybe he means they will develop transporter technology like on Star Trek?
  • Change Orion’s purpose from being the main six man crew capsule and space craft for the next 30-40 years as intended by the Constellation Program to it becoming a simple pressurized capsule to use as an escape craft from the ISS if there is any problems requiring evacuation.  That way, we don’t have to depend on the Russians for an emergency evacuation.
    • This is a classic bait and switch folks!  After September, we will be dependent on the Russians for a ride up to the ISS.  We are already dependent on the Russians for a ride home during an emergency by a contract with them when the ISS was started over 10 years ago.  Currently there are two Soyuz craft docked at the ISS just for that purpose.  That is part of Russia’s responsibility as our partners.  I can’t see the Russians forbidding our astronauts to evacuate with them if there is an emergency.  Sigh, at least it’s Human Space Flight related
  • Claims that early in the next decade we will be sending up many more astronauts to space on an unknown and unspecified spacecraft and launcher.
    • Starship Enterprise? Well at least its Human Space Flight related.
  • Claims that by 2025 we might go to an asteroid in a new, un-designed spacecraft “designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space.”
    • Again, Starship Enterprise?  At least it’s Human Space Flight related.
  • By the mid-2030’s he believes he can send humans to orbit Mars and return them home.
    • Does he expect to be dictator for life?  Or does he expect all of us to forget by the mid-2030’s?  At least its Human Space Flight related but very vague.
  • “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn, operate, and live safely beyond Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”
    • Ummm…that is Constellation’s goal and the reason for going back to the Moon.  To learn to live on another world that is three days away before moving on to Mars.  Did this guy plagiarize parts of George Bush’s speech from six years ago?
  • He claims his “program” has “clear aims and goals.”
    • Who is taking our astronauts up?  What are our astronauts flying on?  Where are our astronauts going again?  When are they going again?  Are you still watching Star Trek on your teleprompter Mr. Obama?

Obama then went on to explain why we were not going back to the Moon.  “But the simple fact is, we have been there before.”  Well he’s right.  With all 6 Apollo missions, our astronauts spent about total of one week on the surface of the Moon.  I am sure that most folks wouldn’t consider one-week total visit to the Moon as an appropriate amount of time to learn to live on another planet.  But, Obama seems to think so.  Imagine visiting the Arizona desert for one week and then declaring you don’t have to visit the United States anymore because you have seen everything that the USA has to offer.  So, with a week of Moon living under our belt, he thinks we should visit an asteroid 15 years from now for a day or two, and orbit Mars 25+ years from now for just a few orbits.  Sureeeeeeee.

Obama claims his new unnamed program will create more than 2,500 jobs at KSC and have a potential for generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide but has no evidence to back that figure up.  Let’s say he’s right and does create 2,500 jobs at KSC, he’s still in the hole because over 10,000 jobs and another 30,000 indirect jobs will still be lost at KSC and the Brevard County area alone.  This doesn’t even count the damage done at the other space centers nationwide.

He also promised a $40 million initiative for the displaced workers at KSC, but Florida Today is already reporting that about 3.2 million will actually be used to retrain aerospace workers while the remaining amount will be used to pay for staff over seeing this money and “…tax incentive dollars for the film industry, as well as tax breaks for aircraft and boats.”  Well spent already huh?

After his short speech, Obama left for Miami to attend a fundraising function at Gloria Esteban’s home.  He dedicated hours to this fundraising while dedicating about 30 minutes killing our nation’s Human Space Flight Program.

Summary

Obama is a liar.  Pure and simple.  I know some of you are offended to hear him called a liar, but he is.  He is also a coward for not facing the people whose hopes and dreams for our Human Space Flight Program are being destroyed by this man and his accomplices in Congress and NASA.

There is no new Human Space Flight Program.  There is just a poorly written Powerpoint, lacking in specifics or even a name, posted on Obama’s teleprompter.  No ship, no hardware, no employees, nothing but crap.

There is no destination, no idea what NASA is really going to do with Human Space Flight besides just give it up.  Even his promise of jobs is a lie.  He will throw some money towards KSC to hire a few folks to slap on a few new coats of paint on the buildings, and after the 2012 election, lay them all off and close KSC pretty much for good and our entire Human Space Flight Program.

Though Obama was able to get one doddering 80-year-old astronaut to back him, he could not get the other astronauts that were free to speak or the thousands of rank and file aerospace workers to back him.  They know what his plan truly is, to end America’s Human Space Flight Program after 50 years of leadership.

In my humble opinion, there are some things that could be done to save America’s Human Space Flight Program:

  • Increase NASA’s budget to 1 cent of every tax dollar.
  • Give NASA a 10-year budget so they don’t have to compete each and every year for a new budget.  NASA wastes considerable resources and time every year fighting for next year’s budget.  Giving them a 10-year budget would ensure stability and ensure NASA has an administration that is concentrated on Human Space Flight instead of extending their careers at the expense of our nation and the aerospace workers who make these dreams come true.  The enormous amount of money saved from not having to lobby Congress every year could be applied to Human Space Flight.
  • Bring back Constellation.  It is not too late.  The equipment is still there, the workers are still there, and the designs are still there.  This program had clear goals and milestones unlike Obama’s PowerPoint plan.
  • Fire Charlie Bolden and his upper management staff at NASA.  They sold out our nation and our Human Space Flight Program ceding our leadership in technology and space exploration to Russia and China.  They do not deserve to be stewards of America’s Space Program.

Lessons Learned:

  • Elections do matter.  When you continue to re-elect people to Congress over and over again without giving thought about their job performance, it does have consequences.  When you elect a man who has never managed a McDonalds to manage our country, there are consequences.  There are over 10,000 people at KSC that can attest to the fact elections have consequences.
  • You can’t change NASA’s mission every time there is a new administration.  Human Space Flight Programs require at least a decade long or longer commitment by the nation.  Our nation already has six years and $10 billion dollars invested in Constellation with substantial work done and goals met though Bush, Obama, and the Democratic Congress has consistently under funded it.  There is a very good reason why it’s called “Rocket Science.”
Credit Florida Today

April 17th, 2010 Houston TX Day One

Commander Merlin ordered the crew to take a break from our duties.  So, we drove to a campground just outside of Houston and settled down for a couple days of R&R.

We ended up at Trinity Bay RV Park in Anahuac TX on Trinity Bay.  The place actually ended being a very pleasant surprise.  The park is run by a very laid back couple who run a neat and quiet campground.  It is located next to a community park and right on the Trinity River as it empties into the Trinity Bay.

One nice thing about the campground is the fact that they have concrete pads spaced a decent pace apart from the other RV’s.  The pad was level and my leveling jacks were not even required.

We decided we liked it so much that we decided to stay for three nights.  Oh yes, they take Passport America discount!  Total cost per night, $17.50.

Next up: Johnson Space Center

April 16th, 2010 Still in TX!

Commander Merlin Tours RV-103

We proceeded on our re-entry home.  Commander Merlin spent a good amount of time on the bridge and touring the ship.  It is always good to see the Commander.  She does improve crew morale.  Eventually she took her seat behind the crew and kept watch over us while we navigated the TX highway.

We ended up just outside of San Antonio TX at Top of the Hill RV Resort in Boerne TX.  They are listed in the Passport America book, but we found they didn’t give a discount except Monday through Thursday.  I wasn’t too happy paying full price, but the park was nice, the staff friendly, and they led us to our site and stayed until we were hooked up.  We liked the park and the spot we had.  We will stay here again the next time we pass through as long as it’s Monday through Thursday.

My sister Rachel and my nephew Stephen drove down from Austin to visit.  We had a good time.  My nephew is a freshman at the University of Texas.  He’s doing well in school and I am quite proud of him.

We went to bed that night with a nice soft rain.  We slept well and woke refreshed and ready to resume our travels.

Next up, Houston!!

Commander Merlin takes her seat on the bridge

April 15th, 2010 The Great State of Texas!

The next morning we arose and started to leave our desert oasis.  We seriously debated taking a detour to go to Roswell NM and see Obama’s new space program at Area 51, but decided against it.

We instead continued our journey and went on to Texas.  We entered TX at El Paso and could see the Mexican border from the highway.  Gypsy took a picture of the border fence while we drove by it.  You can’t tell from the picture, but Mexico looked like a huge slum on the other side of the fence.  Sometimes I thought we had strayed into Mexico because of all the billboards in Spanish.

Later on we started to encounter plateaus in the desert.  On top of some of them were giant windmills like we had seen in CA.  CA had hundreds of them in Palm Springs and you could hear the electric wires humming as you drove by them.  The windmill tower was at least a couple hundred feet high and blades on these windmills were longer than our 37 ft RV.  I wonder how much electricity just one windmill generates?

We ended up in Fort Stockton TX and found a RV park that took our Passport America membership.  Parkview RV & Mobile Home Park was basically a muddy field (it had rained earlier) that had many long term residents staying there.  The problem with those types of sites is the long term residents are usually people who cannot afford anything more than a tiny 5th wheel as a home.  They are usually not very clean parks and can have some rough characters staying there.  We had stayed at this place on our way to CA and had forgotten what the place was like.  The only redeeming thing I can honestly say about the park was that they had excellent cable with a couple hundred channels.

The next morning I got up and took my shower.  Gypsy got in the shower and called out later that there was no water and she was covered in soap.  I went ahead and turned on internal pump so we could use the onboard water while I troubleshoot the problem.

I went outside and checked the connections to the RV park water line.  Everything was good, but I discovered the water was coming in at a trickle.  At that moment the owner drove up in a time beaten pickup truck and started giving me hell saying our connection had leaked all night.  I told him that things were good and tight the night before when I hooked up.  He said, “Can’t you see the ground under the water connection is wet?”  I replied, “Can’t you see the whole damn field is wet and muddy?”  He then told me that he turned the water back on.  I said we knew the water was off because Gypsy was caught in the shower when it came off and we would use our own water.  He apologized for cutting the water off and left.  I went ahead and got RV-103 ready to depart.  Before we left, we made sure we put a large X on their entry in the Passport America book.

April 14th, 2010 Night in the Desert

We continued through AZ after our adventure at the Rest Stop and entered NM.  We ended up staying at a RV park in Deming NM owned by Bowlin Travel Center right off I-10 for only $12.

This park is right in the middle of no mans land with nothing but desert all around.  The park is divided into three sections.  The first section had only two RV’s parked in it and the other two had none.  We moved RV-103 to an empty section to enjoy the privacy.  Most RV parks we have been to sandwich as many RV’s as possible, that sometimes you seem you are right on top of each other.  This was a nice break from that and we enjoyed it immensly.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was spend the night under the stars in the desert, and the night sky did not disappoint us.  They shined so brightly and the Milky Way was clearly visible.  We spent some time outside just sitting and enjoying the night sky.  We even saw a brief shooting star directly overhead.

Though we enjoyed the night sky very much, I think Gypsy got tired of me after awhile because I kept singing an old Eagles tune;

“I like the way the sparkling earrings lay against your skin so brown.  I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight with the stars all around.”

We slept in and then moved on the next day.

Danger Danger Will Robinson!!!

The one thing I don’t like about AZ is the fact that they have closed every rest stop on I-10 except for two.  I don’t know why AZ has closed so many rest stops.  It might be due to budget shortfalls, or as some signs said, “No water.”  No matter the reason or reasons, having only two rest stops for a 400 mile stretch is dangerous.

The first danger is the amount of traffic you encounter.  Typically you would encounter a few tractor trailers, RV’s, and maybe a dozen cars when entering and exiting a rest stop.  But, with so few rest stops, those few vehicles become many vehicles entering at highway speeds and exiting like a large scale hurricane evacuation.  The increased traffic and pedestrians walking back and forth from their vehicles or out walking their pets adds to the mayhem.

The second danger is the predators, the two legged kind.  The last rest stop before leaving AZ, we stopped to have some lunch.  As I pulled in, a man came running up to our RV calling for me to “come and see!”  He was very insistent and I wanted to get him away from our RV and Gypsy, so I pocketed my pistol and went to see what he wanted.

I exited the RV, after telling Gypsy to strap on a pistol and locking her safely inside.  I followed the man over to a tractor trailer where a small crowd was gathered.  Supposedly a trucker had won $100,000 at the nearby casino and was passing out cash.  I was quickly surrounded by four men, while the trucker flashed a huge wad of cash.  He quickly got out some cards and started to encourage us all to play some three card monty using his money.  One of the men bent the winning card to make it easy to win and the trucker tried to hand me a hundred dollar bill to play the game.  By that time my radar was screaming at full red alert and I refused to play.

I had noticed that the wad of cash consisted of three or four hundred dollar bills covering up a wad of twenties.  I also wondered why a trucker would be wasting time in a rest stop with 100 grand instead of parking the rig, calling a limo, and calling his boss and telling him to kiss his backside.  Also, the other men were way too enthusiastic about the “game” and were pushing me hard to play.  I knew they were in on it with him and every time a Class A RV would pull in, one of the men would trot over to try to bring the driver over.  The last straw was when the trucker started to ask me how much money I had on board and if I could back up my bets in case I lost.

I told him I wasn’t interested in playing and started to leave.  His friends started grabbing and pawing at me trying to keep me from leaving.  I told them once more I wasn’t interested in playing and they wouldn’t let up.  That’s when, for the first time in my life, I put my hand in my pocket and started to pull out my gun.  I knew that I was in serious trouble and needed to get away quickly.

I could tell it dawned on those guys right away that I had a pistol and before I could pull it out, they backed off and wished me a safe trip.  They had forgotten that many RV’ers have concealed carry licenses.  I backed away, never taking my hand out of my pocket, and returned to our RV.  We left shortly after that and I kept a eye out in the mirrors to ensure we weren’t being followed.  I put out word on the CB what was going on to warn other RV’ers that was considering stopping there.  Thankfully, no one followed us and we had no further trouble.  We found a truck stop and had our lunch there once we were out of AZ.

It was foolish of me to have gotten out of the RV.  Though I suspected trouble, I made a mistake.  Fortunately, I was able to correct that mistake and get us out of there without harm.  I won’t make that mistake again.

April 13th, 2010 Resumed our re-entry

Early the next morning, we resumed our journey back home.

We passed Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.  Edwards is the backup landing site for the Space Shuttle.  When the weather is too bad at KSC, the shuttle will always go to Edwards.  The first five flights of the Shuttle landed at Edwards due to its huge flat runways.  It’s hard to run off the runway when you have an entire desert as your runway.

When I worked at KSC, I had many co-workers tell me that I would have to “experience” Edwards once, but only once.  I now understand why.  It truly is in the middle of nowhere and I pity the person that is assigned to that base over a long period of time.

We proceeded onward and eventually exited CA into AZ.

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