The misadventures of Commander Merlin and the crew of RV-103
Saturday November 1st 2014

April 12th, 2010 RV-103 Starts Re-entry

Today we packed up RV-103 and started the long journey home to Florida.  We have been sitting in one spot for so long, that it took us a little longer than usual to get RV-103 ready to leave.  Usually, it takes us less than 30 minutes to pack up and get moving, but when you haven’t done it for a few months, you have to take your time and remember all the “little” things that are required.  So, it took us nearly an hour to get her ready to drive.

We decided to take a new way south through CA based on advice of a fellow RV’er named Art.  Art has turned out to be a wealth of information when it comes to finding good and interesting routes while exploring CA.  It was due to his directions and advice that we had such a fantastic day traveling to the Redwoods and we found his advice taking this new route out of CA to be just as valuable.

Instead of taking Interstate 5 south through CA, we took a parallel route south on SR 99.  We ended up cutting about 2 hours off our trip out of the state and got to see some new sites.  Many RV parks along SR 99, along with farms and orchards, not the dust bowel like you see on I-5.

We eventually left SR 99 and went east after passing Bakersfield CA.  We started to drive through the Mojave Desert.  I wasn’t too impressed with Mojave.  Because of the name and reputation, I expected the Mojave to be more impressive than the unnamed deserts we saw in NM and AZ, but it didn’t even come close.

We ended up spending the night at Sierra Trails RV Park (sorry, no website for them) in Mojave CA.  Using our Passport America membership, we were able to stay the night for only $13.25.  They even had a specific area for overnighters only that was easy to enter and exit.

Satellite TV: Part Two

If you recall, prior to RV-103 launching on her first mission, I looked into getting satellite TV without success.  You can find that story here.

Anyway, while here in CA, we had a neighbor in the campground for a few weeks that suggested a local company that specialized in RV’s for satellite TV.  That is how we ended up doing business with Sacramento Valley Satellite.

We spoke with Mr. Danny Curiel, the owner of the company, and found him quite reasonable.  He is the preferred satellite company of choice for Camping World here in the area.  I had sent him the link to my blog on our first experience trying to get satellite TV so he would be up to speed on what we were looking for.  And, surprise, he actually read it!  That gave me hope we finally would be dealing with someone who knew what they were doing.

Mr. Curiel went over the various packages with us and we chose Dish Network to be our provider and the Bronze plan with 100 channels and Bronze HD.  The price was to be about $40 per month with a 2 year contract.  He did talk us into getting a new dish that stood alone over the one we already had installed on the roof.  This dish stood on its own tripod and had sensors to locate three satellites at a time.  The cost for the dish was only about $45.

A technician named Jason came out the next day.  I found him to be a very professional and competent technician.  He got our system set up and showed me how to point the dish.  The best part was the fact that he gave me his cell number to call in case I had any problems.  This way I would not have to deal with the idiots at Dish Network wasting hours pressing numbers and talking to clueless technicians.  He also provided a hearing device that I put in-line with the cable to help locate the satellites.

The weather was supposed to turn bad shortly, and Jason left one last piece of advice; Get three tent stakes and stake down the dish so it wouldn’t get knocked over in the wind.  Unfortunately, I did not heed his advice right away.  After he had left, I went inside and had some lunch while enjoying our satellite TV.  Soon after, the TV screen went to snow, and then a message came up saying the receiver had lost the satellites.  I looked outside and sure enough, the dish was lying on its side.  The wind was blowing hard (how did I miss feeling the RV rocking?) and rain was coming down in sheets.

Cursing, I went out into the rain and set the dish back up.  I then walked over to the KOA camp store and bought three stakes.  Within 10 minutes I came back and the dish had blown over again.  I stood in the rain trying to tune in the satellites and only succeeded in locking on to one.  That would have to be good enough until the next day.

The next day the weather had cleared and we had beautiful skies and warmth again.  I went back out to try again to lock onto the satellites.  Another RV had parked beside ours that morning and the owner was outside trying to get his satellite dish aimed.  The RV belonged to an elderly couple who had been traveling full-time for nine years.  He told me that he had his dish for nine years and always had trouble trying to aim it.  We put our heads together to solve the problem and I quickly realized that he would be of no help when he couldn’t even determine which way was north on his compass.

You see, to aim my dish, I need to know three things; Where to point the dish in the sky or the degree, how high in the sky or the azimuth, and which way to tilt the dish sideways or the skew.  With Dish Network, you go into the menu, plug in your current zip code, and the menu provides you with the proper degree, azimuth, and skew.  You then move your dish to the proper azimuth and skew, locking the dish in place.  Then here comes the fun task of finding the degree.

To find the degree, you need a good compass that has the degrees marked on it.  You line up the degree markings on your compass with the “direction of travel” and then turn the compass until the needle lines up with the north marking on the dial.  Once the needle is lined up, you look where the “direction of travel” is and that is where you point your dish.  Note: you must keep the compass away from the RV and the dish for metal effects the compass and you will get a “false” north.

You then plug in the earpiece so you can hear the satellite tones.  You first turn the dish to the left of where you anticipate the first satellite will be and slowly sweep right listening for the tone to change to a higher pitch.  Once you hear the first pitch change, you keep sweeping right until you hear the second and third satellite.  Once you hear the third satellite, you sweep back left to the second satellite and stake down the tripod in place.

The elderly gentleman was once again out trying to point his dish.  I showed him where to point the dish, but he disagreed with me.  He thought the satellite numbers were the actual degrees and at one time actually had his dish pointed directly at his RV instead of the southeastern sky.  The satellite numbers are the names of the satellites and have nothing to do with the degrees here in CA.  I was looking for EchoStar 110, 119, and 129 at 153 degrees in the southeastern sky.

I left the gentleman to his search, and I went about finding my satellites.  After a few tries, I finally found them and staked the dish in place.  I then went inside to have the receiver start the search for the satellites and at first it worked and found all three.  Later on, it lost two of the satellites, and then later, it found only two.  Oh well, even though we had two satellites, we still have something to watch.  I placed a call out to Jason to ask him for advice, but knew I probably wouldn’t hear from him for a couple days due to the Easter weekend.

Jason called me back the next day and said to have Gypsy watch the signal strength on the TV and while I gently moved the dish back and forth with it still staked down.  Sure enough, we got all three satellites locked in and it was time to watch TV!  Well done Jason and I hope that Sacramento Valley Satellite gives you a raise.

Though we are pleased with the satellite installers, I am not so sure how pleased I am with Dish Network.  We are to have 100 channels plus HD.  Those channels are there, but there are many duplicates up and down the “dial” and the channel guide is cluttered with paid channels such as Movie channels, triple X channels, paid sport channels, and other useless channels we won’t pay for nor watch.  I set the channel guide to show only the channels we subscribed too, but Dish Network felt they needed to clutter up the guide with these other useless, paid channels.  I would suggest to Dish Network to take this clutter off the guide.

One  nice thing about our setup is if I am content to watch just one satellite, I can hook the receiver into our dish on the roof.

Three days later the elderly gentleman finally got his dish pointed correctly.  Unfortunately, it rained and a hard wind blew today.  We got some snowy reception, but never lost our lock, but his dish wasn’t staked down and it blew over.  I hope it doesn’t take him three days to get it pointed again.

One last thing, since we have a dish on a tripod, I can move the dish and receiver to our condo when we are in Florida and enjoy satellite TV there.  It truly is a portable system.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on What NASA Means to America’s Future

Mr. Tyson was speaking at the University of Buffalo recently when he was asked about Obama’s cancellation of our Human Space Flight program.  I truly wish I was as eloquent as he is when it comes to explaining why we need Human Space Flight as a nation.

Please take 4 minutes of your time and watch the video.  Feel free to pass it on and don’t forget to ask your Senators and Congressmen if they support Constellation and NASA, and if no, why not.  If they say yes, ask them how their actions as legislators back up that support.  Don’t let them get off the hook by saying easy things such as “I support the space program!”  Ask for, demand for what specific actions they have taken to protect America’s most productive crown jewel.

Mr. Tyson’s biography can be found here.

That’s My Girl!!! Fly Baby Fly!!!

Early Easter Morning Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lit up the pre-dawn sky from Launch Complex 39A.  She was the first ship I got to work on when I was employed by United Space Alliance and is what RV-103 is named after.

From the NASAwebsite:

Discovery Lifts off

An exhaust cloud billowed around Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as space shuttle Discovery lifted off to begin the STS-131 mission. The seven-member crew will deliver the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, filled with supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the International Space Station’s laboratories. The crew also will switch out a gyroscope on the station’s truss, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior.

Image Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tom Farrar

Well done United Space Alliance and the OPF 3 crew!

Below is a picture of me with Discovery when I worked there.  She’s a beautiful and extraordinary ship and I am very blessed to have worked on her and to have had the priviledge to work side by side with the Thermal Protection Team at OPF 3.

If you want to see the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Discovery as it flies over your home, go to this NASA site to find out the times and where to look in the sky.  You will find it an impressive sight and you can see them with your naked eye though they are 250 miles up!

The night before Discovery's STS 114 launch

There are only 3 shuttle missions left before our Shuttle Program and our entire American Human Space Flight Program is over for good. (Please see my past post about Obama shutting down our United States Human Space Flight Program)

Obama is visiting Kennedy Space Center on April 15th for a “Space Summit” and of course at this time not inviting any of Brevard’s Congressmen, local leaders, or the workers.  It is my sincere hope that the KSC workers, their families, and all the communities in Brevard and Florida line the roadways leading into the meeting site by the thousands and let Obama and his cronies know just how they feel about his killing America’s Human Space Flight Program.  Be seen and be heard folks!

Credit: Florida Today

I Got the Post Office Blues

While I was at the Jelly Belly factory, I picked up some jelly beans for my mother’s birthday.  I at first looked into the factory shipping her present, but they wanted more money than what I had paid for the actual product.  I felt I could do better and took her gift home with me.

One thing I can say truthfully is that we have never seen a Post Office in our area since we got here last January.  I have told Gypsy many times that I was going to follow a Post Office truck all over until it led me to an actual Post Office, but never went through with it.  That’s probably the wise thing since lately our government seems to think everyone is a terrorist and probably would send a SWAT team after me for wanting to find their secret base called the local Post Office.

Anyway, there is in Shingle Springs, is a store called The UPS Store.  I went there and was waited on by a young lady who gleefully told me that to send my package via Priority Mail; it would cost me $18!  That was more than the Jelly Belly factory wanted and I thought they were overpriced!  Not wanting to deal with the Post Office SWAT team, I reluctantly agreed to the price and was reassured that the package would arrive in two business days since it was Priority Mail.  That was on a Saturday.

The next Friday, I called my mother and my father answered the phone.  He said that the package had not come.  It had been seven days and though the Post Office is slow, especially the guys in CA, I have never seen them take seven days to deliver a two day Priority mail.  Since I was on the road at that time, I stopped by The UPS Store in Shingle Springs and inquired if my package was shipped or not or if the staff had eaten my mother’s jelly beans.

The girl that waited on me was not there, but the manager “helped” me.  I use the word “help” in quotes for I felt I got no help and found that the woman’s attitude was of one that did not want to “help.”  They said they had no way of tracking my package, which is true, and she could not confirm they shipped it, but was “pretty sure” they did.  She also gave me the impression that she didn’t like the fact I chose to use Priority Mail instead of the much more expensive UPS.  She also said she could not help me further without my receipt, though she pulled up all the information of our transaction on her computer.

Frustrated, I went home to find the damn receipt.  It was gone.  I had already thrown it away.

The following Monday, 10 days after my two day Priority Mail package had been sent, my mother called to let me know it had come and to thank me for it.  She had also commented on how expensive it was to ship.  I asked her how she knew how much I had paid and she said the postage label showed I had sent it regular mail for $9.50.

$9.50????  Regular mail????  So what happened to my Priority Mail and what happened to the other $9?  I know what will happen to my future business with The UPS Store, it will not happen.  From now on I will risk the Postal SWAT team and follow a Postman to the Post Office.

Inside OPF 3, the Home of OV-103 Discovery

I have a treat for you all.  Astronaut Mike Massimino recently took a video camera into my old work place, Orbiter Processing Facility 3 at Kennedy Space Center.  In the video you will see a few of my former co-workers of United Space Alliance preparing Shuttle Discovery of Mission STS-131, the next to last mission for Discovery.  These are the people who make the shuttle fly and make the astronauts look good.

Good people and I am proud to have had worked with them.  They deserve much better than what Obama and Congress is doing to them now.  Please say a prayer for these wonderful folks.  They will all be unemployed in less than a year and our entire Human Space Flight Program will end for our country.

Now, enjoy the video!

03-25-2010 Seeing Nature on a Grand Scale!

When I was a young boy in grade school, I remember reading about the giant Redwoods that grew in California.  I’ve always wanted to see them and since we were here I wasn’t about to pass this opportunity up.  Though the nearest Redwoods were 4 ½ hour’s drive away, we got up early and took a drive there.  It turned out to be an exceptional day and one of our best here in CA.

The long drive took us over two lane country roads most of the way and we weren’t disappointed by the view.  We saw wild turkeys, elk, bison, and even Big Foot!

After leaving the interstate and farmland, we started to climb into the mountains that line the Pacific coast.  We first saw wild elk just grazing off the side of the road.  The dominant male stayed up on the hillside, but kept a watchful eye on us while we took pictures.  I had never seen an elk before except on TV and was amazed at the size of them.  They make our northeastern deer appear so small.  My first experience with elk was when our professional associate, Blossom, shared some of her elk steaks with us that she had successfully hunted and killed.  Yes, she’s a deadly Blossom, and knows how to use a gun.  Sarah Palin would be proud of her.  I know Gypsy and I enjoyed cooking up the steaks she gave us and am looking forward to more of them in the future.

During our drive we came across many wild turkeys and some deer.  Both groups of animals moved too quickly out of site for me to get a picture.  The turkey seem smaller than the ones I’ve seen in the northeast but much more prevalent.  The deer are the same size as their northeast cousins with a darker colored hide.

We passed a Bison Ranch in Ukiah CA that had a sizeable herd of Bison.  The main bull was easily the size of our SUV and couldn’t care less about us taking his picture.  He was too busy relaxing to take notice of us.  The other bison we took pictures of were smaller, yet still larger than cows, and about 10 months old.  We stopped on our way back and bought two large steaks to grill later on.  My mouth is still watering at the thought of grilling those babies!

We passed a large lake that encompassed literally miles of area.  It was called Clear Lake and reminded me of Tappan Lake in Ohio that I used to swim in as a boy, but this one was bigger.

We finally arrived in Redwood country and first stopped at the Drive Thru Tree in Legget CA.  The Redwood is called the Chandelier Tree and is 315 feet tall, 21 feet in diameter, and over 2,400 years old (The tree was a sapling a good 400 years before Christ was born).  Gypsy drove the SUV through the tree with ease while I took pictures.  The height and size was incredible and we knew that this one was one of the “smaller” ones.  They had a tree that had been cut down and hollowed out and I could stand inside of it with plenty of head room.  It was about the same diameter as the engine bell on the Space Shuttle Main Engine.

The first time you let Gypsy drive and she goes right through a tree!

The record Redwood is nearly 400 feet tall and as big around as a Saturn Moon Rocket.  The VAB at KSC is 500 feet tall and grant that tree another 500 years and it could probably match the VAB’s height.  I believe that tree is nearly 3,000 years old matching the pyramids of Egypt.

We next drove to the Richardson Grove State Park and got to walk in the groves of Redwoods there.  The ground was covered in compost from the forest waste from the trees and very wet.  The topsoil was deep, dark, and very rich for growth.  Redwoods can only grow in the Pacific coast area due to the cool moisture that comes off the Pacific Ocean.  The forest gets on average, about 5 feet of rain each year, and will give off its own “fog” as water vapor, that it eventually recaptures and reuses.

The grove we walked through was like a primeval cathedral.  You could just feel the ancient age of the place and almost expect some prehistoric creature to come out from behind a tree.  The trees had branches that were as big as the biggest maples I’ve seen before and those branches had actual decomposed soil on them and actual trees growing in that soil many feet up above us.  They say a single Redwood can support a whole ecosystem and I believe it.

Redwood Cathedral

Some of the trees have opening at their base and the old settlers called them “goose pens” because they would actually keep their geese in there to prevent them from wandering off or being preyed upon.  I could step inside one and still have enough room to lie down if I wanted.

Many of the trees had scorch marks on their base.  When a forest fire comes through, they will scorch the trees, but can’t kill them.  Redwood seeds are designed to sprout only after they have been burned removing the tough outer coating.  Redwood seeds are only the size of olives.

We left the Redwood grove and started to make our way to the coast.  That was when we came across a tree house that was on the ground.  One enterprising shopkeeper made his shop inside a living redwood tree.

Another shop owner did chainsaw figurines made out of redwood trunks and that is how we saw Bigfoot.

We proceeded onto CA Route One and had one of the most twisting rides we have ever experienced.  The road climbed quite high and then descended and then ascended once again, meanwhile switching back and forth on its self many times over and over.  I was glad we were in the SUV and not the RV for this part of the drive.

Suddenly, we popped out of the mountains and woods and there was the Pacific Ocean in all her wild glory!  It was a beautiful sight and we were overlooking the ocean from a cliff top about 200 feet up. Large rocks were at the base, some with holes eroded by the waves big enough to sail a ship through, but you wouldn’t since the waves were about 20-30 feet high.

The coastal highway wound across the entire coast high up on a cliff with an occasional side route that would give you access to the black sand beaches.  The beaches had many tidal pools and rock formations, including one large cave.  The pictures on the website just can’t do it justice.  You can tell the Pacific is a much older ocean than the Atlantic and much bigger.

All along the road you came across signs warning you that the area was in a tsunami hazard zone.  That makes sense since this entire coast is part of the “ring of fire” that surrounds the Pacific.

We returned home late that evening happily checking off multiple items from our “bucket list.”  It was a good day and even better day because I got to share it with Gypsy.

03-14-2010 It was a “Vice” Day

Today was a nice day for a vice day.  We started out with some wine tasting in the local vineyards.  We with the vineyard within walking distance from our campsite called Mining Camp Winery in Shingle Springs CA.  I think it was a “ghost” winery because though the tasting room was open, no one was there.  We called out and looked around, but not a soul could be found.  That’s a shame for the owner is a former Chemist/Engineer from the Space Shuttle program.  We will go back another day and hopefully find someone there.  We helped ourselves to their business card and moved on to the next one.

We finally found a human being at the Fenton Herriott Vineyards.  We were waited on by a very pleasant lady named Debbie.  The wines were decent, but the one that actually tantalized our palette was their port.  A bit expensive, but wonderful tasting.  We bought a bottle, wished Debbie a good day, and moved on to the next winery on our list.

We finished our wine tasting for the day at the Madrona Vineyards.  The reason we finished there was because they had so many wines to taste and we knew that if we went to another winery afterwards, we would be in violation of the local DUI laws.  I think we tasted nearly 15 wines and ports.  Though Madrona was unexpectedly pricey, the wines were good.  We were first served by the retired owner, and then two other servers.  The staff was very knowledgeable and but very busy.  We ended up buying over $100 worth of wine.

Now for the next vice: gambling!

After our poor experience at Redhawk Casino, we took the advice of the locals and tried out Thunder Valley Casino.  We walked in with $100.  My first $20 lasted for over 2 hours and at one time I was ahead $70.  They had our favorite slots, the Monopoly slot machines, and we had a great time.  We stayed for over 5 hours playing the slots and walked away with a $60 profit.  The only disagreeable thing I could say about the casino was the restaurants.  We got coffee at Starbucks inside the casino and dinner from Panda Express.  The Starbucks staff had trouble getting our order correct (and never did get it right!) and the food at Panda Express was horrid.  I had assumed that the restaurants would be of the same quality as the casino and was disappointed that they weren’t.  Anyway, our overall experience at the casino was good and we plan on going back again before we leave CA, but we will eat beforehand.

Jelly Belly

Last week we went to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield CA.  This company was founded by two brothers who had emigrated from Germany in 1867.  By 1869, they had bought an old ice cream and candy store and that began a 141 year company that is still owned and ran by their descendants.  They were the first company to invent and make candy corn, a stable of Halloween, and in my opinion the best candy corn I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.  Though the candy corn is great, their main focus is Jelly Beans.

In the 1970’s, Governor Reagan wrote to Jelly Belly and informed them that could not get any business done during their meetings until a jar of their jelly beans had been passed around.  This began a relationship between the company and Ronald Reagan that lasted until his death.  After Ronald Reagan became the President of the United States in 1981, and the White House press corps learned of his affection for Jelly Belly black jelly beans, the company was so overwhelmed with orders that they ended up with a yearlong backlog.

When we started the factory tour, they first issued paper hats with the Jelly Belly logo.  We then saw a short historical movie of the business and then went to the factory.  We first stopped and had our picture taken with the Jelly Belly mascot, then it was off to see the workers making the sugary treat.  We were not allowed to take any photos while on the tour, but I was impressed with the robotics that they used to do nearly everything thing from sort, package, mix, and label their products.  They even had a Jelly Belly mascot dressed in western gear riding one of the robots as it sorted packages for shipment, taking the time out to hold a welcoming sign for us. Even with the robotics, the final stages of adding the sugary coat to the “beans” are done by human hand.  The tour guide told us that they have about 400 employees company wide, and I observed about 50-60 actual floor factory workers.  The last step before packaging is when a robot draws the Jelly Belly logo on every small jelly bean.

Jelly Belly goes through thousands of pounds of sugar each day.  They have large bags of sugar that are canvas and can hold over 500 lbs.  The jelly bean making process takes almost an entire week and they have hundreds of flavors.  We tried different kinds, and the attention to flavor is superb.  For example, we tried one called 7-Up after the well known soft drink.  When you bit into it, you truly tasted 7-Up as if you had just drank it from the bottle.

The tour was nice, but I would have liked to have seen some more interaction with the tourists such as letting us “help” make some jelly beans, and a more detailed explanation on their robotics.  Of course, that’s just the geek in me I guess.  Maybe I’m just spoiled by the type of tours you can go to in FL.  Anyway, we would walk an observation walkway that went over the factory floor, stopping from time to time to see a short video, and taste some samples the guide would pass out.

After the tour was over, you exited out into their store.  You could sample more of their jelly bean flavors and other candies they sold.  You could also of course purchase their products for your own use or to have shipped to friends or family.  One product they had were the rejects.  These were jelly beans that either were too mis-shapened, too big, or too small for their quality control and they called them “belly flops.”  We purchased some black jelly beans for Gypsy, candy corn for me, and some excellent chocolates for us both.

After the tour, the picture they took of us at the beginning of the tour was offered to us for an unusually expensive price of nearly $25.  Far too high!  We instead took some pics of the Jelly Belly mascot in various posters on the wall.  Of course, I had to find and get a picture of the Jelly Belly mascot in the NASA outfit.  It was fitting since Gypsy and I both agree their jelly beans are “out of this world.”

Good Podcast on RV Buying

Jack Spirko, of The Survival Podcast, did a good show on his experiences in buying an RV.  You can find the podcast at his website.

Now A Word From Our Sponsor…

The purpose of our web site is to keep our family and friends informed of our misadventures in full time RVing.  We have been quite surprised at how much it has grown and the number of non-family that now read it each week from all over the world.

We never meant for the site to be commercial and had not considered seeking out sponsors.  Anything we have reviewed on our site has been items we have had personal experience with and we have been honest about the pros and cons of those items.

Recently, we had three companies inquire about sponsoring our site.  We have not done any business with these companies nor heard of them before.  We felt it might be a good time to address this issue and we may have to start thinking about the possibility someday of taking on sponsors if these inquiries continue.

If that does happen we will be setting some ground rules.  First of all, we will not accept a sponsor that we have not personally done business with and can honestly recommend their product.  After all, it is our reputation and good name.  We would not want to mislead anyone reading our blog and have them pay good money for something we wouldn’t use ourselves.  Second, it is OUR site and not the sponsors.  We will not allow any sponsor to dictate what we post or do with our site

If we never get any sponsors, that’s fine with us.  If we do get sponsors that follow our ground rule, well that’s just icing on the cake.  As said before, this is a website made to keep our family and friends updated on our misadventures.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Be safe and well.

Commander Merlin and the Crew of RV-103

A Fantastic, Unimportant Announcement!

As I said in earlier posts, California has had quite a lot of rain lately.  Though we had a week of sunshine recently, we are back into the rain again nearly every day.  I understand that California has had a drought for the last three years, but it is not good luck for us that nature has decided the drought needed to end during our visit.

Anyway, what do you do when it rains every day?  Watch movies, read books, work on our research, but after awhile that gets old.  We needed something else to “stimulate” our intellect.  Thank goodness for Wii!

The last two months we have been playing Super Mario on our Wii game system and I am proud to anounce that last night, we finished the last level and conquered Bowser in his castle.  There was great celebration throughout RV-103 and even Commander Merlin joined in doing cartwheels down the hall.

Gypsy, aka Luigi, and I (Mario) went through a few thousand lives before this momentous occasion, but it was worth it.  The great Bowser is defeated and the princess is free!  Now I can use the Wii to kill zombies…woohoo!

Gypsy wearing her Luigi costume

Update:  Gypsy has informed me that the zombies may have to wait while we set up our exercise routine on our Wii fitness board.  I appealed to Commander Merlin but she says she expects her crew to be physically fit and in tip top shape.

Sigh…

03-04-10 Did We Go To The Casino?

Gypsy and I enjoy going to the casinos to have an evening out and maybe win some money.  We aren’t big gamblers by a long shot.  We would usually play the nickel and quarter slots.  Monopoly is our favorite slot machine.  We have gotten pretty good at making $50 last for 3-4 hours and many times walk out with that same $50.  Not too bad if you think about it.  Free drinks and low cost food and still have our money in our pocket.

We thought we would spend the evening today doing our casino thing.  We had never been to any casinos in California before and were looking forward to checking them out.  We went to a nearby one called Red Hawk Casino just outside of Sacramento.

I have to say that Gypsy and I found the staff at Red Hawk one of the friendliest and polite staffs we had ever encountered at a casino.  We were greeted and wished luck by every staff member we encountered which seemed to occur about every ten steps we took.  The place was clean and surprisingly the volume and din of the slot machines were actually low.   Most casinos you go to, you have to shout at each other over the bells and such just to be heard.  This place was like a quiet church service compared to other places.

We found our favorite Monopoly game and it was just a 2 cent game!  Two machines were vacant and we planted ourselves down to enjoy the game for the next few hours.  With low price games like this, you can choose how many twisted and convoluted lines you want covered.  Example, on this game, I could choose to have 9 different lines covered and it would only cost me 18 cents per play.  I actually started out covering 20 lines and was paying 40 cents per play.

Right away I found something about this machine I didn’t like.  You would spin and one of the lines would be a “winner.”  It would cost me 40 cents for that play and that one line would win me 30 cents.  Hmmm….doesn’t that mean I still lost 10 cents?  Yep, my total showing on the machine verified it.  So, you begin to wonder if the machine is thinking about running for Congress or President.  Those are the only ones I know that would tell you that a negative was a positive and say it with a straight face.

Anyway, as I said before, we had settled down to play for 3-4 hours like we always had in the past.  In just 45 minutes I realized our $100 we brought to gamble, drink, and eat with was already gone and it had all went into the bowels of those infernal 2 cent machines.  We were broke!  What else was there to do but to leave?

As we went out the door, the friendly staff wished us a great evening acting as though it was the norm for their customers to stay for such a short time.  We walked out to our car, got in, and then looked at each other in surprised confusion and asked each other at the same time, “Did we go to the casino?”

It would have been cheaper if we had stayed home, ordered pizza, and watched a movie.  Sheesh!

Brother can you spare a dime? I just came back from Red Hawk Casino.

Next up…Wii!!

02-18-10 What Day Is It?

Prior to our shakedown cruise, Gypsy and I were shopping in the local Camping World and saw an odd clock that marked the days of the week, not the time as usual clocks do.  They are called…get this…Day Clocks.  We both laughed at it and talked about how we had seen similar things at nursing homes before.

When you first walk into a nursing home you usually see a white chalk board that tells the residents what day it is, the weather outside, and where they are.  To see a clock that tracked only the days of the week being sold to RV’ers was odd and funny to us.  Why would they sell a clock like this in a RV place?  Senile dementia is not something you come across in the RV lifestyle.  Those marketing guys sure missed the boat on this product.  I bet that Camping World has a surplus of those day clocks that they can’t sell.  Hahaha

Well, over four months later we aren’t laughing.  Our most common question we now ask each other is, “What day is it?”  When you aren’t getting up every day to go to work, you find that you tend to lose track of the days.  I don’t know how many times we would go to the bank to do some business inside the bank and find out they are closed because it’s Sunday.  “Sunday?”, we would ask each other, “How could it be Sunday?  Wasn’t it Wednesday?”

I am beginning to think that those marketing guys in the Camping World weren’t so dumb after all.

Next up…Did we go to the casino?

02-13-10 Gold Panning at Sutter’s Mill

Today we went gold panning at Sutter’s Mill.  Sutter’s Mill is on the south fork of the American River that carries the melt water from the snows of the Sierra Mountains to the Pacific.  Sutter’s Mill is the site of the first gold discovery sparking the 1849 gold rush. (How else did you think the San Francisco 49’ers got their name?)

American River South Fork

The area at the mill is just beautiful.  The mill sits right on the bank of the river with the foothills of the Sierras on the other side doing their steady rising march towards the snow capped mountains.

The mill is a saw mill.  A paddlewheel at the bottom powers the long saw blade causing it to rise and fall in a vertical motion while the lumber would have been slid into the blade.  A replica of the mill, built on the original site, is located at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park.

In 1848 James Marshall, foreman of the mill, found flecks of gold in the tailrace of the saw mill.  He shared his discovery with his boss, John Sutter, and they tried to keep their discovery secret with no luck.  San Francisco went from a sleepy little town to a large boom town with literally hundreds of thousands of people arriving in CA from all over the world.  CA population prior to the 1849 gold rush was little over 14,000 people.  The gold rush caused CA to become a new state of these United States in record time compared to other states who applied to join the union.

Gypsy and I spent a couple days panning.  We also found the gold flakes that Marshall had found quite easily.  It wasn’t hard to find, but the flakes are so small it would take many days of panning morning to night to gather enough to make any money.  We also found one nugget, but it is so small you have to squint to see it.  Even so, we had a wonderful time and enjoyed the scenery and touching a part of our nation’s history.  I even spent some time teaching some children that had come with their parents how to pan for gold.

The American River is also a popular white water rafting spot.  Many times we saw rafters float by in the larger rafts and small kayaks.   I hope to do that before we leave CA, but it will depend on our schedule.  If not, I will be sure to do it when we return to CA this fall.  Gypsy says she doesn’t want to white water raft, but I’m certain I can convince Commander Merlin to come along.

Though there are many things to see and do at the park, there are two cons I should warn you about.  The park charges $8 per car to stay there to pan or tour the museum.  Also, since the gold panning area is a public area, it has been pretty much panned out for that area of the river.  You cannot dig to look for gold, just pan surface material of the creek and the immediate bank.  Keep that in mind if you decide to visit.  This is a place to have fun panning and learn about history, not to do serious panning or prospecting.

Next up…What day is it?

My Father’s Blog

If you’re looking for some funny reading, I would recommend my father’s blog.  He has been describing life as a child on the farm and some family history.  He practices what he was taught by an older Uncle; don’t let irrelevant details get in the way of a good story.

He is a far more talented writer than I am.  His blog can be found at here.

Enjoy!

Next up: Gold Panning with the 49er’s!

02-02-10 Propane! I need more Propane!

Though the temperatures here in CA are actually currently warmer than it is in FL, it still does get a bit chilly at night.  That means we need to run our propane furnace at night.  Propane not only runs our furnace, but our refrigerator and hot water tank.  Even though we have a large tank built into the RV, eventually it does run out.

Refilling a propane tank in a Class A motor home requires moving the entire RV to a refueling station.  You have to repack everything and secure it in the RV, pull in the slide outs, disconnect the sewer, electric, and water, and then drive to the refueling area which fortunately is just a few hundred feet away.  Then after refueling, it’s back to the campsite and setting up the RV again.  The whole show takes about 1 hour and far too much trouble in my opinion.

The manager, John, at Placerville KOA showed me a wonderful solution.  It’s a product sold by camping world called “Stay A While.”  Basically it is a Tee fitting that you attach inline to your propane system.  It has two connections extending outward, one for an extra propane device that can be attached such as an indoor heater, outside grill, etc.  The other hose connects to a supplemental propane tank.  It’s a bit pricey at $80 or $90 if your not a Camping World member, but has paid for its self already in convenience.

Stay A While

I can now buy an extra propane tank, hook it up to the Stay A While, and run the RV off that tank without using my main tank.  When the extra tank is empty, I just carry it up to the refueling station, have it refilled, and come back and hook it up again.  Total time is about 10 minutes and I don’t have to move the RV.

One tip about the product I should warn folks about.  Use propane tape when hooking up the connections.  The tape is similar to plumbers tape, but designed specifically for propane connections.  Also, make sure you have the proper tools.  I have an extensive tool bag with me, but one hookup required a 7/8th open ended wrench which I did not have.  John loaned me his wrench and the next day I bought my own from the hardware store.

One other thing, John, the manger of the campsite is a retired contractor from the space program.  He worked on Apollo, the moon buggy, and Columbia.  Good man and he runs the Placerville KOA campground well.

01-31-10 Sutter Gold Mine

Sutter Gold Mine

We spent the day today at Sutter Gold Mine.  It is a functioning gold mine, but sections of it are open to public tours.  Gold is found inside the mine in veins of crystal that can be up to 8 feet wide.  The crystal was left over from seawater that flowed in the rock bed when CA was underwater far in the past.  Gold miners call it “following the flow” because of how the water used to flow through the cracks in the bed rock in the weak areas like an underground river.

Old Mine Entrance

The original mine opening was just a hole in the ground.  The early miners couldn’t get very far due to running into a super hard rock called “Green Stone.”  When the mine was reopened using modern mining tools, they found over ¼ million dollars worth of gold behind the green stone.  In order to prevent the miners from “helping themselves” they make sure the miners are paid very well.  This makes them less likely to risk their job for a few nuggets of gold.

Mines are usually found by panning in streams and rivers.  You keep going upstream until you can’t find any more gold.  That gives you the starting point where the gold is being eroded into the streams and a strong possibility that there is un-eroded gold under the ground.

They did show us some gold imbedded in the crystal in the ceiling above.  Of course the ceiling was about 4 feet higher than I could reach.  I tried to convince Gypsy to let me stand on her shoulders, but she muttered something about she wasn’t letting some bald fat man use her as walking stilts in some greedy carnival act.

Can you see the gold nugget in the crystal?

We went as far as 500 feet underground.  To give you an idea how deep that is, if you have ever seen the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center, it is 500 feet high.

Next up…propane problems and solutions.

Endeavour is Safely Home

Courtesy of www.Flatoday.com

Endeavour landed safely at Kennedy Space Center at 10:20 pm EST.

The crew installed the last major piece of the International Space Station.

Only 4 more shuttle launches until Obama kills our Human Space Flight Program.

Well done to the crew, the contractors, and my friends in TPS at KSC.

01-27-10 Sunshine!!

Today, it stopped raining.  I knew it was too quiet.  No thunderous pitter patter on the roof, a strange bright light flooding through the windows, and it was warming up quite nicely.  In fact, from this day to late-February it was to be actually warmer than it was in our home area of central Florida.  To my family and friends in central Florida, thanks!

While driving about, I stopped and took a picture of the distant Sierra Nevada mountains.  The mountains are still covered in a beautiful white top coat.  They are about 60-70 miles from my location.

You Know You Are In California

You know you are in California…

  • When you hear marijuana shops advertizing on the radio.
  • When the traffic report says rush hour at an intersection is being blocked by panhandlers.
  • When you meet someone on a professional level and their name is “Blossom.”

01-08-10 to 01-26-10 Where is the California Sunshine?

The Beach Boys used to sing about the California Sunshine and I am beginning to think it is just a myth.  For the last 18 days it has rained nearly every day.  And the wind!  Storm after storm coming off the Pacific has brought winds that would gust up 50 mph.  I would be lying on the couch and a huge gust would hit that would nearly make me fall overboard.   It was like going through a tropical storm in Florida, but it would last for weeks instead of hours.

Poor Commander Merlin would try to walk down the hall, while the RV rocked back and forth in the wind gusts, like a drunken sailor.  (Of course, I can’t be sure if she’s been sampling the stash in our liquor cabinet or not.  She keeps refusing to take a breathalyzer and refuses to explain the sudden shortages.) The rain would come down so hard sometimes that it was difficult to hear the TV or each other.  So much water was accumulating in the RV park that I was about to hire a contractor to drill holes into the sides of the RV to accommodate oars and install pontoons on the sides.

There was so much rain that huge trees were falling over due to the saturated ground.  The weatherman described it like a loose tooth.  You wiggle it back and forth until it finally comes out.  With the ground being so saturated and the wind moving the trees back and forth day after day, many 60-100 year old trees were coming down.

30 miles away is the Sierra Nevadas and they got snow instead of rain…over 10 feet and still counting.  No one is allowed to drive up there unless they put chains on their vehicles.  Since Donner Pass is nearby in the mountains, I don’t want to risk getting eaten if we get snow bound.  We will stay here and keep building our ark.

The locals tell us that it is just the rainy season and will pass by the end of the month.  I sure hope so because if it doesn’t end soon, the only thing that will have their heads above water here will be the ducks and geese that stay in the park.

Next up…Sunshine!

Off Topic, but Important

Though this is a blog chronicling the misadventures of the crew of RV-103, many of you know I am retired from Kennedy Space Center and Human Space Flight is near and dear to my heart.  A major event recently occurred that I want to comment on.  It is not a launch, but something bigger, the deliberate ending of 50 years of America’s Human Space Flight Program.

On 1-27-10 the Orlando Sentinel broke the story that the Obama Administration was going to cancel the Constellation Program.  Constellation is the successor program to the Shuttle Program which is ending in September.  In place of Constellation, Obama is proposing an unspecified plan that is supposed to be “superior” and will supposedly be flying to unspecified locations sometime after 2020, ten years or more from now.  Obama even had the audacity to announce this cancellation of our Human Space Flight Program during the anniversary week of the loss of Apollo One, Challenger, and Columbia.  I guess choosing  this week is appropriate since we can now add the loss of America’s Human Space Flight to this sad and sober anniversary.

Constellation was to be the successor for the Shuttle Program.  After the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, President Bush ordered that the Shuttle Program be shut down after the International Space Station was finally completed in 2010.

The new goal for Constellation and NASA was to transport astronauts back to the Moon, to build a base there, and teach us how to live on another world before we made the bigger leap to Mars.  Constellation was to be the program that would sustain our Human Space Flight for these United States for the next 50 years.

When the democrats took power in Congress shortly afterwards, Constellation was hampered with inadequate funding year after year.  NASA had to try to develop Constellation and fly the remaining shuttle missions with a limited budget.  To give you an idea how limited that budget was, in 2009, Congress gave General Motors a bailout to get them through a 3 month period.  The amount given to GM exceeded an entire year of NASA’s budget.

Despite the inadequate funding, NASA was able to develop Constellation.  After 6 years and 9 billion dollars invested by the taxpayers,  hardware has been built, workers are assigned to the program from nearly all nine NASA centers, and ground support equipment has been built including the launch facilities at Pad B, the launch tower, and a Launch Control Center.  There was and still is actual hardware and workers that are making Constellation come into being.  In October of 2009, Constellation had their first successful launch of the Ares I rocket.  The day after the announcement that Constellation was to be cancelled, workers had just attached the final piece of the new launch gantry.

Ares I Launch Gantry Completed

An upset worker on the project took the initiative to post this Craig’s List ad that ran for a day before NASA had it flagged for removal.

Posted on Craig's List after Obama Canceled Constellation

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama came to Titusville Florida, and looked the KSC workers and their families’ right in the eye promising that he would continue Constellation.  He lied of course so he could win Florida in the election.

When Obama won the election, I told my co-workers that he would cancel Constellation and replace it with a program that would exist only on paper and PowerPoint.  The media would fawn over how “brilliant” and “farseeing” Obama’s new program would be, but as like any space program that exists only on paper, it is only science fiction.  My prediction turned out to be true.  Obama has ended America’s Human Space Flight program that has existed for 50 years and ceded leadership in space to the Russians and the Chinese.

Some complain that NASA’s budget could do better buying more school lunches or some other social program.  How much did NASA cost the taxpayer?  Several billion each year, but if you break it down to actual taxpayer cost, it was 1/6 of one cent of every taxpayer dollar.  Compare that to the Social Welfare programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security which takes up over 50 cents of the taxpayer dollar.  Considering all the technological spinoffs that NASA has spawned over the last 50 years, which program do you think gave the American taxpayer a better return?

Some say that NASA is nothing but a government welfare system.  My idea of a welfare recipient is someone without an education, no job nor inclined to get a job, a single parent usually with multiple children by multiple fathers, laying on the couch all day eating potato chips while watching Jerry Springer, and meeting with their crack dealer later in the evening.

NASA and their contractors work for the American taxpayer.  They punch a clock every day, performed their assigned tasks, and pay their taxes.  These are productive members of our society and these ordinary people do extraordinary things by designing, building, and launching spacecraft and people.  Their work is to take care of and grow one of the most productive crown jewels of these United States of America.  These are not welfare people, but workers who produce for the American People.

There is a cost to our nation for this deliberate destruction of our Human Space Flight Program.  As Keith Vauqelin once said, “I am convinced of the fact that when societies and civilizations retreat from exploration, they die.”  The Human Space Flight Program is one of the prominent crown jewels of these United States and unlike a monument, a productive crown jewel.  The spin offs from the program have both directly and indirectly benefited our society in countless ways from technology, to health care, etc.

I always envisioned that the Constellation Program would spin off many new things, for example, cheap durable housing/shelters from learning to live on the Moon.  Can you imagine the Haiti earthquake and their current plea for tents, fabric that will barely shelter someone from the elements, instead had an aircraft carrier from the USA show up with cheap, durable shelters spun off the Moon program to house the homeless?  Shelters that could withstand solar radiation, storms, temperature extremes of -200 F to 200 F, etc, let alone the normal elements?  That could have very well happened in some future disaster because of our investment in Human Space Flight.

How many of you know that currently we have 6 astronauts/cosmonauts and scientists flying above in the International Space Station?  How many know that this facility is considered a world class research facility and not just a “space station?”  How many of you know it has been occupied for over 10 years?

To lose our Human Space Flight Program is harmful to our nation and a good example of our current Congress and President’s methodical destruction of our country’s infrastructure and Constitutional Republic.  They are, in my opinion, working very hard to bring a return to the days of the Lords and serfs.

Another cost to our nation is the eventual loss of our  100 billion dollar space station to the Russians.  We have paid for the majority of this station and now we will be giving it away.  We will be dependent on the Russians for a ride to the station and already they are saying they will be raising the price to over 50 million dollars per ride.  Expect more price increases, charging of rent for us to stay on our own station, and the possible denial of a ride and therefore denial of our space station.

Why would they want to give us a ride?  They may ask that question some day in the near future.  It’s like giving the key to your home to a competitor, throwing away your car, and asking him to give you a ride home 250 miles everyday.  Eventually your competitor could leave you stranded 250 miles from home and help himself to your house.  Keep in mind that only Russia and China will have access to space after September and historically they have not been our friends.

The human cost is there also.  Nearly 13,000 workers at KSC, 3,000 workers at JSC, and up to 5,000 workers at MSFC will lose their jobs.  For every job at these space centers, there are approximately 4 jobs in the surrounding communities.  Instead of having nearly 21,000 workers productively working for the American taxpayer, and nearly 84,000 surrounding community jobs that employ productive citizens, we will end up losing nearly all these jobs.  Nearly 105,000 jobs gone, 105,000 families affected, 105,000 families now dependent on the taxpayer for unemployment, welfare, and food stamps?  And Obama calls this progress?

I know I am not as well spoken as Apollo 17 astronaut Dr. Harrison Schmitt, so I will end this with his thoughts on the matter.  Dr. Schmitt is the only scientist (geologist) to actually walk on the Moon and the first scientist to travel into space.  Please take some time to read and forward his words.

Free Republic


NEW SPACE POLICY CEDES MOON TO CHINA, SPACE STATION TO RUSSIA, AND LIBERTY TO THE AGES.
E-Mail
| 2/5/10  | Harrison H. Schmitt

Posted on 02/08/2010 12:49:31 PM PST by Revel

Harrison H. Schmitt Was an Apollo 17 astronaut who walked on the moon. A very good friend involved with LRO, sent me this.

********************

From: Lunar List [mailto:LUNAR-L@********.**.***] On Behalf Of Harrison H. Schmitt User Sent: Friday, February 05, 2010 4:21 PM To: LUNAR-L@********.**.*** Subject: Re: LPOD on future NASA goal

Dear all,

As promised, my reaction to the FY2011 NASA budget proposal follows:

Jack

NEW SPACE POLICY CEDES MOON TO CHINA, SPACE STATION TO RUSSIA, AND LIBERTY TO THE AGES.

The Administration finally has announced its formal retreat on American Space Policy after a year of morale destroying clouds of uncertainty. The lengthy delay, the abandonment of human exploration, and the wimpy, un-American thrust of the proposed budget indicates that the Administration does not understand, or want to acknowledge, the essential role space plays in the future of the United States and liberty. This continuation of other apologies and retreats in the global arena would cede the Moon to China, the American Space Station to Russia, and assign liberty to the ages.

The repeated hypocrisy of this President continues to astound. His campaign promises endorsed what he now proposes to cancel. His July celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first Moon landing now turns out to be just a photo op with the Apollo 11 crew. With one wave of a budget wand, the Congress, the NASA family, and the American people are asked to throw their sacrifices and achievements in space on the ash heap of history.

Expenditures of taxpayer provided funds on space related activities find constitutional justification in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, that gives Congress broad power to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” In addition, the Article I power and obligation to “provide for the Common Defense” relates directly to the geopolitical importance of space exploration at this frontier of human endeavor. A space program not only builds wealth, economic vitality, and educational momentum through technology and discovery, but it also sets the modern geopolitical tone for the United States to engage friends and adversaries in the world. For example, in the 1980’s, the dangerous leadership of the former Soviet Union believed America would be successful in creating a missile defense system because we succeeded in landing on the Moon and they had not. Dominance in space was one of the major factors leading to the end of the Cold War.

With a new Cold War looming before us, involving the global ambitions and geopolitical challenge of the national socialist regime in China, President George W. Bush put America back on a course to maintain space dominance. What became the Constellation Program comprised his January 14, 2004 vision of returning Americans and their partners to deep space by putting astronauts back on the Moon, going on to Mars, and ultimately venturing beyond. Unfortunately, like all Administrations since Eisenhower and Kennedy, the Bush Administration lost perspective about space. Inadequate budget proposals and lack of Congressional leadership and funding during Constellation’s formative years undercut Administrator Michael Griffin’s effort to implement the Program after 2004. Delays due to this under-funding have rippled through national space capabilities until we must retire the Space Shuttle without replacement access to space. Now, we must pay at least $50 million per seat for the Russians to ferry Americans and others to the International Space Station. How the mighty have fallen.

Not only did Constellation never received(sic) the Administration’s promised funding, but the Bush Administration and Congress required NASA 1) to continue the construction of the International Space Station (badly under-budgeted by former NASA Administrator O’Keefe, the OMB, and ultimately by the Congress), 2) to accommodate numerous major over-runs in the science programs (largely protected from major revision or cancellation by narrow Congressional interests), 3) to manage the Agency without hire and fire authority (particularly devastating to the essential hiring of young engineers), and 4) to assimilate, through added delays, the redirection and inflation-related costs of several Continuing Resolutions. Instead of fixing this situation, the current Administration let go Administrator Griffin, the best engineering Administrator in NASA’s history, and now has cancelled Constellation. As a consequence, long-term access of American astronauts to space rests on the untested success of a plan for the “commercial” space launch sector to meet the increasingly risk adverse demands of space flight.

Histories of nations tell us that an aggressive program to return Americans permanently to deep space must form an essential component of national policy. Americans would find it unacceptable, as well as devastating to liberty, if we abandon leadership in space to the Chinese, Europe, or any other nation or group of nations. Potentially equally devastating to billions of people would be loss of freedom’s access to the energy resources of the Moon as fossil fuels diminish and populations and demand increase.

In that harsh light of history, it is frightening to contemplate the long-term, totally adverse consequences to the standing of the United States in modern civilization if the current Administration’s decision to abandon deep space holds. Even a commitment to maintain the International Space Station using commercial launch assets constitutes a dead-end for Americans in space. At some point, now set at the end of this decade, the $150 billion Station becomes a dead-end and would be abandoned to the Russians or just destroyed, ending America’s human space activities entirely.

What, then, should be the focus of national space policy in order to maintain leadership in deep space? Some propose that we concentrate only on Mars. Without the experience of returning to the Moon, however, we will not have the engineering, operational, or physiological insight for many decades to either fly to Mars or land there. Others suggest going to an asteroid. As important as diversion of an asteroid from collision with the Earth someday may be, just going there hardly stimulates “Science and the useful Arts” anything like a permanent American settlement on the Moon! Other means exist, robots and meteorites, for example, to obtain most or all of the scientific value from a human mission to an asteroid. In any event, returning to the Moon inherently creates capabilities for reaching asteroids to study or divert them, as the case may be.

Returning to the Moon and to deep space constitutes the right and continuing space policy choice for the Congress of the United States. It compares in significance to Jefferson’s dispatch of Lewis and Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. The lasting significance to American growth and survival of Jefferson’s decision cannot be questioned. Human exploration of space embodies the same basic instincts as the exploration of the West, the exercise of freedom, betterment of one’s conditions, and curiosity about nature. Such instincts lie at the very core of America’s unique and special society of immigrants.

Over the last 150,000 years or more, human exploration of Earth has yielded new homes, livelihoods, know how, and resources as well as improved standards of living and increased family security. Government has directly and indirectly played a role in encouraging exploration efforts. Private groups and individuals take additional initiatives to explore newly discovered or newly accessible lands and seas. Based on their specific historical experience, Americans can expect benefits comparable to those sought and won in the past also will flow from their return to the Moon, future exploration of Mars, and the long reach beyond. To realize such benefits, however, Americans must continue as the leader of human activities in space. No one else will hand them to us. Other than buying our national debt, China does not believe in welfare for the U.S.

With a permanent resumption of the exploration of deep space, one thing is certain: our efforts will be as significant as those of our ancestors as they migrated out of Africa and into a global habitat. Further, a permanent human presence away from Earth provides another opportunity for the expansion of free institutions, with all their attendant rewards, as humans face new situations and new individual and societal challenges.

Returning to the Moon first and as soon as possible meets the requirements for an American space policy that maintains deep space leadership, as well as providing major new scientific returns. Properly conceived and implemented, returning to the Moon prepares the way to go to and land on Mars. This also can provide a policy in which freedom-loving peoples throughout the world can participate as active partners.

The Congressionally approved Constellation Program, properly funded, contains most of the technical elements necessary to implement a policy of deep space leadership, particularly because it includes development of a heavy lift launch vehicle, the Ares V. In addition, Constellation includes a large upper stage for transfer to the Moon and other destinations, two well conceived spacecraft for transport and landing of crews on the lunar surface, strong concepts for exploration and lunar surface systems, and enthusiastic engineers and managers to make it happen if adequately supported. The one major missing component of coherent and sustaining deep space systems architecture may be a well-developed concept for in-space refueling of spacecraft and upper rockets stages. The experience base for developing in-space refueling capabilities clearly exists.

Again, if we abandon leadership in deep space to any other nation or group of nations, particularly a non-democratic regime, the ability for the United States and its allies to protect themselves and liberty will be at great risk and potentially impossible. To others would accrue the benefits “psychological, political, economic, and scientific” that the United States harvested as a consequence of Apollo’s success 40 years ago. This lesson has not been lost on our ideological and economic competitors.

American leadership absent from space? Is this the future we wish for our progeny? I think not. Again, the 2010 elections offer the way to get back on the right track. *****

One final note:  If and when you choose to contact your Congressman and Senator in Washington, don’t accept “I support the space program” as an answer, but insist to know where they stand on the Constellation Program.  Don’t let them wiggle out of the question with some generic answer as politicians are apt to do.

Enjoy this YouTube video about Constellation.

Endeavour Launches!

This picture was taken by my friend Larry Tanner.  He was on the outside staircase at the Launch Control Center way past his bedtime to get this shot.  The LCC is only 3 1/2 miles from the Pad.

Endeavour STS 130 Taken and copyrighted by Larry Tanner

Endeavour Launch Rescheduled

According to NASA: “Managers officially have scheduled space shuttle Endeavour’s next launch attempt for Monday, Feb. 8 at 4:14 a.m. EST.


The Beginning of the End

Space Shuttle Endeavour, or OV-105, will be launching early Sunday Morning, February 7th 2010, at 04:39 am EST.  This will be the last night launch of the Space Shuttle Program and after this mission, only 4 more shuttle flights will be left before the program is ended in September.

Her mission, according to Florida Today is:

“The 130th shuttle mission intends to send a crew of six astronauts on a 13-day flight to deliver the last major addition to the International Space Station.

The Italian-built Node 3, known as Tranquility, and a seven-windowed cupola will be installed and activated, leaving the station 90-percent complete.”

Endeavour’s mission is the last mission I did work on before retiring.   It is bittersweet to see her fly knowing that this will be one step closer to the end of nearly 30 years of Shuttle flights with no successor in sight.  (I will post more later about the end of the program and the cancellation of the Shuttle’s successor Constellation and the consequences of that poor decision later on.)

I wish the crew a safe and productive flight and will be looking forward to hearing “Wheels stop” when the mission is complete.  Well done to the workforce at United Space Alliance and NASA!  I would like to give a special “Well done!” to my former co-workers in the Thermal Protection System (TPS) and the Carrier Panel Room in OPF 3.

If you are in the area, be sure to go see the launch.  Night launches are most spectacular sight to behold and one you will never forget.  I would recommend parking on the north side of SR 528 just off the east bound lane between the Indian River and the Bannana River.  It will give you a wonderful view of the ship as she leaves the pad and arcs out over the ocean.

If you are not in the area, you can still watch it live on NASA TV or at their web site.

Godspeed Endeavour!

Rocketman and Endeavour 2007
Endeavour being hoisted c 2008 taken by Rocketman
Endeavour arrives at Pad A 07-11-07 taken by and copyrighted by my good friend Larry Tanner

01-07-10 San Joaquin Valley Part Two

We arose the next morning, filled our propane and proceeded on our way. The scenery started to change from what we had seen yesterday. Though the farms were still there stretching out to the horizon, there were fewer aqueducts and you could see the desert reclaiming the farms. It was like watching the land die in real time. From time to time we could see signs along the highway bordering the farms saying, “Congress Created Dustbowl.” We also saw fewer signs accusing Sacramento and Stockton of dumping their wastewater into the aquifer. I’ve included pictures that Gypsy took while we drove, but they don’t do it justice. The desertification of this land was horrible and such a waste. Orchards that had been obviously growing for decades were turning to dust with tumbleweeds gathered around their tree trunks. The few aqueducts we saw were bone dry except for the ones shipping water towards San Francisco.

There are many varied reasons why this is happening, most of it manmade. Jack Spirko, of The Survival Podcast, spells out the many issues why this land is dying in his podcast. I would encourage you to take a listen. You will then know one of the reasons why your grocery bill is rising. The mainstream media basically ignores this story.


We arrived that evening at the Placerville KOA just outside of Sacramento CA. We arranged a good long term rate from John, the owner/manager of the campsite, and got busy settling in for our 3 month stay.
Next up….like a ship in a stormy sea.

01-06-10 San Joaquin Valley Part One

We arose early that morning and continued our trip.  We bypassed Los Angeles and started north through the length of CA.  The mountains we had seen so far had been beautiful, some of them snow capped shining in the sun.

We climbed some mountains just north of LA.  RV-103 lacks one thing, rocket fuel.  Though Discovery does well on flat land (expect during demon desert head winds), climbing mountains is not her forte.  The best speed I could get going uphill with the gas pedal on the floor was only 30 mph.  Granted, she’s pretty heavy and we are towing an SUV behind us on a tow dolly that isn’t light either, but I would think that she would do better.

Once we topped the mountains, we descended into the San Joaquin Valley.  It is not a valley like I’ve ever known.   It was so wide or long (depends on how you look at it), that it took us two days to cross it.

We passed farms that were larger than anything I had ever seen before.   I thought the farms in upstate and western NY were large, but they were puny compared to the ones we were seeing now.   Literally hundreds of thousands of acres as far as the eye could see of crops, fruit orchards, and nut trees with giant aqueducts of water feeding them. It was beautiful and you could understand why these farms feed nearly 1/3rd of our nation.  We drove all day until near dusk and then stayed at the Sommerville Almond Tree RV Park for the night.   The park gave us a Good Sams Club discount of 10% though they were not part of their network. That is the only time I’ve ever used my Good Sams Club card during our trip so far.

01-05-10 Off to California!

We left that morning for California.   It didn’t take us too long before we got to the state line.   I was surprised to find another checkpoint, this time an actual structure, which we had to pass through to enter California.   The officers said it was to “check for unwanted agricultural and fruit” being transported into the state, but considering all the armed law enforcement officials I saw, it seemed more like a bad movie and I half expected them to say “papers please.”   They asked us if we had any fruits or vegetable plants on board and I of course said “no.”  They allowed us to pass.

A couple we had met later on had a more intense experience passing through the same checkpoint.  They told us that the officers wanted to search their RV.   When the man asked them why, they said they wanted to search the RV for illegal plants and fruits.   He said, “Why don’t you just ask me if I have any?”   “Because,” said the officer, “You might lie.”  The couple then asked if the officer had a warrant to search the RV.   They at first said they didn’t need one, but after the couple insisted they respect their fourth amendment rights, the officer waved them through without searching.

Something is not right when you have to go through a checkpoint to enter another state.   I think CA has forgotten that we have the right to travel freely in these United States of America without harassment.

We ended up staying at the Banning Stagecoach KOA in Banning CA for the night with some nice looking hills in the background.

Wandering the Desert for 40 Years

Gypsy had to fly back home to take care of some personal business with her family during our stay in AZ.   While there, she had described to her son and daughter-in-law about the many varied cactuses we had seen during our hikes.   When she came back, she informed me that we were going to gather several varieties of cactuses to take to NY when we returned there in the spring.   So, with shovel in hand, we went out into the desert like the Israelites to wander for forty years searching for the “promised land”…errr…cactuses.

The thing about cactuses is that the different varieties don’t all grow in one spot or on a nice piece of flat land.   We were all over, up and down hillsides, gullies, and all in between trying to find the “perfect” samples.   First of all, they had to be the right size, and they had to look “pretty.”

I found out quickly that cactus do not surrender their ground without a prolonged fight.   From the toughest roots that would make a 40 foot oak tree look weak, to the sharpest thorns that would chew you up and then come back for seconds, the cactus were going to make me earn it.   I quickly realized that I had not brought thick enough gloves (they needed to be about a foot thick and lined with steel), and I had not brought enough band-aids and trauma dressings to stop all the bleeding.   I’ve had animal bites that were less severe and painful than what those $#%@^ cactus thorns could produce.

We eventually collected 5 good specimens and gathered up our severed limbs and proceeded back home late that evening.   They are now in a pot awaiting transport to Gypsy’s son’s home in NY.   Meanwhile, I swear I hear them snarl and growl in hunger every time I walk by them.

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