July 14, 2011

Atlantis...A final farewell to the shuttle program

A few months ago it finally began to sink in that the Space Shuttle program I grew up with was coming to an end.  We decided it would be really cool to see one of the final launches, I had yet to witness one live. The second to last launch, Endeavor, ended up having a few delays and was not practical for us flying as non-rev travellers.  So we sight our sights on the launch of Atlantis, keeping a keen eye on the scheduled launch date before fully committing to vacation/travel plans.  July 8th it would be, now we just needed to get there and hope for no delays.

I decided on a safer routing bet, bypassing the non-stop flight to Charlotte (CLT) in favor of a connection in Dallas (DFW) where both flights were wide open with available seats.  Phase 1 complete, but the flight into Jacksonville (JAX) was starting to fill up on us.  While waiting for our name to be called we were alerted to a certain hated rivals ex-football coach in the area, Urban Meyer and his son were also on their way to JAX, ohh, lucky us.  They found a couple seats for us and off to JAX we went.

For launch day we opted to rise around 3am & hit the road.  There was a large estimate of people being there and we thought we may get stuck on I-95.  We really had no idea of what to expect for crowds, so to say we were surprised that the freeway was virtually empty is a gross understatement.  Surely after we exited at Titusville there would be traffic...nope.  We were able to drive up to within one block of the water, circled through town once and found a street parking spot only 3 blocks from Space View Park!!

These signs were all over the place

One of the monuments at Space View Park in the pre-dawn

Tribute to the Mercury Missions

Here was our viewing spot, next to the water behind the brown tent

A very popular truck on this day

The assembly building

Cool tribute to the Apollo missions from Matt's t-shirt!

As we waiting for the launch, we received many text updates from Gary letting us know where things stood on NASA's end.  It was very welcomed as we informed others around us that the launch was still a 'GO'. We really had a nice location to watch liftoff, both food & restroom facilites were only one block away.  As the weather appeared to be holding off the anticipation grew. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1....
Final liftoff of Atlantis

Atlantis punching through a low lying cloud

Photo credit: Chris Ballance, he had a tripod & was just in front of us.

Photo credit: Chris Ballance

After a few minutes
The launch was a success, something I'll always cherish.  We were all very thankful that the weather held up and did not cause any delays.  The cloud cover ended up being a bonus as well, kept the temperatures reasonable until just after liftoff, but by then we were well on our way back to the truck.
Along I-95n, at least I happened to catch a fast looking car!

Coda welcoming us home

Red just being a ham

Marble doesn't look pleased
Since the shuttle went up as planned, we had a free day for some sightseeing.  We actually slept in a bit then made our way down to St. Augustine for the day.  We opted for the touristy tram tour of the city so we wouldn't miss any of the main historical buildings and to hear some stories told by the tram driver.  It ended up being a really nice way to get a feel for the city, so next time we're down there we now know where we want to go.
City gates

Castilla de San Marcos

We even had time for a quick wine tasting at the San Sebastian Winery

Can't miss this one

St. Augustine lighthouse

Where Catholicism made landfall in the new world

Just above the 4th shutter is a cannonball lodged in the wall

Beatiful canopy road

Many of the walls throughout the city are constructed with seashells

Cool way to see the sights

This is hard to see, but there's a palm tree growing out of this large tree's base!

Zero milestone of the Old Spanish Trail

Matt and I finished off our day with an Arena Football game, the Jacksonville Sharks lost to the Dallas Vigilantes 75-70.  Defense? We don't need no stinkin' defense!!

Great view for the game
Although it was a short trip, we had a blast.  Thankful that everything worked out & went as smoothly as we could have hoped for.  The only hiccup of the trip was on our return home to PHX.  The day started out good enough with a free upgrade to 1st class for the short flight from JAX -> CLT.  Upon arrival in CLT all the non-stop flights to PHX were oversold, taking volunteers on a few of them.  Not a good position to be in when flying standby.  We didn't get on the 9:30a flight, but we decided to split up for the 11:30a one and it worked out.  As I handed Kara the car keys I had no idea it would take me 3 more flights and 9 1/2 hours total to get out of CLT.  In the end I made it home the same day, so it really wasn't a big deal, just comes with the territory.  The full photo album can be found here.
Thankfully these are located throughout CLT

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