Monday, August 12, 2013

The Boyfriend Arrives In-Theater And I Go To Look At Rockets

We arose on Tuesday to the expectation of the arrival of the Stevieling's boyfriend for a two night stay.

The terms and conditions for the stay were hammered out between the Stevieling and Mrs Stevie long before I was informed of matters. I doubt they'd have told me at all but for the fact I might attempt to use the sofa while The Boyfriend was sleeping on it. No doubt a heated discussion was had on the relative merits of letting me have enough time to object vs the usual situational ambush they employ in these cases before deciding on the plan where I didn't end up demanding explanations for the supernumerary on the sofa after sitting on it while it snoozed.

I had been begged by the Stevieling not to make fun of the Boyfriend, as he was "desperate" to impress me. I dunno why this was such fraught subject for discussion. I had made a special effort to make the lad feel welcome. Admittedly I had taken to referring to him as Captain Bizarro, but never in his hearing. I disapprove of boyfriends on principle (the principle that they indicate my little girl is growing up and will sooner of later no longer require me to be around) but had nothing personal against this one as he had demonstrated nothing but the ultimate respect for the Stevieling. He does, however, sport a hairstyle more suited to the mid 1970s than this day and age. He looks a bit like a caricature of young men of that era. This, of course, reminds me of my own lost youth (when the hairstyle looked good on me) sacrificed on the altar of marriage and responsibility and stuff.

In any event, as I pointed out to Mrs Stevie, it mattered not one whit what we thought about Mr Wooly Mammoth since the Stevieling has achieved the age of consent in New York (and by extension, Florida) and could in principle do whatever she damn well pleased with whomsoever she wished without our say-so. She could indeed do a lot worse than the Boyfriend, who at least was respectful to everyone. Since he was to be joining us on a day-long excursion to EPCOT1 on the morrow, so could we.

He was also late. Instead of arriving in the civilized AM so that they could do the thousand and one things the Stevieling had planned for, he got a late start and then got lost in the labyrinthine roadways of Orange Lake Country Club and finally showed up around 11:30, and then said he had to go to his college to pick up his discount Disney ticket. I saw the Stevieling's lips go thin, and mentally wished him luck. His ability to derail a female-oriented itinerary with such natural skill and flair had me warming toward him. Mrs Stevie no longer takes such activity by yours truly as ingenuous and exacts the most terrible vengeance if she suspects husbandly skullduggery. Plus, she's seen all my best tricks and developed counters to them over the (seemingly endless) years.

Once the young and restless had departed for Azathoth-knows where and a day of whatever they could conjour from it, Mrs Stevie and I decided to make a trip to the Kennedy Space Center and look at some spaceships and stuff.

It is my favorite place to visit in Florida, and I've been going there since before I met Mrs Stevie and all there was there to compete with Uncle Walt's Extravaganza O' Merriment was a cafeteria, a gift shop, a bus ride out to an observation platform (which incorporated a demonstration fo the launch sequencing of Apollo 8 (I think it was 8) using recordings and the actual consoles from launch control - boring by today's standards but pretty interesting for a space-nut like me) and a field full of rockets held up by guy wires.

It cost about $15 per head to do everything, and that included tolls on the Beeline Expressway2.

Around ten years ago NASA finally got a clue and realized they were competing for tourist dollars with Disney and Sea World and Universal Studios and a dozen less well-known attractions in the area, and they modernized extensively. They built a museum3 and an iMax movie theater showing several different movies during the day4. They reconditioned the rusting Saturn V and built a special themed display pavilion for it halfway round that bus tour5. They put seats in the Apollo 8 launch simulation6. They bought five new jokes for the bus drivers to tell7 and most recently they built a new display pavilion for the Shuttle Atlantis8 where one can view the spacecraft posed majestically like the worlds biggest Airfix kit.

It is very striking, angled so you can see and photograph the open cargo bay. All around are interactive displays for the kids to poke and pry (including a "space station" gerbil-run for the younger kids to crawl around in), and most of the interactive things feature the women engineers and managers that worked in and around the Space Shuttle program. Kudos to NASA for getting the message out that NASA isn't just for boys .

And there is a simulator ride, purporting to be a close approximation of a Shuttle lunch, that holds fifty-odd people at a time and tips them up on end and shakes the bejayzus out of them while convincing footage plays up front. Now that's entertainment.

We got there a little after one, whereupon I discovered I had forgotten my digital SLR and had only a Vivitar web-ready video/still camera. After a short pause for a demonstration of The Bonehead Dance we walked over to the ticketing booth and found that all this new development plus the passage of time had pushed the cost up to $50 per head9.

Sobbing quietly at the prospect of incipient bankruptcy we embarked on the bus tour with about fifteen hundred Spanish, German, French and Brazilian tourists, none of whom could understand a word of what was being said and so yapped over it in the gibberish that passes for language in their individual necks of the woods. Since the German tourists had grabbed all the window seats, Mrs Stevie and I had to sit in different parts of the bus and suffer them yelling to each other every time one of them saw something camera-worthy.

First stop on that part of the tour is the observation platform. Since this wasn't by any means the first time I had stood on that construction (I remember when it didn't have windows to shelter from the breeze) we did some quick photography from the top floor, then made our way back to the bus while our former co-travelers were marvelling at how small and far away everything was.

Rockets are essentially towers of high explosive. If one of them explodes in an uncontrolled manner the fireball and blast wavefront are huge and devastating, so the trick is to keep the launchpads as far as feasible from everything else and each other. This makes for less-than imposing sights for the sightseers if they don't have binoculars or telephoto lenses. Those who've only seen it all on TV have been known to experience disappointment.

One interesting feature for me was the reconstruction being done on the crawlerway. Apparently, the crushed rock roadbed isn't thick enough for the next generation of spacecraft destined to be trucked along it, and they are making it several inches thicker. The work is only partially complete, so one can see the process in, er, process. Well, I think it's interesting.

For those who don't know, the way rockets get launched at Kennedy Space Center is that they are stacked together in the Vehicle Assembly Building (still claimed as the tallest single story building in the world) on a portable launch pad. A crawler vehicle is driven under the pad and lifts it and the rocket off the floor, then tootles off down the crushed rock roadway to the launch pad area, where the pad is dropped in place, the crawler tootles back to a safe parking distance and the whole countdown/launch thingy happens.

It boggles my mind that the Saturn V didn't fall over during the ride, and that anything could lift the weight and get it moving in the first place. I remember from my childhood the (possibly apocryphal) stat that when the crawler drove over the road with a Saturn V on it, the road sank four inches and only sprang back three11. The crawler makes about one mile an hour when loaded, but can sprint along at almost three miles an hour once it has dropped off its load.

The pad tour bus drivers had been very vocal in contradicting the perception that with the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program that NASA was closing up shop, too. The resurfacing of the crawlerway served to convince me that maybe there's life in the old girl yet (but there are several rounds of funding cuts to be negotiated through before It All Comes True).

Next stop was the Apollo Pavilion which contains the launch sim, still boring for the kids but I love to see all those huge status lights coming on as the imaginary rocket is fueled and powered up prior to lighting the blue touch paper. The details on the consoles is also interesting, but this display could do with being upgraded in some way to properly explain what each console is doing and when and why each is important during the launch.

The launch over, doors let us out into the huge hanger-like space containing the Saturn V now fully restored to display condition and hanging from the ceiling in all its glory. All around are bits and pieces of history, here a Lunar Module, there an actual piece of lunar regolith that can be touched (sadly, it had been polished so none of its natural texture was apparent12). There are displays of more rock samples and space suits, both ones used for missions and ones built as research for future missions that never happened, log books, gloves, hand casts used to make gloves, cameras, toolkits, Apollo 12's Command Module (an actual, real life spaceship!) and a Lunar Rover, the most expensive Dune Buggy ever made.

It was just great.

It was also here that Mrs Stevie conceived a vile, duplicitous plan of such fiendish mendacity that only the fact that it wasn't aimed at me made me chortle and get on board too when she told me of it.

There was a photographer present (of course) who could, for a price, pose people in convincing free-fall array inside some sort of space station module13 using green screen chromakey trickery. Mrs Stevie suggested that we have such a photograph taken, and show it off to the Stevieling and Boyfriend, claiming that we had experienced "NASA's Zero-G Room".

The "set" consisted of some green steps in front of a green wall, which, with a bit of thought, could be used to creatively create a creation of much creativity, allowing poses that with the aid of gravity would provide an even more convincing appearance of no gravity whatsoever! Mrs Stevie posed so that her hair hung down, for example. In the finished picture, her hair was hanging up . Voila! Convincing Zero-G hair!

The facet of the whole affair that appealed most to me was that no part of the finished photograph was true. Not only were we not in Zero-G, we were not even remotely oriented in the picture the same way we had been when it was taken, nor were we in amongst the busy backdrops one could clearly see us cavorting in front of. Indeed, we weren't even photographed together. The staggering number of lies in this one artifact14 was truly impressive. If only there were some way of presenting a non-existent copy of the thing it would have been perfect.

We moved on to the Atlantis Experience (or whatever it was called) and were awed by the sight of yet another real, honest-to-goodness spaceship. At least I was. Mrs Stevie didn't realize she wasn't looking at a mock-up at first. Then she was appalled by the widespread use of tape to hold stuff up against other stuff at the rocket end of things. She said it looked like Duct Tape. I told her not to underestimate the usefulness of Duct Tape, but was secretly appalled too. No-one mentioned that these string and bailing wire spacecraft were actually held together by string and bailing wire. No doubt the tape was a special, super expensive type of adhesive ribbon, but Mrs Stevie had the right of it; it looked like Duct Tape.

Just before closing time we put all our crap into another of those fingerprint-activated lockers that had proved to be so reliable at Universal Studios and climbed aboard the simulator for a few minutes of pretend shuttle launching. We sat at the back and so had the added thrill of hearing stuff falling out of people's pockets and towards us as the whole thing tilted into a vertical plane. Nothing spells excitement like fear of a shower of coins, bunches of keys, Swiss army knives and so forth descending around one's head. Then the Realistic Vibration™ and Earsplitting Rocket Noises™ started and I was too busy trying to stay conscious to worry about people dropping stuff on me.

It was okay I said afterwards, while we were waiting for an attendant to open up the locker for us after yet another "no fingerprint on record" message, but I was probably going to regret the loss of those fillings. Mrs Stevie didn't reply on account of her receiving a brain jangling for three minutes, but I had little doubt she would be commenting on the ride at length on the journey home, once the concussion wore off. Myself, I've never worried over small matters like double vision and bleeding from the ears and we had, after all, paid mucho bux for the pleasure of all this pleasure.

We exited through a gift shop15 where I came this close to buying a real NASA flight suit once I found out they came not only in astronaut sizes but also in relaxed-fit superannuated bacon-fed Englishman sizes too. It would have been the coolest Halloween costume ever. I contented myself with forking over more bux for a pair of photos that had our heads photoshopped over real astronaut bodies in space suits - another completely fake picture that I wasn't even aware we had posed for, taken when we had signed up for the bus tour. The picture of me made me look supremely uncomfortable and it looked like the suit was too big for me. Perfect to add into The Great Zero-G Room Hoax of Not Being My Idea or My Fault (mostly).

We left the gift shop to discover that the space center had closed for the day (stays open only until 7:30 pm or thereabouts but they don't close up shop on prospective cash customers), so we strolled through the Missile Park (now paved and almost lost amid all the other stuff that has sprung up around it) so I could remember the first time I saw the rockets in a field back in '85, and we drove home, stopping at a diner for food.

We got back to Orange Lake Country Club to discover that because the Stevieling and the Boyfriend were still out doing whatever young people do in Florida when their parents aren't around we had the place to ourselves. This raised possibilities of an uninterrupted and intimate nature, so I hid in the furnace closet until Mrs Stevie gave up looking for me and fell asleep, whereupon I was able to watch crappy television and eat junk undisturbed and unmolested.


  1. The one Disney park I had agreed to visit
  2. Motto: Nickle-and-Diming Drivers Every Two Miles Since Built
  3. In which I saw the newly-recovered Liberty Bell 7. Boy does Kennedy owe Grissom an apology for the snub. The garbage left behind the console by the Mercury builders is nothing short of criminal. There was even a crushed plastic coffee cup recovered when they pulled the console out for cleaning and reconditioning, and a bunch of metal crap like washers and screws that were just waiting to cause a short of the sort that could blow the hatch charges
  4. One of the first iMax movies to be shown to a wide audience was shot on the shuttle specifically for this theater and it is a startling demonstration of the technology - the three-d illusion it conveys is so powerful I once had the strong urge to step forward from my seat and walk out onto the cargo deck of the shuttle
  5. Well done someone for saving the old girl from rusting away
  6. Huzzah!
  7. Actually, if you get a witty bus driver who isn't thoroughly fed up with tourists who don't speak English and can't understand the running commentary Much Fun can be had
  8. Yes, the actual shuttle Atlantis
  9. If you think that's steep10 you should research the cost of Disney tickets. I almost had a coronary when I got the bill for those "discount" Universal Studios" passes I was allowed to have for sitting through a sales presentation and attempted extortion. Daylight robbery
  10. And it is
  11. I can't remember for the life of me whther this came from a reputable science populist like Raymond Baxter or a Blue Peter presenter
  12. But it's an honest to Aldrin moon rock for Goddard's sake! I've touched something older than anything I'll ever touch that originated here on Earth
  13. In my youth I could probably have identified it from the cabinets, but not now
  14. Artifiction?
  15. Of course

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