|Mission STS-134 Patch|
We arrived in Florida late Tuesday, April 26. We drove from the Orlando airport to our hotel, the New Smyrna Beach Holiday Inn. Hotel was wonderful. Room was huge, right on the beach, all rooms are ocean view, and the price was CHEAP for such a place! I highly recommend it!
|View from our room balcony.|
We did beach days on Wednesday and Thursday and really enjoyed being a part of all the local excitement leading up to a shuttle launch. It is on everyone's tongues and all over the TV there. There might have been a heightened awareness due to it being the second to last launch and the fact that the Obama family, as well as Senator Gabrielle Giffords, were attending. Giffords' husband is Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly. There was expected to be near one million people in the surrounding areas to view the launch.
Friday morning we got an early start. We were to meet our bus at the Merritt Square Mall, which was about an hour drive from our hotel. Due to the possible traffic delays we gave ourselves 3 hours because the last thing I wanted to do was miss the bus! We arrived with plenty of time and got boarded on the bus about noon. Our guide said that it looked very promising as no technical issues had arisen and the clouds looked like they would clear for the 3:47 PM launch. We headed out of the mall parking lot on our way to the NASA Causeway viewing site. About two blocks from the mall our guide got a message that the launch had been scrubbed due to a heater issue. Needless to say we were all heartbroken but were told it looked like it would be moved to Sunday or Monday and to meet back at the mall for our bus at that time. Since we had planned our trip in anticipation of possible delays we were feeling okay about the move since we had until Wednesday, May 4th.
Sadly over the course of the weekend it became quite clear that the problem was much more involved then they had thought and the launch was pushed off to May 8 or 10th. Too long to stay and wait since the kids were missing school but too close to return again. No other word to describe except heartbreaking! Seeing a shuttle launch has been a lifelong dream and finally the kids were old enough to appreciate it so I took the risk of planning a trip from Nebraska. I knew going into it that there was always a chance it wouldn't happen for me but I had to try!
Sunday we spent the day touring Kennedy Space Center. The hardest part of that day was being there when we got the official word that we would miss the launch and seeing Endeavour on the launch pad from the observation deck. Seeing it was an awesome sight but being so very close to seeing her launch was hard. I had a mini-cry looking at her beauty on the pad.
|Endeavour on the launch pad. The Rotating Service Structure is covering most the shuttle because they are working on the heater problem.|
As of today the launch has now been pushed of to no earlier than May 16. I am selfishly hoping it gets pushed off into June so the kids would be out of school and we may possibly be able to return to try again.
Other than the heartbreak of missing the launch our trip was fantastic. As mentioned our hotel was right on the beach and New Smyrna Beach is really beautiful. Fine white sand with big waves and lots of sunshine! We spent a lot of time body surfing, collecting seashells, playing catch, flying a kite, and just sitting back and relaxing on the beach. Most mornings we sat on our deck and watched several dolphins swimming and frolicking in the ocean. We got an up close and personal lesson on the varieties of jellyfish. They were washed up all over the shore! We spent some time googling all the types and learning about them. My oldest son was stung out in the water too. We learned that vinegar takes away the sting and that it is an old wives tale that urine works (it doesn't we tried!). Also learned a lot about tides and how they affect the shore. We were also within walking distance of some great beachside restaurants and we stopped a couple times for ice cream at Treats on the Beach!
|Joey pointing out a washed up jellyfish. This was prior to the sting so he's still smiling about them!|
We ventured out for some local educational adventures as well. Replicas of Christopher Columbus's ships the Nina and Pinta were docked in nearby Ponce Inlet. We toured them and they were very interesting. I cannot imagine the courage of those long ago explorers venturing out on (to me) such a primitive ship to parts unknown across the ocean!
|The Nina and Pinta Replica Ships|
Saturday, April 30, was Turtle Day and the local Marine Science Center, which rehabilitates injured shore birds and sea turtles, had a release of some healed pelicans, seagulls, and sea turtles. It was inspiring to see them return to their natural habitats.
|Rehabilitated turtle being released back into the ocean.|
We also toured (and climbed!) the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. This is the tallest working lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest in the United States. The exhibits educating about early life in the lighthouse were very interesting. We climbed the 203 steps to the top observation deck. Being scared of heights this wasn't my favorite thing to do but I am glad I did. Even though I kept myself glued to the wall of the observation deck the view was amazing!
|Ponce Inlet Lighthouse|
Kennedy Space Center was a great learning experience. My husband, oldest son, and myself have been there before but it was the first time for my daughter (8) and my youngest son (6). They were amazed at the rockets and all the exhibits, especially the ones of the Apollo program. Seeing the giant Saturn V rocket is an awe-inspiring sight! Riding the Space Shuttle Experience ride was a first for all of us and we loved it. It was amazing to feel what it is like (as close you can for a simulator) for the astronauts on a shuttle launch.
|Saturn V rocket|
|Alligator amongst the mangrove trees.|
So overall the trip turned out to be very enjoyable, relaxing, and educational even if we did miss seeing the shuttle launch. It will be a week that our family will never forget.
I still have the Space Shuttle Experience unit available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for FREE! There are still two space shuttle launches remaining, Endeavour scheduled for May 16, 2011, and Atlantis on June 28, 2011.