I'm bleary eyed as I add this. Monday evening I traveled with my wife, Susan, to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center where we were treated as VIP guests for the launch of Space Shuttle STS123. This was probably one of the last night time shuttle launches that will ever take place at KSC and we were extremely excited to be able to witness this historic event. Many people probably don't know that for evening launches the Visitor Center stays open until after the launch. So I got to share the Shuttle Experience with Susan ( a neat experience since we have both now experienced a couple of Gs and zero gravity!). It is an amazing attraction. We also viewed the
3D IMAX Experience, International Space Station. I wanted to reach out and hang in space with the astronauts during a few scenes - it is that amazing. The KSC Visitor Center provided both of us with wonderful goodie bags with mission patches and pins, there was a VIP reception room for a late night pre-launch snack and viewing of the events leading up to the launch, and every question you could ask was answered by their amazing staff.
But the highlight of the evening, and the reason for our trip, came as we boarded the special bus taking us to the Banana River Viewing Area for the launch. We were taken to the closest area allowed for viewing and the area reserved for VIP guests of NASA and it's partners. The launch was the smoothest I've ever witnessed. A flawless countdown, a remarkable view, and great company (we were joined by longtime friend Alan Trapp and his wife Diana). As STS123 roared to life the sky went from night to daylight, the sound waves shook my body like front row seats at a rock concert, and the shuttle launch moved quickly from the gantry to the clouds. What an incredible experience!
I will be the first to admit that my camera hand was shaking and I was completely overwhelmed by the moment. I am including a couple of pictures taken by Orlando Sentinel photographers who are much more skilled at capturing the moment.
I have to thank Billy Specht, Educational Director of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center for this incredible experience. I also want to thank Tiffany Fairley, Billy's Executive Assistant, who did an incredible job of coordinating everything. Billy, Tiffany and the rest of his staff provide educational opportunities for schools, youth groups and classrooms that are amazing. You can schedule trips, an Astronaut Experience, or even camp at the Visitor Center under the giant rockets on display. These folks truly provide one of those educational opportunities unique to those of us living in Florida. I look forward to working with the KSC Visitor Center in the future on projects and really appreciate this once in a life time experience they gave me!
After a long drive home Wednesday evening from Tallahassee I got up early for this month's Leadership Orlando. Our theme was Economic Leadership and we began our day with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. I go over there a lot, but I saw some new things today. Besides learning more about the impact of the space center we toured the facility (including a quick drive by the Shuttle Endeavor which was sitting on the pad ready to launch); we got an up close look at the Vehicle Assembly Building (learning about the next generation of manned space vehicles - Constellation); and we visited a shuttle preparation room for an up close look at Shuttle Discovery as tiles were being inspected and replaced by workers. When I say up close let me share that we stood under the Discovery looking up at the bottom of Discovery. I don't think you can get closer to a real working shuttle without getting a paycheck from the KSC!
We came back to Orlando later in the day and listened to a number of community leaders share some of the challenges and solutions that our community faces in relation to our community's economic future. Great day!
Tuesday and Wednesday found me back in Tallahassee. Tuesday I had meetings at the DOE and Wednesday I had a wonderful time meeting with freshmen from the FSU College of Education. There was a lot of energy in the room considering there are only a few days before Spring Break. I really appreciated the enthusiasm. Hopefully I didn't scare too many away from teaching. What a great opportunity to begin your career all over again - would that mean I could be 19 again? On second thought I like my middle age and wish them all the best. I hope to see many of those freshmen in a few years teaching with us in Orange County. Consider it an invitation. And a big thank you to Dr. Judy Crow for inviting me to share in this wonderful afternoon.
I got home Saturday night and realized that in the last week I put over 1200 miles on my car. Wow! In addition I came home to find a website that has about 300 pictures taken from our Zero G flight last weekend. Check them out at www.Gozerog.com/photos/ and look at flight 171 out of Titusville , Florida on Sunday, February 24th.
Saturday morning found me in Gainesville at the Heart of Florida Math and Science Conference hosted by the Alachua Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It was great to meet so many teachers who were willing to travel across the state to get new ideas to improve their classroom instruction. I expected to mainly find teachers from Gainesville and was surprised to find teachers from Tallahassee, Okaloosa County, Marion County, all parts of Central Florida and beyond. This was the second year for this conference and it will continue to grow. A special thanks to Pam Morgan for inviting me and to all the wonderful teachers I spent time with.
The picture I'm adding is an adaptation of a GEMS activity for density columns. In the ones I've seen the liquids of different colors and densities are place in a straw which has been stuck in a potato. I've always had the potato absorb some of my liquids, or turn brown. These straws have been placed in modeling clay (which also makes a better base as it sticks to the tray) with the liquids added using eye droppers. Great improvement on an already wonderful activity. Great idea!
Thursday morning I left Key West quite early and journeyed to Susan Meyer's fifth grade class at Whispering Pine Elementary and had a wonderful time visiting, exchanging gardening ideas and touring the class garden which has two of the largest heirloom tomato plants I've seen in a while. We talk about the three distinct gardening zones of Florida, but it doesn't quite sink in until you see tomato vines in Dade County filled with ripe fruit and coming home to tomatoes that are at least a month away from even having blooms! Thank you Mrs. Meyer and the fifth graders at Whispering Pines for a wonderful morning. Keep growing!