Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Space Coast Odyssey

It takes a few hundred miles to get back into it, to start counting highway exits and line up quarters for the next toll, but inevitably the road is once again there, and it is time to explore a new corner of the American continent.

First, a morning drive up to the lush green liberal enclave of Athens, GA, where we were cordially received by my old friend Piers. Unseasonably warm, it turned into a great Tuesday full of university sight-seeing, meetings with the faculty and, then finally, my own appearance as the invited EECP-speaker. Sitting at a bar later that night, drinking a pint of the local Terrapin rye ale, I still felt surprised by how well my talk had resonated with the audience. Instead of rotten deep-green tomatoes I had been given supportive nods and intelligent questions.

Unsurprisingly for those who know me, already early the next morning it was time to drive on, this time eastwards along Interstate 16 to fabled Savannah. Despite an immediate déjà-vu of Batumi (in the other Georgia), the city could not be any more beautiful! The day Lina and I spent walking around its colonial parks and anchored paddle steamers left us with a definite must-return note on the map.

And then, straight as the crow flies, I-95 south for many hot hours, tempting us to retract the roof of our Mustang convertible and throw ourselves fully into the wind tunnel. Just before sunset we made it all the way to Melbourne, Florida, and our waiting Doubletree hotel at the beach.

According to our original plan we were to be in Florida for the launch of STS-119 on 12 February. Unfortunately, the flight readiness review turned up some mechanical issues and the flight had to be postponed for more than a week (which had the good thing with it that we got to see Savannah on the way down). Although we missed the launch itself, just visiting the space coast has been a long standing dream for me. And even as the long-term future of the space program remains uncertain, the words of John F Kennedy were still very much in my thoughts as we drove out on the headland once known by the Spanish as “Cabo Cañaveral”:

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills"

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