Tagged: Florida

Coast to Coast: Missing in Action

No, it’s not me in the suit. But I do lead tours in the Rocket Garden behind him.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know (1) my wife and I moved to Florida almost two years ago, and (2) I’ve posted less and less in recent months.

I’ve posted occasional updates about our Florida adventure, which was motivated mainly by our desire to live in the “Space Coast” which is the local nickname for Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and nearby locales.

One major objective was to be hired as a Communicator at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. And after nearly two years of waiting for a position to open, I was hired last month.

A Communicator is a tour guide, but also much more.

We’ve been described as “NASA experts” and “NASA ambassadors.” Technically we don’t work for NASA. We work for Delaware North Parks & Resorts, which has the contract to run KSCVC for NASA. But the public doesn’t know any different, and of all the NASA contractors we’re the only ones allowed to wear the NASA logo.

I suspect that not all the Communicators are passionate about space exploration, but it helps.

Two positions were open, so when called for an interview I figured I had to do something to stand out. We were told to prepare a brief presentation about the next Space Shuttle launch, so I brought from my collection a Shuttle model to use as a reference.

When I walked into the interview, four people sat on the panel. One was a former astronaut — in uniform — who’s now an executive at the park. I’m sure that was to see if we could be intimidated.

Having been around pro ball players and other celebrities for many years, I’m not easily intimidated. But when I saw the “blue suit” as they call astronauts around here, I thought, “If I screw up with any technical details in this presentation, I’m not bluffing my way out of it.”

Well, I got the job, so I must have done well enough.

I was told later by one interviewer that when I came through the door with the model, he thought, “This guy knows what he’s doing.”

Most of my days are filled by leading the Discover KSC tours, which take guests to visit historic locations, including within about a mile of the Shuttle pad.

We’re also assigned as “pathfinders,” meaning we wander the facilities encountering guests to answer their questions (the most common being, “Where is the bathroom?”) and interpret the exhibits. NASA likes the pathfinder roles so much that we’re being assigned more locations.

Obviously I have a lot to learn, so it’s eating up all my free time. I update FutureAngels.com in the morning, then it’s off to KSCVC for the day, and evenings are spent reading books or researching NASA technology on the Internet.

As much as I love the Angels and their minor leaguers, I feel like I’ve been given a higher calling. People from all over the world come to visit KSCVC, especially near launch time. We are ambassadors not just for NASA, but for the United States.

I gave serious thought to shelving FutureAngels.com this spring, but finally decided it was too important for those of you who follow the Angels’ minor leaguers to shut it down. For now, though, it’s in second place in my life. Hopefully you understand.

Coast to Coast: Meanwhile, in Florida …

When my wife and I moved to Florida in June 2009, I posted a series of articles under the title of “Coast to Coast.” Click here to catch up. The idea was to keep friends and readers updated on what was happening with my personal life away from Angels baseball.

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, so here’s what’s new.

In addition to the FutureAngels.com web site and this blog, I have two other sites.

SpaceCoastBaseball.com covers professional and amateur baseball here in Brevard County, which is commonly known as the Space Coast because we have Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, etc. I’ve done for Brevard County in the last year what I’ve done for Angels minor league baseball since 1998 — photos, videos, commentary, etc.

The big difference is that baseball is way down the pecking order here. We have baseball fans, but people seem more interested in football, basketball and water sports. This just isn’t a baseball mecca like Southern California. The local newspaper, Florida Today, has sportswriters who cover baseball but they really don’t have the depth on the subject of the typical SoCal sportswriter. Over the last year, I’ve made many long conversations on and off the record with the sportswriters, educating them about the inner workings of professional baseball.  From time to time, I’m once of those “quotables” they call whenever they need to fill a story with a couple paragraphs.

The Washington Nationals’ minor league complex is 20 miles away in Viera. I film and photograph their players in the summer and fall leagues. I’m probably the only person to film and photograph both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper this year! The Nats invited me to film his little press conference after his first fall instructional league game. It was a Florida Today sportswriter, a reporter from MLB Advanced Media (I think!), and me with my camcorder. Like I said, the baseball universe here is fairly small.

Across the parking lot (which is an unpaved grass lot, by the way, filled with potholes) is the Nats’ spring training park, Space Coast Stadium. During the regular season, the minor league Brevard County Manatees play there. The Manatees are in the Advanced-A Florida State League, the equivalent of Rancho Cucamonga and now Inland Empire in the California League. They’re a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nats affiliate. Long story.

Like most minor league teams, the Manatees have limited resources, so anyone who steps forward to volunteer is welcomed. They don’t have the money to do radio broadcasts, so I volunteered to webcast fifteen home games on the Internet, as well as the FSL All-Star Game which they hosted. If you want to hear me talk about someone else’s players other than the Angels, click here for the Manatees webcast archive.

With very little broadcast experience, but a damn strong idea of how I thought a game should be called, I found myself experimenting with finding my own style. It was a mix of advice from long-time Angels minor league broadcasters — Steve Klauke in Salt Lake, Phil Elson in Arkansas, John Rodgers in Cedar Rapids — who gave me advice. I cherry-picked elements of their styles I liked. But if truth be told, much of it is a whole lot of Vin Scully with a dash of Dick Enberg.

Growing up in Southern California, those were the two broadcasters I heard and admired the most. Scully has a minimalist style, epitomized by his famous call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series homer — “High fly ball to deep right field, she is gone!” What else do you need to know?! So I always tried to use as few words as possible. Dick Enberg had a slightly more folksy style and his catch phrases. I don’t have one for a homer because I think that’s really overdone, but I do have a standard opening as Scully does, and instead of Enberg’s “Oh my!” I came up with “Wowee!”

We don’t sell advertising, so between innings I just keep chatting with the audience, which is mostly players’ parents and loved ones. Many FSL teams don’t have broadcasts, so we often had players’ parents and fans from other teams. I did three Tampa Yankees games this year, and received e-mails from fans in New York, so you never know who might be listening. In the last game, when the Tampa second baseman was hurt, I got an e-mail from his worried mother, which impresses upon you how important a lifeline these webcasts are for the families. I think that August 26 game was probably the best job I did all year; click here to listen.

It was fun. I used radio booth #1 in the press box, the booth for the Nats’ parent club broadcasters during spring training. I got to live out a personal fantasy and had some memorable moments, such as when the home plate umpire was knocked out by a foul ball and had to leave the game. One of the Brewers’ roving instructors was recruited as a second umpire while the infield umpire moved behind home plate. I called an All-Star game. I even did a walking tour video of Space Coast Stadium so the players’ parents and other listeners could see the parts of the ballpark regularly discussed on the webcasts.

I’ve volunteered for other jobs. I do some administrative work and database design for Brevard County Fire Rescue. They have a volunteer firefighter program, much more active than any I ever saw in SoCal. When I graduated from college too many years ago, I worked for the Irvine Police Department as a dispatcher. I’ve always missed being around public safety, so this is an opportunity to be around that profession again, although it’s with fire and not police.

If you’re a regular reader, you know one reason we moved here is we’re space geeks. I’ve always wanted to teach about space history, and now I have the opportunity. The Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) uses volunteers to teach tourists about the early days of the American space program. We operate out of the blockhouse where the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1. A couple hundred yards across the field from us is the complex where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom were launched in 1961, the first Americans into space.

As a tourist, I came here many times, but now access is restricted due to post-9/11 security. Most of our traffic comes from bus tours out of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex. We walk them through the blockhouse, which still has much of its original equipment from 1957, and an adjacent exhibit hall, and in 45 minutes try to explain the entire history of U.S. military and civilian space flight. It can’t be done, but we’re given the flexibility to discuss what we want, and everyone has a different niche. I talk more about history, while some of the old-timers who actually worked here at CCAFS reminisce about their personal experiences.

As with the other volunteer efforts, this one pays nothing too. We do, however, get “perks.” We have a badge that lets go anywhere at CCAFS and KSC we want, so long as it’s unrestricted. Last week I drove up the long road along the beach that passes all the historic launch pads from the 1960s, then past active pads used by Atlas, Delta and SpaceX. I knew this road eventually comes to Pad 39A, where the Space Shuttle is launched. Could I really go through?

I came around a corner and there it was, the Shuttle stack on the pad, about a mile away. A red stop flight was flashing, and a lone security guard stepped out of his shack. I explained I was just out exploring, and had been told we can go through when no Shuttle is on the pad. He said that’s true!

So I turned around and went to check out SpaceX at Pad 40. SpaceX hopes to be the first company to offer strictly commercial rockets, selling flights on Falcon 9 to government and private customers. Their second test flight is scheduled for December 7. I drove into the parking lot which is about 100 yards from the pad.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand why we space geeks moved here!

I’m still looking for a paying job, but they’re hard to find in the Space Coast. The unemployment rate is about 13%, and with the Shuttle being retired in 2011 thousands more are scheduled for layoff. I was offered one job with Brevard County and accepted, but they had to cancel because the position was eliminated due to budget cuts. I interviewed for a job with a small contractor at KSC, then was called and told there’s a holdup on funding and they’d call if/when that comes through.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of play time! So long as I don’t expect to be paid.

When the paying job finally comes, I know it will affect my ability to not just continue the volunteer work but also FutureAngels.com. Being almost 3,000 miles away from Anaheim, it’s a lot harder to stay on top of things, especially with no Angels minor league affiliate nearby. If money permits, I’d like to visit Arkansas in 2011 and maybe catch Salt Lake on the road somewhere in the Midwest.

But as much as I love my Angels family, space is calling. We’ll see what happens once I answer.

This ‘N That

Happy Birthday, John Lackey.

It’s easy to remember because we share the same date, October 23. (Different years, of course.)

Lackey made a World Series start against the Giants on his birthday back in 2002.

I dread the approach of my birthday. Not because of age. It’s because of the Curse.

Things inevitably go bad — disastrously bad — around my birthday.

As a child, I broke a collarbone playing schoolyard football.

In my young adulthood, I was dumped by a girlfriend on my birthday.

Four years ago, I was given a layoff notice on my 50th birthday.

Two years ago, I lost my next job on my 52nd birthday.

What was it this year?

For openers, my two-year old piece-of-$#@! HP computer died. It had been crashing a lot in recent weeks. I tried every trick I know to nurse it back to health. But it finally gave up on October 23. Figures.

So off we went to Best Buy to purchase a new PC — an Asus CG1330-07, for those who are curious.

In Southern California, Best Buys were almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks or In ‘N Outs. Here in the Space Coast region of Florida, though, the only Best Buy is in Melbourne, 40 miles from home here in north Merritt Island.

So my birthday weekend was spent restoring my cyber world.

But the Curse wasn’t done.

My hosting service’s media server wouldn’t allow me to upload video files. I called yesterday and was told by the agent just to disable my account and then enable it again.

“Will that delete all my files?” I asked.

“No, they’ll be fine,” he said.

Well, you can guess the result.

Not only did his suggestion fail to solve the problem, but eight years of media files went poof.

I called back and spoke to a supervisor, who assured me the files would be restored in less than an hour. Sixteen hours later, they’re still missing in action. I called this morning and was told, “They’re working on a problem with our media server.” But they assured me they can see the backups of my media files, so they’ll be restored when they fix their little problem.


Anyway …

Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog know my wife and I moved here in June 2009, near Kennedy Space Center. I started another blog called SpaceKSC.com that covers history and current events at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), and other space geek stuff.

I’ve filmed a number of launches in the sixteen months we’ve been here, and consolidated those links into one post on that blog. Click here to see the list of space launch video links. These are on a different media server, so they actually work.

I recently volunteered for docent training at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum at CCAFS. This museum is to the space program what Kitty Hawk is to air flight. It was at this location that the United States launched its earliest satellite and manned missions.

You do this sort of thing when you’re separated from Angels baseball by 2,500 miles.

Coast to Coast: Lights Out

Click here to watch the video of the STS-130 Endeavour launch. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.

STS-130, the final night Space Shuttle launch, took off at 4:14 AM EST today. As with other launches since we moved here last June, I videotaped this one for you folks in California and elsewhere.

With the Shuttle program scheduled to retire by the end of 2010, this is the last night launch on the calendar. I filmed STS-128, the last night launch, from Titusville across the Indian River from the launch pad. (Click here to watch the STS-128 night launch video.) With so few launches left, and this being the last night launch, the crowds at the best viewing points are huge now so I decided to film STS-130 from our driveway.

With both launches, you’ll see the amazing sunburst effect. Out of total darkness materializes this small little sun that rises into the air. Within a few minutes, it’s just one star of many on the horizon.

As you watch both videos, two minutes into the launch look for a couple of red dots falling away from the Shuttle. Those are the white solid rocket boosters falling away from the orbiter. They land in the Atlantic Ocean and are towed back to Cape Canaveral for reuse.

A reminder that sound travels much more slowly than light, which is why you don’t hear the roar of the Shuttle engines until nearly a minute after launch. We’re about ten miles southwest of the launch pad.

The NASA TV channel is on the local cable station. A minute or two before launch last night, the neighborhood doors opened and folks stepped outside to watch. I’m amazed by the people who don’t step outside to witness history. Manned or unmanned, every launch I see people who go about their business and not bother to stop and watch. To me, there’s not much more important than watching the future begin.

Coast to Coast: Delta IV Launch

United Launch Alliance sent a Delta IV into space tonight carrying a SATCOM communications satellite for the U.S. Air Force. Click Here to read the news report on the Florida Today web site.

I went out in front of our house in north Merritt Island to videotape the launch at 8:47 PM EST. Click Here to watch the home video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

It was about 50 degrees and windy outside. There’s some early lens flare in the video from dust on the lens. At about two minutes, you’ll see four red spots separate from the rocket. Those are expendable solid rocket motors being jettisoned. I’m also told many launch watchers saw a shooting star, but I’m not sure if I caught that in the video.

I’ve filmed quite a few Shuttle and rocket launches since we moved here in early June. Click Here to see all my Florida blog entries. Not all have launch videos but you’ll find those easily enough.

Night launches are far and away the most impressive, because they look like a sunrise from darkest night. In this video, the rocket becomes one star against other stars, which you can see a little at the end of the clip.

I also want to put in a plug for Florida Today‘s live chat coverage of launches. Click Here to read tonight’s live chat with veteran space correspondent Todd Halverson, who is the Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief for Florida Today and USA Today.

If you didn’t know, USA Today was founded by the publisher of Florida Today. Both are headquartered in the same building on U.S. 1 in Melbourne.

Anyway, Florida Today has a great space blog called The Flame Trench which is mandatory reading if you’re a space geek. Click Here to go to The Flame Trench. Be sure to bookmark the page in your browser.

Coast to Coast: Ka-BOOM BOOM!

On November 16 I posted video of the STS-129 Shuttle launch.

Less dramatic for most observers is the orbiter landing. No flame, no fury, just a powerless glide to a runway.

The lone exception is when the orbiter breaks the Sound Barrier. The human ear perceives it as a double sonic boom, first the nose and then the tail of the orbiter.

When I lived in California, the orbiter occasionally landed at Edwards Air Force Base. Living 100 miles away, I’d sometimes hear a faint “ka-boom boom” in the distance as the orbiter approached the runway.

Here in north Merritt Island, though, we’re about ten miles from the runway so we’re right in the crosshairs.

Atlantis landed Friday at 9:44 AM EST, and its flight path took it right in front of our house as it flew in from southeast to northwest, then made a barrel turn to come back in for a landing. I tried to film it, but the orbiter was so high it was impossible to find in the view finder. “Look for the falling rock,” was how my friend in the Astronaut Office described it.

I did record the double sonic booms for you to hear. Click here and crank up your computer speakers really loud to get the full effect!

The camcorder is pointed north towards Kennedy Space Center, five miles up the road. The runway is about ten miles slightly to the northwest. The orbiter was moving left to right above the camera frame, too small to locate in the viewfinder. Atlantis glided out over the ocean, made a U-turn around a virtual barrel in the sky, then came in to land from right to left.

Coast to Coast: A Launch Only a Space Geek Could Love

Would you get out of bed at 2 AM for a rocket launch?

That’s what we did last night. United Launch Alliance sent a communications satellite into orbit at 1:55 AM EST. The launch window opened at 12:50 AM but was delayed twice due to high winds at upper altitudes, so we got up at 12:30 AM and waited … and waited …

Click Here to watch video of the launch. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch. This was filmed from our driveway in north Merritt Island, about five miles from the Kennedy Space Center south gate.

As always, a reminder that sounds travels slower than light, which is why you don’t hear the roar of the engines until nearly a minute later.

Coast to Coast: FWBL Folds

If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been writing about six former Angels minor leaguers in a new circuit called the Florida Winter Baseball League.

Skeptics, including me, didn’t think the league would last long, but we never anticipated it would fold after only fifteen games.

As expertly covered by Mark DeCotis of Florida Today, the first paychecks bounced, and the league suspended operations.

I was asked by Central Florida News 13, the local cable TV station, to do a standup interview about the league folding. Why? Because I’m around and everyone else is gone.

Click Here to watch the news segments as they appeared throughout the evening. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

I’m writing more about this on my other site, SpaceCoastBaseball.com, so head over there if you’re interested.

I may be doing a piece for the local paper too. I’ll post that link if/when it’s published.

Coast to Coast: STS-129 Launch

I went over to Titusville today to videotape the STS-129 launch. Click Here to watch the launch. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

Regarding the screaming kid in the background … Some parents turned loose their two-year old to play on the rocks down by the river. A couple minutes before launch, he throws his toy dump truck into the river, and as it floats away he starts screaming that he lost his dump truck. Being a two-year old, of course, nothing is going to make him happy, not even after someone fished out his dump truck. He kept screaming all the way through the launch. Gee, thanks.

A reminder when you watch the video that the speed of sound is roughly 1,100 feet per second. If you time from the moment of launch until you first hear the roar of the engines, we’re roughly about 10-12 miles from the launch pad.

You’ll also notice a tall crane between the pad and the Vehicle Assembly Building. That’s for a new platform that will one day carry Constellation to the launch pad. The future of Constellation, however, is up in the air, no pun intended.

An unmanned rocket was supposed to launch on November 14 but had a last-minute glitch, so it was rolled back to its assembly building. No ETA on that one.