NASA: To Mars and Beyond

We have made several visits to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, just south of Titusville, Florida.  There are plenty of things to see and do, and a few exhibits are under construction, so we will have more to explore next year when we return to Florida.  The visitors complex is separate from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).   The visitors center is operated by an outside firm, and does not receive any government funding.  I will break up my blog into several posts, starting with the future of space exploration.

NASA continues to operate at the space center.  Some people are surprised by this, and think the space program was cancelled due to budget cuts from Congress several years ago.  They are no longer flying the Space Shuttle, as it had completed its two main missions:  build the International Space Station, and launch and repair the Hubble Telescope.  NASA has partnered with private companies such as SpaceX and Boeing to continue servicing the Space Station and sending satellites into orbit.  Both of the private companies are planning on sending manned trips to the Space Station.  Currently the United States has to pay Russia to send our astronauts up there.

NASA is focused on the next generation of space travel and exploration.  They are working on the most powerful rocket ever built, Space Launch System (SLS) and a new space craft, Orion, which will go to Mars.  The first launch, called Exploration Mission – 1, is tentatively scheduled for 2018.

There is a bus trip that takes you around KSC, as part of the admission to the Visitors Center.  The most famous building, visible for miles, is the 526 feet tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).  This building was constructed in the 1960s and was used for both the Apollo and Shuttle programs. It is now being modified for use to assemble Orion and SLS.

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Vehicle Assembly Building front view

This view below shows the side where the rocket exits the building and moves down the gravel road to the launch pad.  The building on the left is the launch control center.  Once the space craft and rocket booster has been assembled in the VAB, it will be moved down to the launch pad on a giant mover vehicle.

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vehicle mover

Construction is underway on the launch tower for the SLS.  This tower will eventually be moved to the launch pad.

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NASA will be using launch pad 39B, which was used for both the Apollo and Shuttle programs.  They are currently demolishing the old launch facility, and building a new tower to be placed on the launch pad.  This is the current view of pad 39B.  The towers that you see are lightning rods.

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SpaceX has obtained a 20 year lease to use launch pad 39A.  They recently launched Dragon-9 which carried supplies on a trip to the Space Station.  It was the first time this pad has been used in years. The white tower on the right in the picture below is what they use for their rocket launch pad.  The tower on the left is what remains from the shuttle program.

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The bus tour is very informative, both for the history and the future of the space program.  For an additional charge, there are several more in-depth tours that you can take.  We plan on doing this next year when we return, to see what has developed with Orion.  NASA has a model of the 364 feet spacecraft and rocket on the tower.  The spacecraft would be at the top of the model, just above the NASA logo.

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Below is what the Orion spacecraft will look like.  The base is 16 feet in diameter.  It can carry 4 – 6 astronauts.

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Orion model

NASA currently has 3 rovers on Mars.  They have models of all three on display in their newest exhibit, Journey to Mars. The smallest, Sojourner, landed in July of 1997, and broadcast images until September 1997.

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Sojourner Rover

In January of 2004, two rovers landed on opposite sides of Mars.  The Spirit mission ended March 2010, but Opportunity continues to roam around.

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Spirit/Opportunity Rovers

The larger Curiosity Rover is about the size of an ATV, and it landed in August of 2012.  It will break down and “digest” rock samples and send back data on what it “ate”.

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Curiosity Rover

It will be exciting to follow along on NASA’s progress in the Journey to Mars.  Right now they estimate sending humans to Mars in the 2030’s.  Stay tuned for additional posts on the center.

Quote of the Day:  “Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar examined, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked and even blasted.  Still to come:  Mars being stepped on.” – Buzz Aldrin, from his 2013 book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.

Just chillin’ in the Sunshine State

Obviously I did not make a New Years Resolution to blog more frequently, since this is only my second post this year!  We really have not done too much here in Florida.  Dan drove his parents down from Wisconsin at the end of January.   They are renting a condo, in New Smyrna Beach, about 20 miles from us.  There is a dog-friendly beach in the area, and we made the mistake of going there on the first warm Sunday.  Parking is limited, so you have to wait until a spot opens up.  So we sat in line for almost one hour, but it was worth it, as Makena had a great time running around on the beach with her grandparents!

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Beach time!

This year we decided to purchase an annual pass to the Kennedy Space Center, and met up with our friends Karen and Al.  There is so much to see and do at the Center, that we plan on going several times this year, and again next January when we return to Florida before our pass expires.  I will have several blog posts on KSC (and promise it won’t take a month to post them!)

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Karen, Dan and I decided to check out one of the space capsules they had on display.  It was pretty cozy inside!

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We managed to get in one round of golf at The Great Outdoors RV resort, with Ken and Martha, who do an excellent monthly podcast called RV Navigators.  It is free on I-Tunes, and very fun and informative to listen to.  Dan noticed an alligator peeking out of the water when I was hitting the ball. He made me move my ball a few feet because he thought I was to close to Mr. Gator. Of course there is no penalty stroke from moving your ball when it is a few feet away from a gator.

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At the end of the month, we had our “Disney fix” for the year when we headed to Disney Springs which is a shopping and dining area on the Disney complex.  It is one of the free areas to attend.  We met up with Karen and Al, and Tom and Ellen for a nice lunch.  It was great catching up with everyone.

dsc04218-1Hello Mr. Potato Head!

img_2037-1Howdee Buzz Light Year!

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Dan’s brother and sister-in-law will be arriving tomorrow for 2 weeks.  They will be staying in New Smyrna Beach by Dan’s parents, so we will be busy with them.  After that, we may be heading back to Wisconsin.   Our friend Mike, who is remodeling an old building for a new tavern and eatery, separated his shoulder.  So he asked if we could come back to Wisconsin to help him finish the remodeling work we started with him a few months ago.  We are still working out the details, but it looks like we will cut our Florida time short this year to help out again.  In May, we need to head to Wyoming for our summer job, back at Luton’s Teton Cabins.

Quote for the Day:  “It is nice finding that place where you can just go and relax.” – Moises Arias

 

The end of 2016, already?

 

 

Wow, another year has ended.  Time to finish up 2016, so I can start with a clean slate for 2017!

We are currently in Florida, for the next three months.  Then we will make our way somewhere, before starting up work again in May at Luton’s Cabins in Wyoming.  This is our ‘vacation’ time, and we always budget this in.  It is our own reward for this lifestyle.  But to be honest, I get really bored around mid-March.  I don’t think I could ever be fully retired.

We enjoyed our time helping Mike with remodeling his new tavern and eatery in Wisconsin. While we made a lot of progress, there is still much work to be done before opening in February.  We were able to fill five 30 yard dumpsters with demolition materials, get new window’s and doors installed, the metal ceiling in place, some of the electrical work done, and the bar built.

We did the frame of the bar, and then added in a step and two layers of plywood for the top.  It will still need the final top, which will come from a bowling alley, as well as the sides and tile on the step. We did the same for the bar in the basement.

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Mike and Dan had the ceremonial ‘first beer’ the day we completed all the framing.

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Mike was able to obtain galvanized metal roofing pieces from a barn in Illinois that was used for the ceiling.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the ceiling material, but it turned out very well.

Doing the demolition and remodeling work was a nice change of pace from Amazon. And based on what I have been hearing from others who worked at the Campbellsville KY location this year, they were either not as busy, or hired too many Camperforce, because they got very little overtime this year.  We do plan on going back to Amazon next fall, unless another new opportunity comes our way.

The nice weather in Wisconsin allowed us to stay much longer to help out. But once the temperature dropped, we new it was time to move on. We have a portable space heater in our bedroom, and an electric fireplace in the main living space of our fifth wheel. Just running both (on a 50 amp circuit) we can keep the inside temperature about 35 degrees above the exterior temperature. This is fine when it is above 30 degrees outside. But when the high for the day is 20, it gets a little chilly inside the RV unless we turn on the propane furnace.

It was also great to spend Thanksgiving with our families for the first time in three years. Although we both missed being able to walk 10 plus miles the next day (as we did at Amazon) to burn off all the delicious food.

We had a nice time catching up with everyone.  First up, dinner with my family at my brother Brian’s house.  I’m not sure what is up with my brothers hands on hips posing though!

Then it was off to Dan’s sister, Lindas house (aka Camp Meyer), for additional turkey dinners.

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We continued our ‘food fest’ with dinners with good friends Dave and Angie, along with Angie’s family.

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Since we were working in Menomonee Falls, Robin and Mary, friends since our college days, had us over for dinner as well. Mary also sent us off to Florida with a container of delicious homemade Christmas cookies!  Cheers!

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We had a nice time getting together with our former neighbors and their children.  It was great catching up with Kyle and Jolie, and Brenda and Darren.  Their kids are getting bigger and really doing well.

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Our time in Wisconsin came to an end two weeks ago, when we got blasted with 10 inches of snow, followed by bitter cold temperatures.  We put our slides in on the fifth wheel before the snow started.  So we had several “cozy” days before we left.

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I thought the days of scrapping the truck were over, but…  The fifth wheel next to us is staying for the winter.   They installed insulation around their fifth wheel.

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We had a great time getting together with family and friends, and we are grateful for the opportunity to work for our friend Mike.  There is still a lot of work to be done before the business opens.  As such, Dan will be flying  back to Wisconsin next week, and working for an additional two weeks.  Makena and I will be staying with the fifth wheel in Florida.  Dan will drive back down with his parents (if they can fit him in their car!) the last week of January.  It is a win-win-win situation.  Mike gets more help from Dan, Dan’s dad will not have to worry about driving, and I get several weeks to myself!

Before we left, we did pick up Makena.  She was very happy to see us and get back on the road to warmer weather.  We are very grateful that Dan’s parents kept her for the two months while we were working.  She was in good hands!

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We hope everyone has a safe and Happy New Year!  Remember, 2017 is a clean slate.  Put those fears aside, and make those goals happen! For those of you we didn’t get a chance to see this year, we hope 2017 will find a slice of time for us to spend with you…

Quote for the day:  “What the New Year brings to you depends a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.”  – Vern McLellan

 

The ‘dog blog’ is back!

Hello everyone!  It’s me, your favorite blogging dog, back from a long absence!  For my long-time followers, you will note that I have a new photo of me blogging.  Currently, I am at my Grandparents house, while my parents are busy making money so they can afford more treats and toys for me.  My grandma just purchased her very first laptop, so I am trying to figure things out.img_1103I would have blogged sooner, but my grandma’s desktop computer is older than I am, and I just couldn’t figure it out!  My parents have come up to visit me a few times, especially now that grandma has her new computer.  Grandma called them 5 times the first night after getting the laptop, so they decided to come up and visit the next day, because getting tech support over the telephone was cutting into my playing time.  I was starting to feel neglected.

My parents were trying to set up grandma’s laptop in person, but even that was becoming a process.  Apparently grandma handed them some things she called “floppy discs” and wanted them installed on her laptop.  A long discussion took place, and soon my dad was cutting up the discs.  They are older than me!

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who still uses these?

Mom then set up her iTunes account on the laptop and was transferring some music for grandma.  More discussion occurred…

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uhmmm, no grandma!

But enough about that, time to get back to me!  I had a great summer at Luton’s Teton Cabins.  It was a great place to be a dog with working parents.  No late nights, always home on time for lunch so I never had to “cross my paws” with their long workdays.  And having 100 acres to run around, off leash, was just icing on the cake.  Who can beat this view?

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my summer home

I was excited to arrive back in Wisconsin, but not so much when I found out we are staying in a glorified parking lot.  Not big green space to play, and I always have to be on a leash.  And, I was back to crossing my paws as my parents were gone all day…no thanks!

So after a few days, they realized I was not a happy camper, and took me up to my grandparents house.  Now I am back to being the Queen Bee!  As any grandchild knows, whether you have 2 legs or 4, grandparents homes are the place to be!  I spend most of my days sitting by their back door, trying to convince them that I need to go out and play with my football.

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Let’s go play!

They are easy to convince, so I have been getting a lot of play time in their back yard.

img_1104I try to keep my grandpa’s chair warm when he is away (usually golfing).  I am so grateful that he is feeling good and fully recovered from his scary ordeal with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (you can read about it here).  We go for daily walks, which I really enjoy.

img_1084When my parents brought me up here, they packed up all my toys and treats.  Beggin’ Strips are a special treat for me, and a bag usually lasts about 2 months, because I only get a couple of them every week.  Milkbones are my regular treat.  My parents were a bit shocked when grandma called after three weeks and said they were out of Beggin’ Strips!  Well I am special, so I convinced my grandparents to give me my special treat every day!  Yay!

I also discovered I don’t even need to do anything special to get a treat.  If I stare at my treat jar for a long time, they just get up and give me a treat!  Here’s a photo of my grandparents watching television.  Notice me in the corner?

img_1071It looks like I was put in the “time-out” corner, but upon closer inspection, you will see I am staring at my treat jar on the counter  Yes, I have them well trained!

img_1077I also figured out where grandma hid my new 12 squeaker toy.  She put it up on top of a dresser in a bedroom.  So I sat and stared at that for a while, and she eventually gave in, and I was able to destroy my new toy!

img_1101My grandparents did take me to see my cousins at Camp Meyer!  I really enjoyed having even more people play with me, and snuggle up with me.

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It’s better than snuggling up with “mini me”.  This is the stuffed animal my parents sent to my grandparents so they won’t forget about me when I’m not there.  Hey, it’s cute, but not quite as good as the real me!

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The weather is starting to get a little too cold for me.  Hopefully my parents remember to come and get me before they leave for Florida.  I could use some warm weather, as I don’t have much hair.  When my parents come to visit, my mom brings up their laundry.  I crawled in a basket of sheets just out of the dryer.  My parents aren’t sure if I was just cold, or if I wanted to make sure they don’t forget about me.

img_1100I’m not sure how much longer I will be staying here, but now that I have mastered grandma’s new laptop, I will try and not go so long between blogs.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  Hopefully the ‘turkey fairy’ will drop a few pieces in my dish!

Quote for the Day:  “An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.” – Irv Kupcinet

Have sledgehammer, will demolish!

 

We are currently back in Wisconsin, and have been very busy with a new work camping opportunity.  As such, we will not be working at Amazon this fall.  We will miss seeing all of our friends that we have worked with for the past three years, but we will be back there next fall. And even though the broken bone in my foot has healed, I was hesitant to walk 13 plus miles each day on concrete.  For those interested in learning more about Amazon, just put ‘Amazon’ in the search box on our website, and you will see dozens of our prior blogs.

We are staying at State Fair RV Park, in West Allis, which is surprisingly busy for this time of the year. The manager said in 20 years, they have never had this many RV’s here this late in the year (it is open year round).  It is nothing more than a very expensive parking lot with full hook-ups.   At first we were told our water would be shut off on November 1, but with the large number of people, and the unseasonably warm weather, we should have water until at least November 25th.  They do have one section with heated water pipes, but that is full until December.

We dropped Makena off at Dan’s parents, so she is not home alone all day and she gets to chase her football around in a big yard.  This gives us more flexibility in our work schedule. Makena hinted that she is working on a blog,  so stay tuned for her post!

WORK

This summer our friends Mike and Karlyn contacted us to see if we could help them out with some remodeling work.

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Karlyn, Mike, Jonell & Dan

They currently run a successful bar and grill in New Berlin, The Varsity Club, and found a space to lease in Menomonee Falls to open a second tavern and eatery. Dan helped out with the remodeling for their first place, and they wanted us to help out again. We arrived back in WI on October 4th, and started work right away in the 5th. With the exception of going up to visit Makena and Dan’s parents, and seeing two Packer games, we have been working every day.

The building is old, but has great potential, so there is a lot of work to do. The local building inspector is excited with the changes.  We are still in the deconstruction phase. Give me a sledgehammer and I’m a happy camper!  Mike has two young guys that have been helping out, and they had done a lot of work before we arrived.  So I do not  have any ‘before’ photos.  This is what the place currently looks like.  Dan and I have started building the bar, which is shown in some of the photos.

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That bar stool was left over from the prior occupant.  There will be a full kitchen, and it will be walled back in.  The guys had to open up the wall to get all the old equipment out.

img_1089When they were taking off the drywall, an old air conditioner was discovered (the wiring was still “live”).  There are also old windows, that have been covered up and bricked over on the outside of the building.  The guys spent a lot of time working on busting out the old air conditioner, which was quite heavy.  And yes, the old ceiling was painted blue, yellow, red and green in various parts!

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There is also a basement that we are fixing up as well, for party rentals.  the guys spent 3 days breaking up the concrete and hauling it out.  This will allow the plumbers to bring all the plumbing up to code, and we will be adding a bathroom in the basement.  It was a lot of hard work, but the prior tenants had pipes running all over the place.

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img_1093This is a better shot of the basement, and the area we are building for a bathroom.   We will drywall the ceiling, and use knotty pine on the walls.  The tile floor is in good shape, one of the few things in this old building.

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As of right now, we are planning on staying here until December 6th.   They are planning on opening up the bar, called The Alumni Club Tavern and Eatery in late January. Mike and Karlyn want us to stay longer, and our fifth wheel is designed for ‘four season’ living, but we are hesitant stay in the snow. So far, temperatures have been above normal. So we will see how things go. Our Florida reservations start 12/28.

For the time being, it is just eat, sleep, work! Similar to Amazon! Hopefully we will be able to have some time to see some of our friends, relatives and former co-workers before we leave the state.

PACKER GAMES

We have been Green Bay Packer season ticket holders for many years, and try to get to at least one game each season. This year, we made it to two, both in the same week. The Dallas Cowboys game was not a good game for the Packers. Prior to the game, we attended the Jack Link’s Protein Snacks party. Good food, great people, and perfect weather all combined to make for a good time, despite the poor performance of the Packers.

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Lambeau Field

Ellen, Mary Jo (Mrs. Jack Link) and I. We have sat together for over 20 years!  It is always good to get together with everyone!

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We even ran into Sasquatch at the party!

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The game against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night was much better, although the weather was about 40 degrees colder!

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Lambeau at night

We had some ‘spiritual’ fans stop by our tailgate party!

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Quote for the day: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu