When he landed in Orlando on July 20, Bill rented a car and drove straight to Cocoa Beach. He stayed at the International Palms Resort, a fancy name for a nice but weathered Florida motel.
Looks great, doesn't it? Well, this picture Bill found on the web must have been taken back when it was all fresh and new. Actually, Bill stayed here some years back when it looked like this. Don't get me wrong -- it's all still almost sorta kinda nice, but it just doesn't look so very fresh and new anymore.
Bill went swimming in the ocean over there behind all those beach plants, whatever they are, but about three minutes into his little excursion he saw a jellyfish and that was the end of that.
So he went back to his room and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt and had onion rings by the beach. Nice trade off.
Then he went to bed early and got up even earlier -- 2:30 a.m. -- and drove over to the Kennedy Space Center visitor center to catch a bus to the landing site.
He spent a little while in the auditorium watching Mission Control bring the Shuttle down, but really, this wasn't particularly interesting.
He'd much rather grab a cup of coffee and stand in line with a gazillion other people who were going to catch buses to the landing site.
Now Bill's bus is pulling into position. See all those satellite trucks out there? The media are here in force. It's already 5:45 and the Shuttle is supposed to land at like, 5:56 or something, and there are still about 18 buses behind Bill's, jockeying for parking position. Somebody said they were surprised by how many people wanted to be here for this. Hey, if NASA can land a man on the moon, how come it can't manage Shuttle landing logistics? That's what I want to know. Actually, even though it was close, I think everybody made it into position before the landing.
Is that a flying saucer over the crowd? Nah, some sort of camera artifact that appears occasionally in Bill's pictures. Looks like a flying garbage can lid. Wonder what's causing it?
Friends and family of the Shuttle crew got to go up in the observation tower. Nice, but the sky is just as dark up there as it is down here. I'll bet we don't get to see the Shuttle come down out of the sky.
The media are ready. So is Bill.
And this edited, shaky, dark-but-software-lightened, unprofessional video will show you what Bill saw from the time he chatted with his NASA colleague Gregg Buckingham when he arrived at the landing site until he saw the Shuttle whiz down its KSC landing strip for the final time. Yes, Bill really did see the International Space Station fly over the Kennedy Space Center just minutes before the Shuttle touched down. Wow. I wonder who arranged that? And yes, those two big bangs are the sonic booms that the Shuttle creates as it passes over KSC prior to landing. This video is pretty awful, but Bill likes it because every time he sees it he gets the same sense of awe he experienced when he saw the Space Shuttle materialize from behind a stand of trees, barreling down the Shuttle landing strip with its drag chute stretched out behind. Holy moly, an actual space ship returning to Earth, the real thing, not science fiction, not make believe -- a real space ship, just like Tom Swift's, right there in front of him. Bill was suitably impressed and delighted that he'd closed the loop. He saw the first launch in 1981, and now after a fulfilling career with NASA he'd seen the final landing thirty years later in 2011. Way to go Space Shuttle. What a fantastic, successful government program.
Oh, all right. If you want professional video, here's professional video.