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A Long Weekend In Florida
-Tom Gwilym

Back in January 2001, I made my first trip to Kennedy Space center with the hopes of being there when the STS-98 mission launched. We all know how reliable this shuttle is, and the night before I left for the trip, the launch was scrubbed! I was nearly in tears when my parents pushed me out of the car at the airport, knowing I wouldn't see the launch that I planned so much on seeing.
I made my second trip to Kennedy Space Center in late 2003, but Columbia had been lost a few months earlier so there wasn't any chance for seeing the bird fly. There was a chance to see an unmanned Delta....delayed.
Ok, now forward to 2007. I get an email from NASA with information on an astronaut autograph show, convention, and banquet. Hmmm...that looks like fun, and it's $225 for the ticket. Looking farther, I realized that the STS-117 launch would be in the middle of the show! Now that's a fine bonus, I think I better attend this one. Tickets bought (just sneaked in a the last day for the banquet), Motel 6 room reserved in Cocoa Beach, transportation figured out, plane ticket purchased, money in pocket - I'm ready to go! I leave Seattle on Wednesday June 6 and head east on United, then change over to "Ted by United" - uh, airline nearly bankrupt, let's cover some of our name and call the new airline "Ted!". I don't get it, but they got me where I wanted to go. I spent Thursday wandering around the Space Center all day taking the basic tour, and seeing what's new. Friday I attend the autograph show and meet many of my astronaut heroes that I have spent so much time reading about over the years. What a thrill! I spent a bunch of money on autographs, nearly forgot to eat, ran from building to building seeking cool air conditioning for my pale Seattle exterior, and had a great time meeting new friends.
Ok, 4 pm comes around and the bus for the causeway viewing leaves at 4:30. I buy a couple bottles of water, a muffin, and a large extra salty pretzel to survive on for the next few hours. The ride out takes about 1/2 hour, and the causeway was FULL of busses, cars, people, shade tents, and even vendors selling food. It was just a big party out there with the star of the show venting silently on the pad 6 miles away. Just stay inside the yellow ropes near the river, creatures with pointy teeth inhabit the water and would love to taste the pale, but soft, and juicy Seattle exterior (as well as many other snacks from other states and countries!). The 2.5 hours to launch went quickly again, talking to other space enthusiasts out there you could easily forget the humidity and heat while discussing rockets, space and F-1 Saturn V engines. T-5 minutes - Uh...I think we are really going to fly today! There was brief concern about the Zaragoza, Spain abort site, but it cleared over there and we were "Go" for launch. I went down near the water (keeping toes inside the rope) and watched out toward Atlantis on the pad. Time went quickly, and I realized I was finally going to witness a launch. T-90 seconds. Oh yeah, here we go. "Atlantis, you are clear for launch. Shuttle on internal power, visors closed, initiate O2 flow....go for main engine start". 10 seconds - the crowd joins into the count. I see a flicker under the tail of Atlantis as the mains fire up, gimbal, and "twang" the shuttle forward on the mount. "LIFTOFF...and the shuttle has cleared the tower". I just saw the smoke cloud, then the tip of the tank poked up above the smoke and quickly Atlantis appeared. YIKES! I didn't expect the SRB flames to be that bright, WOW! I had my left hand clutching the back of my head (in an attempt to hold myself up on my wobbly knees maybe?), my right hand had my camera held near my right ear blindly taking photos in the general direction of the quickly climbing spacecraft (no way was I going to see my first launch through a viewfinder). Squinting at what seems a small sun rising into the sky, the shuttle rolled on it's back and headed out over the ocean. Finally, about 30 seconds later the sound hit and hit hard. That thing was LOUD! It sounds just like on TV with the vicious, angry crackling of the engines with kind of a hollow echoing across the sky. "Atlantis go at throttle up..." always a welcome event to get past after Challenger. Some said they could feel the ground shake from the noise, but I didn't notice it, I think I was so excited and shaking that I wouldn't have noticed that. The SRBs were easily visible dropping off the shuttle stack and could be seen falling away as the bright shuttle engines climbed away from them. The shuttle engines also at this point were much brighter than you would think. The shuttle then went behind a cloud, but could still be seen as a bright dot shining through as it climbed to orbit. Then....it was gone!
The whole show was about 3 minutes, and finally the sound faded, the shuttle was gone, and nothing left but a tall smoke trail glowing in the setting sun. I flew over 2000 miles across the country, spent a lot of money getting here, sweated in the humid Florida sun for several hours, all for a short 3 minute show. Was it worth all the effort? HECK YES IT WAS!!!
After returning to the visitor center on the bus, everyone was pointing up at the sky. There was an incredible knot of clouds left over from the shuttle lauching over an hour before. Kind of a man-made noctilucent cloud hanging in the sky. That was a bonus that other veteran shuttle watchers had never seen before.
Another day at the autograph show with the astronauts, then a great banquet under the Saturn V - I got to share a table with Brian Binnie, the first non-government astronaut from the X-Prize project. Sunday it took 3 flights to get home to Seattle, but it was a weekend that I'll never forget and probably never be able to duplicate.
See photos from the trip here.

Hazen High School - Star Party - May 11, 2007

Back around February, EAS was contacted by Todd Pollard - a science teacher at Hazen High School in Renton Highlands. He was wondering if our organization would be willing to help out his class and show the kids the sky since they were studying astronomy at that time. We had a night planned, and cancelled it only to find that it was one of the few perfect nights after all - the joys of being an astronomer in Seattle during the winter!
We gave it another try on May 11. Forecast was looking pretty good, but being a friday night, the clouds came in after a decent morning and not so great afternoon - the typical spring weather pattern. Nice during the week, then lousy for the weekend. We decided to go for it anyway and set up our gear in the field, Venus and Saturn were peeking throught the clouds now and then. There were maybe 10 scopes out there and members from three clubs - a few from Seattle Astro, several from Eastside astro, Squak Mountain gang, and even some from the Boeing Astro group (thanks everyone!). There was about 150 kids that showed up along with the principal of the school and a few teachers. Pretty good crowd until about 11:30pm. The kids were very excited about the scopes and had a lot of good questions and comments. The prize for the best comment was a girl looking through a scope who said with great excitement "Wow! Saturn looks just like a sticker!". Not sure what that was about, but it was fun to see reactions of kids (and many adults) who saw Saturn for the first time. Skies cleared somewhat later in the evening, and we gave a few views of M57 Ring Nebula.
Despite fairly lousy viewing conditions, it was a fun night for all who showed up! We hope to work with Todd again in the future and hope for a CLEAR night next time!
(Photo credit - Wade Hasbrouck)

Deception Pass - Star Party - Aug 18-20, 2006

(click on the small images for full size)

The EAS put on it's first major two day star party in August. The Deception Pass Star Party was formerly put on by the Squak Mountain Telescope gang for the previous 10 years or so, but we volunteered to take over and keep the party going. President Tom Gwilym coordinated with the park rangers who worked on publicity for park visitors and campers to come see an evening Astronomy presentation followed by a tour of the sky by member's telescopes in the field near the boat launch. Several clubs were invited including BEAS, Squakers, SAS, and other people not in any club who just showed up for the party. We had about 40 people and a nice field full of probably 20+ telescopesScopes in the field waiting for nightfall. of all shapes and sizes.
The party started Friday afternoon after Astronomers made their way north through the slow Everett rush hour traffic to arrive finally for a stress free weekend of star gazing, playing on the beach, hiking, beach combing, boating, and just relaxing in the sun.
At sunset, Tom put on a 50 minute slide show presentation at theTom introducing the basics of Astronomy. campground across the bridge both Friday and Saturday nights. The slideshow was a brief history of Astronomy, a little about the stars, planets, galaxies, the universe, and some basics tips on how to get started in the hobby. Tom had to work at not getting too techincal since he is kind of a 'techie' gadget Astronomer, but did well to keep people interested and ask many good questions after!A good crowd in attendance on Saturday with the bridge in the backround. There was a crowd of maybe 30 on Friday and probably 75 on Saturday. After the show, campers were encouraged to cross the bridge and tour the sky with members and their telescopes.
There was probably a couple hundred visitors to the telescope field over the weekend as well as a few repeat visitors on Saturday. Our good The sun put on a show at sunset with sundogs over the water.(and always welcome) friend, Wendy, and her snack truck was there selling coffee and snacks to keep us going through the night. The group from the Anacortes Telescope and Wild Bird shop showed up on Saturday and brought a Celestron SkyScout to demonstrate and let us play with. Despite the infamous heavy dew of Bowman Bay, most were prepared with dew heaters and shields to keep the telescopes running through the night. We stayed out until about 2 am when the final visitors left, we became tired, cold, and finally took Center of Milky Way seen over the hills.one more peek then crawled into our tents for a damp (and somewhat chilly) night.
Both Friday and Saturday nights the International Space Station made a guest appearance with a fly-by directly over the bay. Tom claims to take credit for arranging that with NASA - but we know better than to believe that! The only casualties of the star party was a temporarilyRed sunsets over the water each night. lost boat oar (retrieved at low tide), a few sunburns, a couple of wet kids, a damp tent, many fogged telescope objective lenses and corrector plates. We received many compliments from people who really enjoyed the lecture and demonstrations. A few people never knew what was up in the sky, and went home with a new understanding and curiosity...so it was a success. Thanks to all the different club members, and non-members, who showed up to share the sky with your telescopes. See you next year!

Table Mountain - Star Party - July 20-23, 2006

Table Mountain Star Party has completed for this year. It was a great success, and we lucked out with good weather although we almost thought we wouldn't for a while. EAS members Tom, Maia (with daughter Mariel), Maxine and Wade attended for several hot, sticky and dusty days with cool nights.
Thursday - skies were clear and dark with a fantastic streak of a bright Milky Way cutting the sky in half overhead. Tom had trouble with his scope and imaging equipment for several hours, but finally got it working and managed the M33 image seen here. We stayed up until 4:30am when the skies in the east started brightening and the Milky Way vanished for another night.
Friday - another hot day, which was spent keeping cool, getting sunburned necks, and shopping for Astro goodies at the differnet vendors. Tom managed to blow over $300 on scope mounting rings, t-shirt, cables, and MaxDSLR software for autoguiding and Imaging. Maia bought a few things including a grab bag of Lego (astronomy related or not, you can never fail with a bag of Lego!). We went to several seminars including some on polar alignment, GoTo scopes, and CCD Imaging. Finally another good night to finish up the day, with a few whispy clouds passing by. It was a frustrating night for Tom though, the complex equipment refused to behave.
Saturday - swap meet at 10am with 88 degrees already. Tom was tempted to sell all his stuff after the frustrations of the previous night. We spent most of our money, so we were mostly just looking at the neat old stuff, but got several cups of free coffee from the SAS table (thanks guys!). The clouds cooled us down for the rest of the day, and we nearly gave up and headed home. Comet hunter, David Levy, gave a talk that evening and it was a standing room only crowd in the tent. It showered on us a few times during the talk, but then....skies cleared!! Tonight we spent the evening wandering around looking at other people's equipment and talking with other astronomers. Tom and Wade were burned out on their struggles, and figured a relaxing night looking through other scopes was a better idea. Talking with other guys imaging, Tom came to the conclusion that CCD imaging is a male sport, very few (if any) women seem to do this. It's very common for a guy to spend several evenings cussing loudly in the darkness at misbehaving gear while their significant others stay far away....then another night everything works perfectly! Women being smarter then guys, maybe just read directions, master the sport quicker, and move on to other things...or are just too smart to get involved with the frustration and difficulty of this in the first place?
Sunday - clear and very hot. We basically packed everything up and headed down the mountain and westward back home to Seattle. It was a record breaking heat wave where Ellensburg hit about 108 that day, and home in Seattle was in the mid 90's. Good fun, and we are already looking forward to next year's party!

Astronomy Day - MOF - May 4, 2006

On Thursday May 4th, the Museum of Flight hosted the Space Day event where local astronomy clubs and groups were invited to show up and set up a display table. This is a yearly event at the museum, as well as Astronomy Night, which is a very similar type of event. Tom and Maia occupied the table and had our club display board set up along with the NightSky network black hole kit, one of Tom's moon photos, and a laptop showing a slideshow of images of the sky taken with the 'Big Blue' scope. We did have 3 other EAS members (and one kid) stop by to visit and talk with us. We didn't count, but we did give out a pretty good amount of club applications and cards with our web address on them, as well a whole stack of magazines which we didn't have to take home again. This year the event seemed to be much more successful due to the location of the tables. In the past we would be placed over between the kids airplane display and the Apollo exhibit which always seems to be out of the way and it showed with the dwindling number of visitors that would come by. This year tables were set up in the middle of the museum under the Blackbird which is a great location since everyone wants to see that plane! We had a great turnout, and they used the little theater down below for Ron Hobbs to give a Mars talk rather than in the main theater, which seems to lead people to the bookstore afterwards rather than the exhibit tables. There were the usual clubs there agian this time, Tacoma, Seattle Astro Society, Squak Mountain Gang, the Boeing club, and the always present Seattle Space Society goup. It was a good evening and we think we got some good exposure for the local astronomy clubs.
(Photo credit: Maxine Nagel)

Astronomy Day Star Party - April 16199566a3-c0c1-4174-9c28-807bc8f682eb SMS

Despite continuous rain the day before, rain all night and sprinkles in the morning, we didn't call off the Astronomy Day star party. It had been clear all afternoon, but in early evening low cumulous clouds covered the east, which didn't look promising. We thought about the wet grass. We wondered if the low clouds would cover the planets. But the clouds were on a fast track, coming and going so quickly, that when we got to Lake Hills Green Belt Park, there were no clouds and the grass was dry! David Mason had already set up his new 12-inch Meade, a twin to the club's Big Blue. Tom Gwilym soon arrived with his 8-inch Meade and a teacher came with his binoculars. Later, students from his elementary school arrived. We looked at Jupiter with four moons and at Saturn and Titan and the seeing was very clear. Twenty-seven people enjoyed the planets. The clouds moved in so families talked until they cleared. Even the children were patient. There was always some portion of the sky that was clear and various Messier objects were available. The Moon at First Quarter was mostly in the clear. When we finally looked at it with the 12-inch we were amazed at the high definition of mountains and crater rims. We saw a long deep furrow apparently plowed out by an incoming object, that we hadn't seen before. The Moon looked so good, we wished we'd spent more time on it. David was using 400-power and was about to go to try 1000-power when clouds covered the Moon. It was 11:30 p.m. so we went home then.
"Our Milky Way Galaxy contains billions of stars, but the unaided, human eye can see no more than 6,000 of them"

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