It’s while skimming BBC News that I discover that the final launch of the Space Shuttle is scheduled to take place only a three hour drive away in less than a week’s time. I have to act quickly. I call my wife who, as luck would have it, has been keeping that day clear of meetings because she has so much work to do in the office. This means she can book it as vacation and do all that work some other day, which is a terrific start. Next, I have to run a series of vaguely relevant keyword searches on Google until some sort of plan becomes obvious.
NASA states that operations are subject to a multitude of factors, including the weather, and that schedules are likely to change frequently and without notice. They advise the public to ‘make travel plans accordingly’. Their attitude to departures seems similar to that of South West Trains, but at least NASA are a bit more upfront about it.
Pundits predict that over a million people will drive to Cape Canaveral to witness the end of an era, while the local newspapers monger congestion doom with headlines like ‘Carpocalypse Now’ and ‘Carmageddon’. Furthermore, weather forecasts are summarised as ‘dismal’, with chances of the launch actually going ahead reduced to 30%. Excellent! All this should put off the rational decision-makers at the very least.
The ten-minute launch window starts at 11:26 local time. Given the 50-mile traffic jam anticipated by Lt. Todd Maddox of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, I decide to book accommodation the night before so I don’t have to get my wife and kids up too early in the morning. The nearest vacant room I can find to the launch pad is a little over 50 miles away in something called an ‘Econolodge’, which costs a very reasonable $34 a night.
Other than the price, the best thing about our motel is that there’s little temptation to hang around in the morning, and so we’re on the road bright and early on launch day, heading to Space View Park. We’re listening to 540 WFLA for news on the countdown, and time flies by because Rush Limbaugh is on. He’s apoplectic about the end of the Shuttle Program.
So the Russians now have the only human access to space. Can you believe that? Yeah. We have to believe it, folks, ’cause it’s el truebo!
The Iranians are sending monkeys up, so soon we’ll be able to hitch a ride with the Iranians. Yeah. Maybe on one of their ICBMs.
He seems to be even more upset about this than he is about people on benefits who should be deported, or juries that clear people of murder who should be executed. Poor old Rush Limbaugh!
The roads are busy but we don’t encounter anything that could be described as a proper jam until we’re within 10 miles of our destination, and even then the traffic keeps moving. I don’t know what constitutes a ‘Carpocalypse’ in the US, but where I come from you can run into far worse about this time every year if you go anywhere close to the Hampton Court Flower show.
Parking on arrival is more of a challenge, I must admit, but having survived the Killing Fields of Teddies Nursery car park in Epsom for six consecutive years, I roll into that parking lot with a degree of swagger.
Well, that’s nearly enough words for now (especially words like ‘Carmageddon’), so here’s the rest of our morning conveyed through the medium of captioned photos: