Saturday February 20th, 2016

As I didn’t do much of interest today, I’ll mention two historic events that happened on this date, both very important in their own way.

On February 20th 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

On February 20th 1985, the Irish government approved the sale of contraceptives.

You could argue that the citizens of both countries must have felt that these events should have taken place a lot sooner but hey, the Americans were up against the formidable Soviet Union and the Irish were up against the even more formidable Catholic Church so we should cut them some slack !

John Glenn only made 3 orbits before returning to Earth but when you think that just over 7 years later we were watching live images of 2 men bouncing around on the moon, allegedly, then it’s clear that once they got going, the Americans didn’t hang around.

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that I’ve no memory of Glenn’s 5 hr mission. I was 9 at the time.  Actually, despite being 32 at the time, I’ve no memory of that Irish vote either !  If they’d taken place the other way round, then I dare say I’d have remembered Glenn’s flight as my interest in all things NASA began with the first Gemini mission in 1964.

It’s one of the big regrets of my life that I never got over to America to see an Apollo launch. It must have been an incredible experience to see (and feel) that massive rocket blasting off but the Apollo Program ended when I was 20 and I was in no position financially to go abroad, never mind to go to America.

On 19th May 2000, on the way back to Michigan from Key West, Florida, I did get to see a shuttle launch. It was STS-101 and we’d bought viewing tickets at the Kennedy Space Centre a week or so earlier when on the way down to Key West.

Shuttle Launch Ticket 1

On the day before (18th), we’d already driven 363 miles from Key West and then we had to get to the KSC very early the next morning. So we just timed our drive to get there at about 2:30am, parked up and waited with others inside the centre for the shuttle buses to arrive to take us all out to the Causeway Viewing Area, with an unrestricted view some 5 miles across the water from the launchpad.

Then came a long wait, standing in the dark or sitting for periods on the causeway grass (keeping a wary eye out for gators which shared the area with us) until the launch at 6:09am and boy were we tired. That was also when I experienced the vast difference in speed between light and sound. At T-6.6 seconds the shuttle’s 3 main engines fired and at T-0 the solid rocket boosters ignited and the pre dawn sky lit up on the horizon across the water.

But we heard nothing except the voice of launch control being broadcast to us over the pole mounted speakers along the viewing area. The shuttle cleared the tower and still we heard nothing !  What was going on ?

Well sound travels at 343 metres/sec and with us being about 5 miles away, it took just over 23 seconds for the sound to reach us. When it did, you could feel the ground tremble, the air vibrate and it was like being next to a stack of speakers at a WHO concert. It was also a bit like watching a badly dubbed movie as when the T-0 sounds hit us, Atlantis was at T+23 and already speeding down range at about 300 mph.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget.  Yes despite my shocking memory.

I’ve got video footage of it somewhere and even some still photos but really standard cameras can’t do justice to a launch as the light is so bright that you just get images of a blinding fireball – so here is an official photo of the launch of STS-101………


I could claim I took it……but if I’d been THAT close, I wouldn’t be around to tell you about it.


Today was Round 6 of the FA Cup with 16 teams left in the oldest football cup competition in the world.  And somehow Leeds United was one of them ! I never expected them to win today and on this they didn’t let me down, despite it being a close game and us losing by a soft own goal.

Oh well, as they say, we can now concentrate on finishing in the bottom half of the table, AGAIN.  I miss the good old days when we were the best team in the country, regularly playing in Europe and everyone hated us.

Happy days.


I’m sure you’re wondering if I’m fully over my cold.  Well no I’m not, thank you for asking. Oh all the usual symptoms have gone but I’ve been left with a dry, hacking cough which I really don’t want. After a few hours it gets both annoying and sore and even the prospect of a nice salmon supper this evening did little to lift my spirits.

I watched a few recorded shows on the TiVo and then, before bedtime, some of my fav US shows like Elementary, The Blacklist and Grey’s Anatomy. Then it was off to bed and a few pages of “Winter Of The World” which was all I could manage before sleep overcame me.

Given this rate of progress, I doubt I’ll finish the book before proper winter is over !


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