Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Lake Tohopekaliga

St. Cloud is on East Lake Tohopekaliga. Nearby Lake Tohopekaliga is about twice as large. Today we went on an airboat ride on Lake Tohopekaliga at Wild Willy's Airboat Tours.

The airboat had room for six passengers but it was just Nancy, me and Captain Brandon, who gave a great tour. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and we saw lots of wildlife including a nest of baby alligators and several adult alligators, such as this one:

Alligators are common in Florida and Louisiana. They are native only to the United States and China (where they are endangered). Crocodiles, on the other hand, are native to Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Australia. Click here for the differences between crocodiles and alligators. Crocodiles tend to prefer saltier water than alligators. Southern Florida is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators live side by side, but on Lake Tohopekaliga in central Florida there are only alligators. Both alligators and crocodiles are commercially farmed.

We also saw many birds including an osprey and a pair of bald eagles and their nest, and bass spawning grounds. Lake Toho, as it is called, is popular for bass fishing.

Back at Wild Willy's office, Nancy got to hold a baby alligator:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Humans in Space - What Next?

The last time NASA launched a human into space was July 2011, the final launch of the Space Shuttle. What's next?

Humans are still in space, of course. Two Chinese astronauts spent a month in space last fall (link), and the International Space Station (ISS) has been continuously crewed since 2000. The Space Shuttle was instrumental in building the ISS, but crews are now transported to and from the ISS solely via Russian Soyuz rockets.

NASA is currently developing the Space Launch System (SLS) (Wikipedia, NASA) which will reuse concepts from the Space Shuttle. Like the Space Shuttle, it will have solid rocket fuel boosters and the first stage will be similar to the external fuel tank on the shuttle. Unlike the Space Shuttle, it will eventually have a second stage and the payload will not be a winged craft that returns to Earth like an airplane.

Every Space Shuttle launch included crew. The SLS will be capable of launching both crewed and uncrewed payloads. For crewed missions, NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft (Wikipedia, NASA). Orion is similar to Apollo but will hold up to six astronauts.

The first uncrewed launch of the SLS is presently scheduled for late 2018. The first crewed launch is not likely to occur before 2021. The SLS will have a launch capacity similar to the Saturn V, and NASA believes that it puts it on a path to launch crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s.

The image above shows the main elements of NASA's Space Launch System.

In addition to national space programs, several private companies are also developing crewed spaceflight capabilities.

SpaceX has had more than 30 successful space launches, including nine resupply missions to the ISS. From the company website: "SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets." All missions to date have been uncrewed, but SpaceX is developing the capability to send crews to the ISS. Crewed missions will be launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla, SolarCity) and is privately owned.

Blue Origin is developing reusable rockets with the goal of "millions of people living and working in space." They have had several successful uncrewed suborbital launches, and are planning crewed suborbital launches, particularly for space tourists, beginning in 2017 or 2018. To date their launches have been from Texas, but they recently announced plans to launch orbital missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center. Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Washington Post) and is privately owned.

Virgin Galactic is also developing suborbital launch capabilities for space tourists with the goal of being the "the world's first spaceline." The Ansari X Prize was a private $10 million prize created in 1996 for the first non-governmental organization to successfully launch a reusable crewed suborbital spacecraft twice within two weeks. The prize was won in 2004 by SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan and funded by Paul Allen (Microsoft). Virgin Galactic licensed their technology and started development of a second-generation spacecraft for commercial ventures: SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic is part of the Virgin Group, a United Kingdom conglomerate founded by Sir Richard Branson.

For reference, two non-governmental organizations in the U.S. that are important for developing uncrewed space missions are United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK.

KSC Visitor Complex

The Rocket Garden (shown above) is the first exhibit to greet entrants to the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center. The upright rockets launched satellites, space probes, and the Mercury and Gemini manned space missions in the early years of the space program. The much larger horizontal rocket is a Saturn IB, used to launch Apollo missions into low Earth orbit. The even larger Saturn V rocket, not shown in the photo above, was used to launch Apollo missions to the moon. (The photo above is from the link in the first sentence.)

Nancy and I visited Kennedy Space Center today. See my previous post for our bus tour of Launch Complex 39. This post is about other exhibits we enjoyed.

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is a separate building six miles north of the Visitor Complex, accessible by bus from the Visitor Complex. This exhibit houses a complete Saturn V rocket mounted horizontally:

The Saturn V rocket remains to date the largest and most powerful rocket ever launched. It was 363 feet tall and could launch a payload of 310,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. In comparison, the Saturn IB rocket mentioned above was 142 feet tall and could launch a payload of 46,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. The Saturn V rocket was launched 13 times from 1967 to 1973.

In addition to the Saturn V rocket, the Apollo/Saturn V Center includes many other exhibits from the Apollo era: a command/service module (this was the part that orbited the moon); a lunar module (this was the part that landed on the moon); a piece of moon rock that visitors can touch; a collection of space suits; a Firing Room Theater that simulates the launch of Apollo 8; a Lunar Theater that simulates the moon landing of Apollo 11; and more.

Back at the Visitor Complex, the Space Shuttle Center houses the Space Shuttle Atlantis and other exhibits related to the Space Shuttle era:

Unlike the Saturn rockets, the Space Shuttle was reusable. There were six Space Shuttles built. Enterprise was built in 1976 for approach and landing tests, but was not launched into orbit. Four orbiters were originally built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis. Endeavor was the fifth and last orbiter built in 1991 to replace the loss of Challenger in 1986.

The main components of the Space Shuttle were the orbiter, an external fuel tank, and two external solid rocket boosters. The total assembly was 184 feet tall and could launch a payload of 60,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. The five orbiters were launched a total of 135 times from 1981 to 2011.

There are many other exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Heroes and Legends is a new exhibit about astronauts and includes the Astronaut Hall of Fame. There are exhibits about current and planned NASA missions. There are two IMAX theaters and much more. Nancy and I did not begin to see everything.

Three crewed U.S. space missions resulted in tragedy, all in late January or early February: Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967 (50 years ago); the Challenger Space Shuttle on January 28, 1986; and the Columbia Space Shuttle on February 1, 2003. NASA observes an annual Day of Remembrance which was Thursday, January 26, this year. The staff at KSC was setting up for this event as we left.

KSC Launch Complex 39

All of the Apollo missions to the moon and all of the Space Shuttle missions were launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39. Nancy and I visited Kennedy Space Center (KSC) today. The aerial photo above (source) shows the large Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in the center and Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) at the top, consisting of two launch pads: LC-39A on the right and LC-39B on the left. The photo is looking northeast and at the very top is the Atlantic Ocean.

Below is a map of KSC and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (source). The VAB is indicated by the red circle, and LC-39A and LC-39B are indicated by red arrows. (Click on any image or photo to enlarge.) LC-39A is three miles from the VAB to give you an idea of scale. Why so far? To reduce the risk of damage to the VAB if a rocket should explode on the launch pad, which thankfully never happened.

The photo below shows the VAB from our bus tour today:

This huge building, 525 feet tall and a single story inside, was used to assemble the Saturn V rocket for Apollo missions and to attach the Space Shuttle to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.

The assembled space vehicle was transported from the VAB to either LC-39A or LC-39B by a crawler-transporter on the crawlerway. The crawlerway is clearly visible in the photo at the top of this post. Our bus drove by a crawler-transporter, but of course there was no space vehicle on it:

The last Apollo mission was Apollo 17 in 1971. A total of 135 Space Shuttle missions were launched from 1981 to 2011, when the program ended. (Here are links to lists of Apollo missions and Space Shuttle missions.) Between the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle missions, LC-39 was used to launch Skylab missions in 1973 and the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.

Our bus tour stopped at an observation point between LC-39A and LC-39B. The photo below shows LC-39B (in the distance), with a sign in the foreground showing the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions launched from there. LC-39B looks quite bare, and there is nothing substantive going on there at present.

The photo below shows LC-39A (in the distance) from the same observation point:

There is something presently going on at LC-39A. Below is a closer view taken from a different angle (from the bus):

In 2014 SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for LC-39A. SpaceX has launched its Falcon rocket from other locations, and is preparing for its first launch from LC-39A in February 2017. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002.

Take a closer look at the signs above showing the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions launched from LC-39A and LC-39B. The sign for 39A shows a Saturn V rocket on the left and a Space Shuttle on the right. Note how much larger the Saturn V rocket is. The sign for 39B shows a Saturn IB rocket on the left and a Space Shuttle on the right. The Saturn IB rocket is on a pedestal so that the Apollo capsule on top is at the same height as for a Saturn V (so that the same launch umbilical tower could be used for both rockets). The Saturn IB rocket was used for early Apollo test flights in low Earth orbit. The Saturn V rocket was used to send Apollo to the moon. Almost all Saturn V launches were from 39A.

The first U.S. manned space missions – Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7 – were launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center (see map above). The launch sites at Cape Canaveral AFS were not large enough to handle the Saturn V rocket, which is why LC-39 was constructed at KSC.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

St. Cloud, Florida

St. Cloud is a city of about 45,000 people in Osceola County in central Florida. St. Cloud is southeast of Kissimmee, and both are just south of Orlando. Pictured is the St. Cloud City Hall.

The historical marker in the photo discusses the Sugar Belt Railway. Florida was sparsely populated until after the Civil War. In the 1870s Philadelphia industrialist Hamilton Disston became interested in developing central Florida while on fishing trips with his friend Henry Sanford, founder of the nearby city of Sanford. In 1881 Mr. Disston purchased four million acres in central Florida and, among other projects, established a sugar plantation in what is now St. Cloud. He built the Sugar Belt Railway between his sugar plantation and Kissimmee.

The sugar planation failed but in 1909 the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans from the Civil War, was looking to establish a retirement community for its members. It purchased 35,000 acres from the defunct Disston sugar plantation and established St. Cloud, known as "The Soldier City."

St. Cloud is on the southern end of East Lake Tohopekaliga which is about 12,000 acres and has a maximum depth of 18 feet. It is a popular lake for boating and fishing. The photo below shows sunset from Crabby Bill's Restaurant on the southern shore of East Lake Toho:

St. Cloud was so named in the 1880s after St. Cloud, Minnesota, which has been established a few decades earlier, and which itself was named for Saint-Cloud, France, near Paris.

Friday, January 20, 2017

South Carolina Interesting History

South Carolina was one of the wealthiest of the American Colonies. I saw a display in the Visitor Education Center for Fort Sumter that said that at one point in our history nine of the ten wealthiest families in America were from South Carolina. I cannot remember what year it said, maybe 1760.

Wealth in South Carolina was originally from rice and indigo. Cotton came later. All were based on slave labor. The descendants of the African slaves in the Lowcountry (i.e., coastal) regions of South Carolina and Georgia are known as the Gullah (aka Geechee or Gullah/Geechee). One of their traditions is weaving sweetgrass baskets. Many vendors were selling sweetgrass baskets at the Charleston City Market near our hotel.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States of America in 1860 (see my earlier post on Fort Sumter), but its independent spirit dates from Colonial times. On March 26, 1776 – more than three months before the Declaration of Independence – South Carolina adopted its own government and constitution to be effective "until an accommodation of the differences between Great Britain and America shall take place" (source, article XXXIII).

The first major engagements in the American Revolution were in the northern colonies, beginning in 1775 with Lexington and Concord on April 19 and the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17. The following year, however, saw an important engagement in the south. On June 28, 1776 the British attempted to invade Charleston, but were repulsed by a force led by Colonel William Moultrie at Fort Sullivan. The partially completed fort, made of sand and palmetto logs, absorbed the British cannon fire with little damage. Return fire from the fort inflicted significant damage on the British fleet, which withdrew. A few days later, the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Shortly after the battle, known as the Battle of Sullivan's Island, Fort Sullivan was renamed Fort Moultrie in honor of Colonel Moultrie. South Carolina's nickname (the Palmetto State) and the South Carolina flag reflect this battle. The British did not return to Charleston until 1780, when they succeeded in capturing the city. Later, following the War of 1812, Fort Sumter was constructed to provide the primary defense of Charleston. Today both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are part of the Fort Sumter National Monument.

The Second Continental Congress authorized creation of the Continental Navy in October 1775 and the Continental Marines in November 1775. Christopher Gadsden was a representative to the Continental Congress from South Carolina, a notable member of the Sons of Liberty, and later a brigadier general in the Continental Army. He designed the Gadsden Flag, shown above, that was used by the Continental Marines.

Emanuel AME Church

Both our bus tour of Charleston yesterday and our walk this morning took us by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Founded in 1816, and often called Mother Emanuel, this is one of the oldest African American churches in the United States.

This church was the site of one of the saddest crimes in recent years. In June 2015 nine people were shot and killed inside the church during a prayer service, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa Pinckney. President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy at Pinckney's memorial service. Dylann Roof was convicted in federal court in December 2016 and sentenced to death on January 10, 2017, just prior to our visit to Charleston. Click here for more info.

All nine murder victims were black. Dylann Roof is white. Our bus tour guide yesterday said: "He tried to start a race war. He picked the wrong city."

Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in Charleston, above, is at East Bay and Broad Streets, a short walk from our hotel. It is a museum now, but it was an important historic building. It was completed in 1771 initially to serve as a custom house for goods being shipped in and out of Charleston Harbor.

Like the rest of the American Colonies, the people of Charleston objected to the British Tea Act of 1773. A meeting was held at the Exchange on December 3, 1773, thirteen days before the Boston Tea Party, to decide what to do about a shipment of East India Company tea that had arrived two days earlier.
[T]he present government of the state of South Carolina traces its lineage to this anti-tea rally... The meeting of December 3 led without a break to subsequent meetings and then to the General Committee, the Provincial Congresses, and finally the state General Assembly.

Many important revolutionary meetings were held in the Exchange. It was where South Carolina elected delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774. It was where the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Charleston in 1776. After the American Revolution, it was where South Carolina ratified the new United States Constitution in 1788. It was the site of many events, including a ball and a concert, during President George Washington's week-long visit to Charleston in 1791. By then, the government of the state of South Carolina had moved from Charleston to Columbia.

An exhibit in the museum likened the significance of the Exchange to Philadelphia's Independence Hall and Boston's Faneuil Hall.

And what happened to that tea? Unlike the Bostonians, the Charlestonians did not dump the tea in the harbor. The tea was stored in the Exchange until it was sold in 1776 to help finance the war against Britain.

The history of the Exchange is not all positive. The British captured Charleston in 1780 and used the Exchange as a barracks, and the basement as a prison - the Provost Dungeon. Slaves were sold outside the Exchange for generations prior to the Civil War.

The Exchange served as the Charleston Post Office from 1815 to 1896 with brief interruptions due to earthquake and war. The United States government decided to sell the Exchange in the late 1890s, and the sale was finally accomplished in 1913 to the Daughters of the American Revolution who now operate the museum.

Click here for more information about the Exchange. That link is the source of the quote above.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter, the site of the first shots in the American Civil War, is located in Charleston Harbor. The photo below shows that the fort is surrounded by water:

Fort Sumter was constructed following the War of 1812 to protect Charleston Harbor. Granite blocks were imported from New England to build up a shallow sand bar. The fort was originally three stories tall, reaching 50 feet above the low tide mark. Only ruins remain now:

The city of Charleston is visible in the distance in the photo above, and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is also visible to the right of the city.

Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860, and inaugurated on March 4, 1861. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States of America. Other states followed and the Confederate States of America was formed on February 4, 1861. The CSA demanded control of all USA forts and properties within their boundaries. In Charleston, the only USA force was at Fort Sumter, commanded by Major Robert Anderson with a small force of about 130 men. On orders from President Lincoln, Major Anderson refused to surrender until fired upon. Confederate batteries opened fire on April 12, 1861, and fired continuously for 34 hours until Major Anderson surrendered. No one was killed during the battle, and Major Anderson and his men were allowed to evacuate to New York.

Our visit to Fort Sumter on Thursday was in the afternoon, and we watched the lowering of the flag at the end of the day. This is the same flag as in the second photo above:

Fort Sumter was re-armed during the Spanish-American War, but it only saw combat during the American Civil War.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Nancy and I visited Charleston, South Carolina, from Wednesday through Friday. We stayed at the Market Pavilion Hotel on East Bay Street (photo above).

Charleston, founded in 1670 and named for the then king of England, King Charles II, is on a peninsula formed by the Ashley River to the west and the Cooper River to the east. At the confluence of the two rivers, and protected by several large islands, is Charleston Harbor.

The Market Pavilion Hotel has a wonderful rooftop bar. The photo below is taken from there, and shows the United States Custom House directly across the street from the hotel, and behind it the Cooper River:

On the other side of the Cooper River, and indicated by the arrow, is the USS Yorktown - a World War II aircraft carrier - at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Years ago I visited the museum with Boy Scout Troop 39 from Jeffersonville and we spent a night on the Yorktown.

The reflections in the photo above are from the Plexiglas walls surrounding the rooftop bar.

Charleston reminds me of Boston in many ways, both historical and modern. Below is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge across the Cooper River that reminds me of the Bunker Hill Bridge across the Charles River in Boston:

The photo below is Charleston Harbor at sunset, taken from The Battery on the southernmost tip of the peninsula:

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park is 20 miles southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. Located in the floodplain of the Congaree River, "this park protects over 26,000 acres of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, the largest such area left in the United States." (source: park brochure) Much of the park is wetland, and a good introduction to the park is the 2.4 mile boardwalk that Nancy and I walked on Wednesday:

The park is home to many tall trees including this loblolly pine that Nancy is hugging which is over 150 feet high (#11 on the boardwalk tour):

Bald cypress trees are common in the park and produce "knees":

The function of cypress knees is not entirely understood, but may help to help anchor the tree in soft, muddy soil. Bald cypress trees can live to be over 1,000 years old.

The swampy terrain of the Congaree floodplain made it an ideal place for moonshiners to hide their stills during Prohibition. This iron box is an old still (#15 on the boardwalk tour):

The park was originally designated as the Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976 and redesignated as the Congaree National Park in 2003, dropping the word "swamp." Nancy and I visited on an absolutely delightful day, but apparently there are times of the year when small swamp-loving insects are pervasive:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Main and Lady

Following our visit to AgFirst Farm Credit Bank today, Nancy and I had refreshments at a sidewalk café - Cantina 76 - not far from the State House. We were at the intersection of Main and Lady. You can just barely see the tables on the sidewalk at the bottom of the photo.

Federal Land Bank Building

Nancy and I walked by the old Federal Land Bank building at 1401 Hampton Street in Columbia, South Carolina. The photo above is the cornerstone.

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank is the successor to the Federal Land Bank of Columbia. AgFirst moved to the Bank of America building at 1901 Main Street in 2014. The building on Hampton Street is now apartments - the Land Bank Lofts. Below is the entrance:

The plaque to the left of the door says "Federal Land Bank Building." The plaque on the right says "AgFirst Farm Credit Bank."

The reason for our visit to Columbia was visiting our friends at AgFirst today.

Confederate Womens Memorial

The monument pictured above is on the south side of the South Carolina State House. The inscription reads:


Nancy thought it was odd that the men would say that they reared the women. I think "reared" refers to the monument.

The men of South Carolina were very appreciative of the women of their state. Following are the inscriptions on the other three sides of the monument (click on any photo to enlarge it):

SC State House Trivia

We toured the South Carolina State House on Tuesday morning. The photo above is the south side. The statue that looks like it is standing on top of the white pickup truck is of Strom Thurmond.

Inside the Senate chamber in the State House is a portrait of Ann Pamela Cunningham (1816-1875), of Rosemont Plantation, South Carolina:

From the Wikipedia entry for Ann Pamela Cunningham:
[She] is credited with saving George Washington's beloved home Mount Vernon from ruin and neglect. In a letter to Ann Pamela, Cunningham's mother described the crumbling condition of the estate as she saw it in 1853 while on a steamship heading down the Potomac River. Cunningham was in her 30s and, having been crippled in a riding accident as a teenager, decided she would initiate a campaign to save the estate. She raised funds to purchase Mount Vernon by launching an unprecedented appeal for donations through newspaper articles directed toward "the Ladies of the South" and founded The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, the group that still owns and manages Washington's estate, and served as its first regent. The group purchased Mount Vernon for $200,000. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is the oldest private preservation organization in the United States.

On one of the walls inside the State House is a plaque explaining the origin of the poinsettia flower:
Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) of Charleston, South Carolina, was a diplomat, statesman, architect and naturalist. The language on the plaque that is relevant to the flower:
President John Quincy Adams appointed him first Minister to Mexico, 1825-30. He brought the Christmas flower, named in his honor, Poinsettia from Mexico.

Monday, January 16, 2017

SC State House

SC State House
Photo is the north side of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, SC, taken Monday evening. We toured on Tuesday morning.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

PA State House

PA State House
Photo is the Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, PA. We did not tour (it was Sunday, after all) but we stopped for lunch at the nearby Bollywood Bar and Grille. Good North Indian cuisine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Years Day 2017

Nancy and I both retired at the end of 2016, and we celebrated New Years Day 2017 with brunch at home with family and friends followed by an optional snowshoe hike from the Plot Road to Roundtop Shelter on the Long Trail in Johnson.

The photo above is a little before sunset on the way out. Below are photos of the crew of seven hardy hikers at the shelter.

It was a nice day, temps in the upper 20s (F), windy in places, mostly cloudy. There was about a foot of snow in the woods. If we look happy, it might have been because of the hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps!