Florida: Rocket Launch this Week

Long Exposure of Night Launch in Florida

We watched a beautiful launch from Cape Canaveral here on the Space Coast of Florida at 12:15 am on Wednesday morning (October 17,  2018).  It was a warm starry night as the ULA Atlas V rocket soared across the sky.  The advanced communications satellite successfully reached orbit about 3.5 hours later.

Florida: Rare Atala Butterfly Sighting

Atala Butterfly on Coontie

Atala Butterfly after Emerging from Cocoon

The Atala butterfly was thought to be extinct in Florida until a small colony was discovered in Miami in 1979.  This beautiful iridescent butterfly was protected and expanded its range over time.  We saw this rare butterfly for the first time in Sebastian a couple of weeks ago.  The Atala’s only native host for its eggs is the coontie – a small palm-like cycad.  If you live in Florida and want to do your part to help the Atala hairstreak butterfly, plant a few low-maintenance coonties in your yard.  The butterflies will travel miles to find these host plants by smell!  Locally, Busy Bee Nursery in Vero Beach sells coonties and regularly holds butterfly gardening seminars:  http://archive.tcpalm.com/specialty-publications/vero-beach/careful-gardener-uncovers-rare-butterfly-species-in-indian-river-county-ep-1233688624-340516281.html

Florida: Spectacular Solar Probe Launch!

Launch of Parker Solar Probe (click to enlarge)

Image of Sun Taken with Solar Filter

We had a beautiful launch of NASA’s new Parker Solar Probe last night.  Only a few hardy souls managed to be up watching at 3:31 am for the second night in a row (first night was scrubbed).  Nevertheless it was spectacular!  The night was very humid with heavy water vapor in the air.  Can’t wait to see what discoveries will be made about the sun!  As a bonus, I saw a Perseid meteor streak by below the arc of the launch.  Wow!  Read about the solar probe at:  https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-ula-launch-parker-solar-probe-on-historic-journey-to-touch-sun

Florida: Night Blooming Cactus!

Cactus Blooms Ready to Open

Cactus Flower Extravaganza at Night

Blooms on Snake Vine Climbing up Palm Tree

Night Blooming Cactus Pair of Flowers

Our night blooming cactus was in its full glory this week – 30 HUGE flowers opened at once!  It was spectacular!   In the old days of Florida people would have parties in the evening centered around the blooms.  Our snake vine cactus (Selenicereus pteranthus – Princess of the Night) was grown from a cutting planted only 6 years ago!

Cute Baby Raccoons

Baby Raccoon Climbing Tree

Baby Raccoon in Bird Feeder

Baby Raccoon Face

Mama raccoon in our Florida backyard now has four little babies – what a handful!  The babies play, wrestle, and roll around together.  They are like puppies, except they climb.  One time I caught them swinging in the hammock at night for fun!  I was surprised to go outside recently and see this baby raccoon inside the bird feeder.  Even so, they are really cute.

UPDATE JUNE 2018:  A raccoon made the national news because she climbed a 25 story skyscraper in Minnesota!  Read about it at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/us/mpr-raccoon-building-climb.html

Purple Martin Nesting Time!

Purple Martin Gourd Rack by Pond

Five Eggs in Nest

Ten Eggs in Nest!

Six Newly Hatched Martins Hugging Egg

Five Newly Hatched Martins

Bird’s Eye View of Babies in Nest

Babies are Hungry!

Older Hatchlings Darken as Feathers Grow In

Our purple martins are nesting now.  So many birds – it is the best year ever!!!  Purple martins are here in Florida from about January to July, and spend the rest of the year in Brazil.  Current totals are 20 nests containing 63 babies, 50 eggs, and 42 adult birds (one pair is on the verge of laying eggs) — grand total 155!  Wow!  Many of the babies are in the process of hatching, and a couple of nests contain older nestlings.  The tiniest babies are called pinkies, for obvious reasons.  One stumper is the nest containing 10 eggs; normal is 4-6.  We don’t know if it is a re-nesting attempt after the first eggs didn’t hatch, or another bird laid in there too.  Love this time of year!  More info is at:  https://www.purplemartin.org/

Florida: Epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch!

Author Pam with Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

Apollo / Saturn V Center

Space Shuttle Runway

Commemorative Launch Brochure

3-2-1 Ignition Take-off

Falcon Heavy Launch into Space

Close-up of SpaceX Rocket

Twin Side Boosters Returning to Earth

SpaceX Tweeted Photo of Tesla Roadster in Space

On Tuesday I watched an epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was incredible!   I had purchased the “Feel the Heat” package to view liftoff from the closest public viewpoint at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at KSC (only 3.9 miles from launch pad 39A across the Banana River).  We could hear and feel the rumble of takeoff when the engines ignited and everyone wildly cheered!

While we waited in the viewing stands, we were entertained by Bill Nye “The Science Guy”.  Earlier we got the chance to walk on the shuttle runway.  The runway is so long (~3 miles) that you can’t see from one end to the other because of the curvature of the Earth.  Locals call it a “gator tanning facility”, because alligators like to warm up in the sun on the concrete. 

This launch was the historic demonstration flight of the world’s most powerful rocket.  It launched from the same pad used by the Apollo moon missions.  Nestled inside the rocket was Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla roadster, including a dummy driver named Starman in a SpaceX astronaut suit.  Usually demonstration flights include demo payloads like a block of cement as weight, but Elon Musk wanted to make it more interesting.  And he certainly did, based on camera images beamed from the roadster!  My favorite one, which simply looks unreal, is a picture of the car after payload release showing Starman driving the bright red cherry roadster through space with Earth in the background.  Until the batteries give out, the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie will play on the car’s stereo.  A display panel in the Tesla says “Don’t Panic” – a reference to the sci-fi classic book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  Ultimately the Tesla roadster will endlessly loop around the sun for billions of years in an orbit past Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, just as thrilling was to see the twin side boosters simultaneously descend to Earth and land on target at Cape Canaveral.  Their speed was so great they generated double sonic booms.  The third core stage was set to return to the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean offshore.  Unfortunately the core crashed into the water near the platform.  But that was a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless and amazing spectacle.  WOW!

The space center seems to be booming lately with private enterprise, and it is exciting to see new projects in the works.  Hopefully these launches capture people’s imaginations about future possibilities!  A great article about the launch is at: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/02/07/spacex-debuts-worlds-most-powerful-rocket-sends-tesla-toward-the-asteroid-belt/

If you would like to visit Kennedy Space Center (highly recommended), learn more at:  https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for more detail.

%d bloggers like this: