Sunday, November 01, 2009

RETREAT: Terror at the Space Center!

OK, perhaps the title is a BIT overdramatic. We’ll see. Anyway, our never-ending story continued Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center. Over the communicator Mr. D has the caravan park on the first row, next to a line of trees. I want to point out the many ordinary blackbirds flittering about, but demur.

Mr. Howell and I are assigned a secret mission, involving Michael & Michelle’s Group. National security could be at stake. Mrs. Howell, Mrs. McPherson, & the Taylors tag along. After entering the “park” the obligatory LS group photo is taken. The “Rocket Garden” provides another photo op. The boys are photographed holding up the Saturn V with both hands…then the ladies strike the same pose, needing only one finger.

The students take on the playground. We watch the IMAX Space Station film, narrated by Tom Cruise, with an introduction by a real astronaut. Elsewhere, a sign says someone named Jerry Carr is the astronaut of the day. NASA named the different sections of the parking lot after astronauts.

We eat an early lunch near our cars (and the blackbirds). Many throw bread to the feathered friends. I convince Julie to toss crumbs behind Mrs. Hanson, but no birds take the bait. Sighting national security, Michael Woodard convinces Mrs. D to let me be the lone chaperone attending the NASA-led class. Actually I’m thrilled, knowing it will add a paragraph or two to the Facebook Retreat Recap I’m planning to write. Knowledge-lovin’ chaperone Mr. McKenzie joins me. The other chaps, and most of the Servant Leaders, get the hour off.

In the class our students ask tough questions, led by Pierce and Frances. Caleb, Holt, Alyssa, Will, and Michael Taylor are guinea-pigs for experiments. We learn about the shuttle’s replacement Aries. I snap pictures.

After class we meet up with the rest of the group, and hop one of the “44 air-conditioned buses” for the NASA tour. We pass a huge bald eagle’s nest, the huge mobile launch pad crawler thing, and the huge 53 story Vehicle Assembly Building (no truth to the rumor that they’re building Chevys in there). Watch a video. Climb the observation tower. Snap photos of the two launch pads.

Back in the bus, the elderly bus driver cracks wise “Ask me anything. If I don’t know the answer, we’ll ask my wife. She knows everything!” More videos at the Apollo area. No sign of Ron Howard’s bald brother. Mary Clayton digs the large 70’s-style sunglasses in the video.

We’re funneled out to see a huge Saturn V rocket, an astronaut’s Corvette, the Lunar Rover, and the Apollo 13 capsule. Marshall chats up a retired NASA engineer. Did Caleb really ask him “where’s the bathroom?”? The group hits the concession stand. Margaret Donovan tests the KSC “free refill” policy, after spilling her blue Slurpee. The Howells opt for Peanut M&Ms.

Michael expertly directs his group back to the bus, making sure there’s enough time for everything. Michelle lags behind, purchasing souvenirs. Back at the main Visitors Center we make tracks for the “realistic” Shuttle Launch Experience.” I notice the Howells decide to sit this one out. I make eye contact with Brad, nodding that I’ll continue our secret mission alone.

As we que, videotaped astronauts rave how authentic this “Experience” is. We deposit the contents of our pockets in lockers, lest we lose them. Not a huge fan of thrill rides, I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. Woodard fools Will into thinking the floor is going to drop out from under him. Then, the “Experience.” To me, a huge disappointment.

Afterwards, the circular exit is lined with a plaque from each of the 128 shuttle missions. I note the only two black & white plaques, honoring the last Challenger and Columbia missions. Michael & Michelle then lead us on a beeline back to the IMAX for the Tom Hanks Man on the Moon show.

We pass the Howells again. A group is clustered around Allison. She’s having an allergic reaction, which is strange, because she’s never had one before. As Mrs. D would later tell the group, with Allison’s throat swelling, she was minutes away from suffocating. Who would save Mrs. Howell this time?

Thankfully, the Howells had caught our same bus back to the main area, where Retreat Nurse Pam Ellis was watching her little Daniel play. In her always handy medical kit was a dose of Epinephrine, which wound up saving Allison’s life. Thanks be to God!

But the carnage doesn’t end there. Did you SEE those souvenir prices? Mary Massey purchases a postcard, and gets Jerry Carr’s autograph. The Junior Astronaut helmet is too pricey for Mr. Taylor. We return to our cars, expecting the shade from the trees to cool our cars. Instead we see what liberties the blackbirds have taken on our hoods. A strange man wanders up, looking for Mr. D or Kyle. It’s Kyle’s uncle, bearing gifts from NASA.

With Kyle graduating, perhaps Mrs. Ellis will take his place as Krypto!

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