Realising I was realising a dream without really realising it, if you’re still with me, was exciting. In pursuing the opportunities Life offered, I’d unconsciously adjusted my default setting to travel which thrills me and is on my Universal wishlist. My Mother said we had a little gypsy in our souls and so we do.
Just nine days after the Venice venture, I was off to Orlando for a conference. Weather was comfortably warm and humidity low – I always find that a killer, don’t you? All was set fair.
Following three days with fabulously collaborative folk, it was time for adventure. We had one day and a morning to explore before the start of the homeward leg and my heart was set on the Kennedy Space Centre. Never mind life-changing seconds, I remember the second Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, a transformational second for Mankind. I sat at the very control desks used in that mission as the actual recording between Mission Control and the astronauts played. I was surprised by how deeply emotional I felt.
The astronauts’ notebooks on display bore witness to their thoughts and I marvelled at the vision of Man that had taken the human race further than ever before. Science enabled the mindblowing calculations but, in the final seconds, it was Neil’s decision to use his human senses and abandon all else which brought the spacecraft safely down on a virgin world – as far as we know! In that split second, the mission was saved and successful.
The sheer size of the launch area was breathtaking and, would you believe the ‘crawler’, a massive structure which transports the spaceship to the launchpad and does 32 feet to the gallon, was OUT and MOVING! The coach driver was in a state of shock because he said it’s always locked away. But at 9.00am on 11th February as we arrived at the launch site, there it was in motion. Most visitors never see this enormous creation, which is about the length of a street. Now that was lucky! I was mesmerised and admit to a moment’s ‘crawler rage’ as the lady in front temporarily eclipsed the whole window. Thankfully, I managed to contain myself until the blockage – hers and mine – cleared.
Sometimes when things go wrong we feel we’ve crashed and burned. Believe me, after seeing the Astronauts’ Memorial Garden, I’ll never use that term again. They really gave all they had in the pursuit of learning and advancement, their courage matching their training and vision.
Did you know the area around the launch pad is a national park? Alligators lounge lazily along the roadside canals and, spectacularly, bald eagles with nests the size of king sized beds rest overhead, occasionally stretching to spread their wings. Manatees swim in the coastal water but it’s illegal to ride on their backs – err, does this mean someone’s tried? These shy, gentle creatures are Daughter’s great ocean love so better make sure she doesn’t pack her cossie if ever she visits – don’t fancy being summoned to the cells to collect her.
What a stunning contrast there was between the huge machinery taking us towards the stars and the ancient species quietly co-existing in the same area but remaining unchanged for, literally, ages. I remain in awe of all that is and all that is yet to come and realise that we’re part of one magnificent whole.
Oh, almost forgot to tell you, I went on the Shuttle simulator, too. Wow, at Mach 3 I was pleased I’d had a light breakfast. The first surprise was to be tipped right back in my seat. Although this was just for a minute or so, the astronauts spend five pre-launch hours in this position. The shuddering and shaking upon lift off until the fuel tanks are jettisoned didn’t do much for my benign intracranial hypertension, I can tell you, and it was a blessed relief when it stopped but this was followed by a strange sensation as we ‘relaxed’ into our mission. Staggered off like a refugee from a rough Saturday night and realised my dreams of one day flying into the universe probably ended then. To be fair, there was a warning about not entering the simulator if one had health concerns but I thought of the usual heart stuff and carried on. Wrong. I’m now waiting to go into hospital to have some cerebral spinal fluid drawn off to relieve the pressure in my skull but, heck, the ride was worth it. And I feel I’ve done my bit to further research.
For the last six years I’ve been participating in a research project in Oregon, USA, into this rare condition. How many others in the project will be able to report on the effects of space travel on the natural drainage of cerebral spinal fluid? Mind you, not looking forward to the neurologist asking why my symptoms have returned . . .