My favorite weekend ride heads out through town and into the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and out to Canaveral National Seashore. The ride takes me just north of the north end of the space shuttle landing strip, and just north of launch pads 39A and 39B, the two space shuttle launch pads.
Since I've started riding to the beach, all of the shuttle launches have gone from pad 39A, which is about 5 miles south of the beach road. When the shuttle is on the pad it's an amazing site, but it's also a long way off. Since the Columbia disaster in 2003, all of the shuttle launches have gone to the space station, partly because it's safer - if the shuttle is damaged during launch (like Columbia), the astronauts can get to the ISS and wait for a rescue mission. On October 10, however, Atlantis is set to launch to the Hubble Space Telescope for its final servicing mission. Because there is no safe haven at HST, safety guidelines require NASA to have another shuttle ready to go in case a rescue mission is needed.
To get ready for the launch of Atlantis, NASA has rolled out the shuttle Endeavor to pad 39B, which is only about two miles from the beach road. On Saturday, NASA opened the service structures around the two shuttles on the launch pads for public viewing. Here is an official NASA photo:
Here are the pictures I took on my ride:
For a space junkie like me, seeing this sight on this ride was like a hit of crack. Never again will two shuttle be on the pads, because the program is being retired after another five flights. It's an impressive sight when you drive out to see it; seeing it on a bike gave me chills. Knowing it's a sight that never will be seen again was a very moving experience.