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My space week in Florida 12-18.07.2019

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Monday 7/22/19, time 9:20 PM

Thanks to Virgin Galactic, I spent one of the best weeks of my life in Florida in July 2019. My heroes are Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard and the Apollo astronauts. I could never have imagined, for example, wearing Alan Shepard’s pilot jacket from 1947, drinking beer and playing golf with Apollo astronauts. Or that I attend an annual astronaut parade at Cocoa Beach, listen to a concert where Neil Amstrong's son was playing, or take a private tour of the Kennedy Space Center and the Boieng Factory. Florida has an extensive history of conquering space. When I talked to the locals, everyone seemed to have some connection to space. One’s grandfather may have been building some part of the rocket, and I heard over and over again stories about rocket launches that have probably been hundreds over the past 50 years.

My space week exceeded all my expectations. Here are my observations in the form of a diary. If anyone else would like to make the same trip, I’ll be happy to give some tips.

It all started with the dinner ticket

Thanks to Virgin Galactic, I was able to get hold of a dinner ticket for the Apollo Gala on July 16, 2019, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight departure. Ticket prices ranged from $ 1,000 to $ 3,500. Mine was a modest $ 1,000 ticket, the buyers of the most expensive tickets had the privilege to sit at the same table with one of the Apollo astronauts. After I got the gala ticket, I decided to take as much space activities as possible while in Florida. So, I attended several events organized by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the Aldrin Family Foundation and the Virgin Galactic. The two above mentioned can be accessed by anyone who buys tickets in time.

A golf tournament and a pub tour all in one day

The week began with golf together with astronauts Al Worden (Apollo 15), Bruce Melnick (STS-41, STS-49) and Laura Shepard (daughter of Alan Shepard) on Friday, July 12, 2019. We were total about 100 players. The astronauts circled among the players so everyone could exchange at least a few words with them. The actual golf tournament was computer-assisted, we hit the balls on the second floor.

The evening continued with a relaxed pub tour ­ -  beer drinking and chatting with the astronauts. Al Worden turned out to be a very laid back and fun person. He is now 87, but seems to be quite busy as there is a demand for senior astronauts in various positions. Al is actively contributing in e.g.  a program called Back To Space, a program created to attract young people to work in the space industry. The United States has a great history in the space sector, but today's young people don't find it interesting in terms of their careers. Probably the main reason for this lies in the short-sighed policy, which can end your career short. Sometimes NASA gets the money needed but sometimes the funding stops ending the process.

Entertaining public events as well as space-related reflections at the weekend

Saturday, July 13, 2019 featured a big astronaut parade at Cocoa Beach. There were about thirty astronauts in their cars and children of the astronauts were present, too. The cars were mainly convertible Corvettes and Mustangs. Neil Armstrong's 1967 Corvette was also on the parade. Its selling price would reportedly be $ 2,000,000 if it were for sale. After the parade, a party in the marketplace took place with many kinds of space themed stalls. The evening ended in a free outdoor concert with Rick Armstrong (Neil Armstrong's son) playing.

Sunday, July 14, 2019 was a day for panel discussions. I attended three panels: Apollo Astronauts Children Tell About Their Life; Women In Space; and The Future Of Space. The panels were really interesting and gave me a peek behind the scenes.

In the evening, we visited the renovated Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center. The biggest new items were the statue of the Apollo 11 Pilots in the new park, and the lunar module. The Saturn V rocket is truly impressive and you only realize its dimensions when you see it in its natural size. It is over 100 meters long and has about 5,000,000 parts. Everything had to function flawlessly when the rocket was launched.

Monday chilling out with Virgin Galactic customers

On Monday July 15, 2019, I spent time with American Virgin Galactic customers. They have seen several rocket launches and were well aware of the state of the space project. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Boeing are for them familiar companies, and are being closely monitored by them. 

Tuesday July 16 was The Day

The Apollo Gala on July 16, 2019 was organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. The gala venue was perfect, a place that already was familiar to me: under the Saturn V rocket. There were about 500 guests. Three Apollo astronauts and one Apollo flight controller were present: Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Michael Collins (Apollo 11), Gerald Griffin (controller) and Charles Duke (Apollo 16). The gala program had just the right amount of speeches allowing plenty of time to have easy conversations with other guests. Both mens’ and womens’ costumes were stunning. Me being the only Finn on the spot, wore an outfit in the colors of the Finnish flag, a nice blue suit with a white shirt. To add some personal touch, I had my Rocket Design Shoes on my feet and a propeller hat on my head. The propeller hat was my response the organizers request to have some "twist" in the suit. The gala was definitely a memorable experience!

Networking is always worth :)

On Wednesday, July 17, 2019, I met Gisli Gislason, an Icelandic customer of Virgin Galactic. Gislin believes that I'm crazy, and maybe that's why we have so much fun together. As he  personally knows Elon Musk, I asked Gisli to order form Musk one small electric motor with battery for my Fiat car, the Rocket Uno. Well, we’ll see what’s to come.

Towards the end of the week we got a peek into something that others can't

Thursday, July 18, 2019 we were taken on a Virgin Galactic Private Tour at Kennedy Space Center. We visited the huge hall where the Saturn V rockets were assembled. An impressive experience, the height of the hall is over 100 meters and there was actually room to assemble four Saturn V rockets at one time. Now the hall has been redesigned to house a new SLS rocket (Space Launch System), which is even larger than the Saturn V. The SLS rocket is expected to be used in space flights for the next 30 years. The first launch of the SLS rocket is expected to take place in the near future. If everything goes as planned and the necessary funding is provided, its rocket will allow the United States to return to the moon in 2024.

We also visited the Boieng plant, where new CTS-100 (Crew Space Transportation) capsules are being built. The factory was absolutely immaculate and the capsules were assembled with doctor's equipment. Everything was very very clean. Each capsule can be used 10 times and is able to transfer 4-5 people at a time to the ISS (International Space Station). The capsule test flight should take place by the end of this year. It is not allowed to take any pictures in the factory and no ordinary tourists can enter it. Through Virgin Galactic, I get to go to places I wouldn't otherwise get.

After the tour, we had lunch. This same day, July 18, 2019, Rickard Branson turned 69 and he joint us for the lunch and gave us a speech. Richard told us that he vividly remembers Apollo 11 flight. He recalls watching TV the landing on the moon at home with his family. After the speech, Richard returned to his island of Necker and did not stay to attend the dinner with us in the evening.

The week culminated in Virgin Galactic's own dinner, once again under the Saturn V rocket. A total of 100 people were present. Dave Mackay and Beth Moses, pilots at the Virgin Galactic were also present. It is them who flew a Virgin Galactic rocket into space in February. They told about their experiences on the flight. They said that the sky is really black up there and the colors of the earth are even more incredible when you see it with your own eyes. They said the rocket flew up and down nicely. I can’t wait to have that experience in the space!

And what’s now?

Virgin Galactic will have to take a few more test flights before commercial flights can begin. The first flight will quite likely come true next year. I assume that I will be invited to follow the first flight, and that means I will have a travel to Spaceport America in the United States ahead. There will definitely be a memorable party after the flight, and I don't want to miss it!

Back to Alan Shepard's pilot jacket from 1947  ... It was so cool, it was just my size and suited me perfect. If it were for sale, and if I had the money to buy it, I would buy it.


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