Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center

Space Center Houston (SCH) sits across a small street from the Johnson Space Center. It is the SCH where we walk to before 9:00 am this morning, after leaving our car in the hotel parking lot a block away.

HSC houses information and artifacts from all the space programs in the US. Outside the building sits a 747 with a space shuttle atop it. Quite an impressive sight. The airplane was used at the end of the shuttle program to transport shuttles from California, where they land, back to Florida, where they take off, but the shuttle is a mock-up and wasn’t flown. We go inside both to get a sense of the size of the vehicles.

We wander the exhibits in the SCH, through the Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle eras and the future plans for the Moon and Mars. We see flight suits worn by various astronauts and sometimes actual equipment and vehicles and sometimes mock-ups. I read a lot of the information, an unusual act for me. It is fascinating!

From SCH, tram tours and VIP tours are lead onto the grounds of Johnson Space Center. The tram tours take guests to either Apollo Mission Control or the Rocket Park and Saturn V.   There are morning and afternoon VIP tours that go to different destinations.

Historic Apollo Mission Control

At 11:20 we board a tram tour to the Historic Apollo Mission Control Center. The computer monitors, screens, desks, including ashtrays and cigarette butts look like the people just stepped away from the room. The room was restored to its historic look and is kept as a museum piece. We watch the first moon landing on TVs in the historic VIP sitting area. Most folks would not have been alive back in 1969, but Murray and I would have watched it on TV when it happened.

Neutral Buoyancy Lab

We return from the tram tour, grab a quick sandwich for lunch and join the 1:00 VIP tour for the afternoon. The reason behind this tour is a stop at the NBL, Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Yup, the big pool! The pool is about 220 feet by 100 feet by 40 feet deep and holds about 6 million gallons of water. Submerged in the pool are sections of the ISS, the International Space Station. Astronauts learn and practice space walks in the pool as performing these in water is very similar to being in space. Each astronaut is supported by six scuba divers who supply tools, video and support for emergencies. A session lasts between 6 and 8 hours as that is how long a space walk will last. The divers are exchanged every two hours as they do get cold, whereas the astronauts’ suits are temperature controlled so they do not get cold. We could see bubbles on the surface so there were astronauts and divers in the pool at the time.

T38 Talon

Our next stop is the Jake Garn Mission Simulator and Training Facility where we see the T38 Talon flight simulator. All astronauts are required to learn how to fly these planes and to maintain a certain number of hours either in the simulator or flying. We also learn about the toilets on space craft, and how one has to train for this piece of equipment.

Murray sitting in the T38 simulator

Our last stop is to view sections of the ISS that are mocked up inside a large hangar. These are used for training also. We see a Soyuz module which is very tiny inside and actual space suits worth about 50 million dollars each and are worn 50 times before being retired and used for training purposes.

Sections of the ISS used for training.

The fellow leading the tour has immense knowledge and it is nice to be able to ask him all sorts of questions. The group of 11 asks a range of questions and we hear many interesting stories and facts.

If you are thinking of going to SCH and the Johnson Space Center, I would recommend a VIP tour for a more in depth view of astronaut training. The day was very rewarding and I enjoyed it immensely.

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A Stop in Houston

It has been a long time since we spent a day in Houston. It is a stop over if you are headed to Bonaire and you don’t want to do the hopper flight from Curacao to Bonaire. We have stopped here before and because of how the flights were scheduled we took the opportunity to take in a bit of the city. This time the stop has purpose. Debbie always wanted to visit the Johnson Space Centre and this time we are headed to see just that.

Our plane arrived early in the day so we decided to tour a couple of the art galleries on our way to the hotel across the street from NASA. There are two areas of Houston where there are concentrations of art exhibits. The place we chose to concentrate our efforts is the Menil Collection. John and Dominique Menil amassed what is said to the “the finest collection of art in the modern era.”

The area has several different buildings with different art in each one. The main building is the Menil’s personal collection. It has pieces dating from 1000 BC Egypt to Modern artists like Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol. There are some iconic pieces like Warhol’s Campbell soup cans and Rene Magritte’s La Folle des Grandeurs (both the sculpture and the painting). Also on display are works by Miro, Max Ernst, Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp.

There is one whole building dedicated to Cy Twombly. The work there was not my favorite but the Menils must of liked it a bunch.

One of the coolest buildings, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel was not open. A bit disappointing. I remember it from the last time we were there and it is quite spectacular. The exterior is a boxy building of modern times but the interior is an interpretation of a chapel all constructed of glass. The website will give you an idea.  

Menil Drawing Institute

The Menil Drawing Institute had two exhibitions. One by Gray Fox, Hyperreal. Several drawings some in graphite, some in ink and wash but all micro detailed. The gallery provided a magnify glass so visitors could have a closer look at them. The fellow must of had a large magnifying glass and a very good pencil sharpener. The second exhibit was by Si Lewen. His subject was mostly war or at least conflict. His drawing style was unique. Much broader pencil strokes but very descriptive.

The last place we visited was the Rothko Chapel. It was built specifically to display the works of Mark Rothko and is a place of contemplation and reflection. A simple place but quite stunning.

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Bonaire Tidbits

We are at the end of our scuba diving trip to Bonaire. Last dives were done today and we have a veg day tomorrow. On Sunday, very early in the morning, we fly to Houston. Before I talk about Houston, here are some tidbits about Bonaire.

Damsel fish are very territorial. I was floating past a coral head and felt a boop on my leg, what?? Then one on my calf. I looked back and this angsty damsel fish was booping my fin. Poor thing, I didn’t mean to upset it so.

Mur and I spent a few minutes hanging out with a small green turtle on the sand at one of the dive sites. Years ago, we were told by a dive master in Grand Turk that if we stayed at the same level or below a turtle, the turtle would not consider us a risk, so it would not flee. This wisdom has guided us to many wonderful turtle encounters, including one here. The turtle was munching and was not concerned about us at all. It was thrilling!

Shore diving can be a challenge as the entries and exits out of the water are sometimes tricky. Rocks, slippery sea growth, waves, heavy gear and holes can all play into the challenge. Murray and I did pretty good for the first week. Our technique is good – walking sideways in the surf so the impact isn’t as tippy, calling out when a wave is approaching, going slowly. The second week, as we got tired saw Murray do a slow motion tip over on an exit and Debbie stumble on a step up a beach rise and go kerplunk onto the rocky beach. It took a boost from Murray to get back up. So we did pretty good, with only two falls.

Only two falls, but if we count injuries, we had four! I must have kicked something in the first day or so as I have a bruised toe nail and it was painful to wear my dive bootie for a few days. I also got a nose, and sinus, full of water when I jumped into the water at the dive site called Oil Slick Leap. The next morning, the area under my eyes was swollen! Weird! Then Murray hurt two of his fingers on his slow motion fall and dropped a tank on a finger nail (on the other hand). So, fingers on both his hands were impairing his flexibility. We usually don’t get banged up like this!

We stayed at our favourite Bonaire hotel, the Coral Paradise Resort. Carolyn and Vincent, the owners, run a wonderful hotel, it’s friendly, clean, quiet and newly renovated. We would not stay anywhere else on Bonaire.

Murray and I seem to be Green Moray Eel whisperers. On many of our dives, we had a moray eel swim under us and continue on his/her way. Not stopping to chat, just passed us by on the way to an appointment or lunch or shopping.

Last tidbit. There are three dive sites on the south road that usually cannot be dived as the kite boarders occupy those sites. It is dangerous, as a diver, to come into shore when kite boarders are out as they also come into shore and a collision may occur. But, when the wind is quiet and not strong enough for kite boarding, we can dive these sites. Which we did. The thing I noticed was this section of the reef looked the healthiest on the island. Lots of sea life, corals, sponges. Why? No divers! The kite boarders are, in a way, protecting the reef! Good on them.

Scuba diving is done, next stop is Houston to visit the Johnson Space Center. Each time we passed through Houston, I said “Boy, I would like to go see the Space Center”, and this time we are! Stay tuned!

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Scuba Diving in Bonaire

We come to Bonaire to scuba dive. It’s all about shore diving here. The island is set up to dive from the land, although a person can boat dive, but why pay the extra?

Yellow rocks on the shore and yellow buoys in the water indicate where the dive site are. There are also a number of spots that are unmarked that can be used. It feels busy right now, but apparently it is not. A few years ago we were alone on all of the unmarked dive spots, but now, there are divers on all of them.

To shore dive, we have a compass and a very good process to enter and exit the water. First, take a compass reading straight out from the land or to the buoy. Follow that compass reading while kicking on the surface to the descend spot. After descending, continue to follow the compass reading to about 30 feet of depth where two or three marker corals are identified. Some divers take a safety sausage, fill it with air and tie it to a coral for a marker. Determine the current direction and swim into the current, descending to a nice depth, for half a tank of air, turn around and slowly ascend to 30 feet and locate the markers previously picked out. Once located, follow the reverse compass reading back to shore. Works every time!

It takes a few days to get our chops for finding cool critters back, and now we are seeing turtles, eagle rays, juvenile trunk fish, squid, cleaner shrimp and assorted fishes.

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Bonaire 2023

Surprise! We are in Bonaire once again! We missed our usual April dive trip due to some renovations of our house, so it’s July and we are diving.

It was just over a year since we were on Bonaire and we notice some changes to the island. The main road we drive from our hotel into downtown Kralendijk has been paved! Oh, it was so bumpy and filled with pot holes and we got quite shaken up every time we drove it, but today…..smooth as icing.

Some of the construction projects, resorts mostly, look to be almost completed, if not done.

We dive two dives today. In the morning we visit the dive shop to get signed up and get tanks. Our first dive had stronger current, which is surprising here in Bonaire. Both of us felt like newbies in the water with questionable buoyancy and high air consumption. But it’s always like this when we haven’t dove for a while. Our second dive was much more relaxed, perfect buoyancy, lower air consumption and a much longer dive and yes, slower current.

We introduced ourselves to all the fish again. Trumpetfish, trunkfish, flounder, filefish. Anemones, Christmas tree worms, lobster.

Tomorrow we will start doing three dives a day as we will be able to get an earlier start. Let’s see what fish we meet under the waves.

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Gold Coast

It’s my last few days on the Gold Coast visiting my son, daughter-in-law and new grandchild. I’ve not done too much touristing but have done a zillion loads of laundry, washed a millions baby bottles, cooked umpteen suppers and got my quota in of cuddles.

I will never get tired of the beach here. We walked Mermaid Beach this morning and it was gorgeous down there.

We walked in the water and it was slightly chilly, too cool to swim in although there were a few folks in the waves. The sand and water felt good on my feet and legs as I am drawn to the water and ocean.

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Gold Coast Waterways

If you go into Google Maps and look at the Gold Coast in detail, you will see the area has waterways throughout. According to the City of Gold Coast website there are more than 400 kms of canals and 135 lakes constructed in the area.

These waterways provide a recreational and transportation venue but also help control storm water and decrease flooding of residential and commercial zones.

M&D’s house backs onto one of these waterways. Across the canal is an flat field which floods, purposefully, when there is too much water flowing down the waterway. The water in the canal rises, but not to dangerous levels.

Canal that runs behind M&D’s house

There are walkways along the canals and we enjoy a late afternoon walk, pushing the pram, every day. There are ducks, swans, ibises and other native birds in and around the water.

It is a unique area to live and work in. We went to HOTA (Home of the Arts) the other day to see the Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit of Pop Art and the building sits beside a large waterway and also borders a lake that allows swimming. A grassy expanse encourages picnics and lazing in the shade.

My favourite pastime is sitting on the deck watching the birds and activity on the water.

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Hinze Dam

Today the three adults and one mini person hop in the car and drive about 30 minutes to the Hinze Dam, built across the Nerang River. The dam was built in 1976 and upgraded in 1989 and again in 2011. It is not used for hydro power but for a water supply for the Gold Coast.

The reservoir is currently at 91% capacity with 283,000 ML (283,000,000,000 litres!). The dam and reservoir were constructed to ensure the area always has fresh water, especially in times of drought.

No motorized vehicles are allowed in the water in the reservoir but canoes and kayaks are. We spy two canoes in the distance and I do not think there are that many paddlers utilize the lake.

The area is very popular with strollers, beginners bikers (kids) and coffee drinkers. We have a long stroll and little miss v does very well, chattering the whole way and then conks out in the car ride home.

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Gold Coast Botanical Gardens in Benowa

The Gold Coast has a botanical garden in Benowa, about a 20 minute drive from my son and daughter-in-law’s house. The gardens have maybe 5 kms of walking trails, both paved and gravel. The trees are mature and well cared for.

Even though it is the start of fall here, there are still flowers blooming.

We stroll and admire the plants and look for wild life, spotting a small turtle sunning himself on a log in the pond and a swan chilling in the shade.

It is a peaceful walk and the four of us enjoy this Gold Coast gem.

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Life with Baby

Our lives revolve around the schedule of an almost 5 month old. Wake up, play, eat, play, sleep, repeat. Oh, and throw in abit of crying too to keep the adults hopping.

I might be on the Gold Coast, but the only tourist thing we’ve done is walk down the beach promenade. The ocean will always be a draw for me.

Being able to see Surfer’s Paradise down the beach is incredible.

Hanging out with a five month old is fun. In her eyes, Mom is the Universe, Dad is the Galaxy and Grandma is the Moon. Grandma is fine but Mom is the supreme! We will see what the next few days bring.

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