Tag Archives: Houston

Jet Airplanes and Space Geeks

I am currently at SEEC a conference in Houston that I have gone to for several years. The first year I attended was 2003 just days after STS 107 and Columbia was lost on re-entry. It was an eerily somber conference that year. This year there are some similarities because of the proposed 2011 federal budget released on Monday. The Constellation program, which would take America back to the moon and on to Mars, was cut. Everyone has been instructed not to talk about the political controversy brewing in Washington DC. Most all attendees would agree, the cancellation of Constellation is a retreat for the U.S. in its preeminence in space.

The great thing about this conference is that it gives fantastic tools and experiences to teachers to improve their instruction of the next generation of leaders and explorers. The attendees get behind the scenes access to Mission Control, Building 9/Vehicle Mock-Up complex, robotics laboratory and much, much more. I get to hang out with lots of friends and learn stuff to take back to Space Camp and Aviation Challenge.  I am a firm believer that educators have more impact on our future than today’s politicians. All the experiences at SEEC help teachers motivate students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) content areas. Simply put, a teacher’s classroom becomes exponentially larger.

I have toured the flight line at Ellington Field – Home of NASA’s T-38. I love the smell of an airplane hanger! I toured the Vehicle Mock-Up building. It is so cool how our TCF or MCC at Space Camp looks so much like JSC’s training floor. While walking around the Vehicle Mock-Ups I saw Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, astronaut and Space Camp alumnus. I got to tell her personally how much I appreciated her agreeing to take up a set of Space Camp wings on her mission next month. I felt it would be fitting for our first Space Camp alumni to be an astronaut to take a set of wings when she launched. Hopefully, I will get to be at her launch!

Other than hanging out with astronauts, the best part of SEEC is seeing old friends. Taunya Sweet, one of my BFFs from Space Camp, has been traveling the country teaching robotics to little kiddies! She is here! Crazy Tony Fleury from Alpha 19 joined us at SEEC this year. Another Alpha 19 member and Oliver-Key family member, Rhonda is my roomie. There are like 100 teacher camp alumni at the conference. Even my good buddy Leesa Hubbard, fellow Squire! Our favorite female astronaut and feminist Sally Ride even joined us for a keynote address.

I love visiting Houston, but on Super Bowl weekend I would rather be glued to ESPN trying to find out what my man Peyton is doing. I enjoy my time on the road, but home is in Huntsville, Alabama!

Space Geeks Unite

Since I was a little girl each time I traveled I didn’t get homesick or eager to get home until I began the trip home. There is something about repacking my suit case that makes want to be home right away. Once on a trip to New Mexico my father asked me on the last days of our journey what I wanted to do next. In a Denny’s in El Paso, Texas I said I wanted to go home. So we crossed Texas in thirteen hours hitting Dallas at three in the morning to end our vacation early. Call me a sucker for home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. I would not sacrifice travel just to be at home everyday. Maybe it is just being away from home that makes me appreciate home more. When I have traveled to other countries I have cherished my home country and yearned to see the stars and stripes flying over head again. I am very blessed to have traveled so much in my life. I am lucky to have had parents that instilled in me a desire to investigate the world around me. With that travel and investigation I have grown and learned about myself, my country, and about my world.

My trip to Houston is almost over and I am at the airport anxious to be back in Huntsville. The SEEC conference in Houston is a time for me to be a space geek, relax with friends, and to get way from work and everyday life. I have been to six out of the last seven conferences. And will visit again, but now it is time to reflect just a little bit. On this trip I have visited with former AC staff, old friends, and astronauts. I visited the historic mission control, JSC’s Saturn V rocket, and Ellington Field. I have listened to really great speakers and not learned the difference between yaw, pitch, and roll.

The first year I visited this conference was just after Columbia was lost during re-entry. Lots of the Space Camp gang made the trip. Kramer, Chuck, Dan, Sharon, Anderson, Kat, Rhonda, and Tony are the names that come to mind right now. We visited with friends and tried to get the word out about camp programs at the same time. I remember the huge group that crowded around Barbara Morgan. This year the only ones from that first group who attended are Rhonda and me.

In 2006, the conference organizers added a tour of Ellington Field and the flight operations for NASA aircraft. At the time JSC operated the T-38, the C-9 or Weightless Wonder, the Shuttle Training Aircraft, modified Gulfstream 2, a pair of WB-57s, and the Super Guppy. Each aircraft at Ellington serves a specific purpose to NASA. All of the aircraft had roles in the military or civilian world before NASA took them into service. I love aircraft. There is nothing like the smell of an airplane hanger, especially one that has a high performance jet in it.

During my last visit to Houston, Rhonda, Makins and I visited Boondoggles for dinner and a drink or two. This watering hole is known to many as the hangout for many NASA employees and astronauts. Since that visit in 2007 I have made a friend who told me of the Outpost Tavern. It was once known as the astronaut’s bar. If you are familiar with the movie Space Cowboys, with Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood, this is the bar where scenes were filmed. So if I visited Boondoggles, I had to visit the Outpost. Rhonda and I walked into the sparsely populated bar. It looked and smelled like a dive, but on the wall were photographs of countless astronauts and other Outpost patrons. There were photos of pilots and astronauts, mission patches and NASA signage. The place looked like it could tell stores of all sorts. There was even a tail hook on the wall. I even left something for the wall from Space Camp there. I gave them a 2009 calendar to hang on the wall.

The highlight of all my trips to Houston and the SEEC conference is the Friday night banquet. To a space geek it is a party like no other. It is a dinner with dancing. Not being a dancer I enjoyed the music of Max Q. Max Q is the band made up of astronauts. During the time they play you can socialize with teachers and other astronauts. It is a laid back event which is enjoyable for the geeks and non-geeks. Makins sister said it best a few years back, the world is in harmony that all the geeks are in one place together. I guess you could call it, Geekstock 2009.

Now I am in Dallas, on my final leg and even more anxious to be at home. I love travel, but it does get old. I miss Chris, Boo and the rabbit. Plus, I left my travel buddy at her gate, B10 headed for Moline, Illinois. Now it is just me. I am sitting on the floor near the gate typing on my laptop. For those who know about my iPhone, I am wearing it and my Dixon is tucked behind my ear. I am eager to get home to my pencil sharpener. Wherever I am and whatever I do, I will enjoy the adventure.

War Eagle

The best travel advice I can give anyone is to make lots of friends. This statement was very true for me today as I flew from Huntsville to Houston, Texas. I have been helped by friends along the way today. From the drive into work up until now, I have been blessed with gracious friends and travel buddies.

Let’s start from the beginning… This morning Boo accompanied me on my drive into work. The plan was to take him to Snapper so she could watch him until Chris returned from New Jersey. Boo being the spoiled dog didn’t want to drive all the way to Madison. He wanted to stop at the half way point to stay at Tater’s with Eco. Boo was lucky and Eco took him in for the day. Thanks Eco!!!

Time warp forward to this afternoon, I was about to wrap up for the day and head to the airport. I was visiting Boo and Snapper at the AC office when American Airlines called me with the great news that my flight out of Huntsville had been cancelled. I was lucky; they had already booked me on another flight, shitake mushrooms! Yes, rather than flying out this afternoon I was booked on an early morning flight and would arrive in Houston Thursday afternoon. As I scurried to call American and arrange for a flight to Houston tonight Snapper helped me call Charity and Chris. Thanks Snapper!!!

I was able to get some satisfaction from Kelly, the American Airlines phone associate. He told me that I might be able to get on a Continental flight that would be flying to George Bush in Houston rather than Hobby. For those not familiar with Houston George Bush airport is on the north end of Houston and Hobby is on the south end near Johnson Space Center. As Ed and Charity chauffeured me to the airport I was confirmed on the Continental flight. Thanks Ed and Charity!!!

Now, how would I get from Bush to Hobby? Hum… Mare! I called Mare who was already in Houston and had the flight schedules for all Space Camp staff coming to the conference. She is like the social coordinator of a sorority house or small southern town. With help from Mare she hooked me up with Nicole who was on my new flight from HSV to IAH. Nicole was being picked up by Leigh and someone else who I can’t remember at the moment, sorry! They would drive me to Hobby where I could pick up my rental car from Hertz and most importantly Rhonda! Thanks Mare, Nicole, Leigh and lady whose name I can’t remember at the moment, but she worked at camp long time ago!!!

The final part of this story is the most fascinating part. As I was pulling my rental car into the parking garage I was behind an Auburn fan from the great state of Alabama. We parked just a few stalls away from each other. He followed me in to the terminal. Hobby has changed so much since the last time I visited that my fellow Alabamian could see my confused look on my face. I was looking for the gates, security, or something that would lead to Rhonda. Mr. Auburn helped me out and pointed me in the right direction. For his kindness, and our connection to the second greatest state in the south, I said thank you and War Eagle! (I am sorry Punkin’ it was just the right thing to do.)

So the next time you get fractious about a flight being cancelled, stop, breathe, and look for your nearest friend. Traveling, just like so many other things, is all about the adventure and the people you meet along the way. Life introduces us to so many wonderful people along the way. Take the time to make lots of friends along the way! Oh, and most importantly take the time to learn college greetings!