1999 IPMS/USA National Convention Trip Journal

By Michael J. Mackowski

  Monday, July 19
Monday afternoon I took a direct flight from Phoenix to Orlando. Sven Knudson and Jim Gerard met me at the gate. Sven runs the space modelers web site and Jim works at NASA's education department at KSC. The idea was to rendezvous in Titusville with some other intrepid space modelers and watch the STS-93 launch, which was scheduled for just after midnight Monday night (actually Tuesday morning).

We headed to the Days Inn in Titusville where Sven had already checked in. I dumped some stuff and we met with Dave Weeks and his family, and Glenn Johnson and his wife, Ginny and two little boys. Dave had his wife and three kids. Karl Dodenhoff and his wife were also there, so we had two cars - Dave's Taurus wagon and Glenn's minivan. Gerard also piled in. We drove in to KSC and got situated on the causeway, almost all the way to the south end. I had been to two Shuttle launches before, the very first and STS-5. That was 16 (!) years ago, and one of those was also from the causeway. This time, it was not as huge a crowd as those early days, but it was also rather spread out.

The count went rather smoothly and the weather was perfect. The sky was clear and there was a nice breeze. I set up the video camera and was set to just watch it naked eye, rather than through a view finder. But the count got to six seconds and they aborted it when a hydrogen leak was detected. I saw the sparklers light up and for a moment thought the engines lit. With that, I expected a major delay before another attempt. At that moment, a lot of people seemed to think they'd just try it again in a few minutes, but I knew they were done for the night, if not longer. So we delayed getting out very quickly, and got caught in traffic. Fortunately, Sven and I got dropped off at Titusville, which only took an hour or so. After a launch time scheduled for 12:36 am, the others did not make it back to Orlando until nearly 4 am.
Mackowski at CCAS
The author at a Gemini mock-up at the USAF Museum.

Sven Knudson, ready for action.
Tuesday, July 20 - 30 Years after Apollo 11
Sven and I got in touch with Al Hartmann (a volunteer at the USAF Space and Missile Museum at the Cape) and met him at the USAF south gate at about 10 am. Right now, the Cape Canaveral Air Station is under a security alert that makes it impossible for the general public to get to the Museum. But Al got us access. We spent the day at the USAF Space and Missile Museum. Weeks joined us a little later, as he was worn out from getting in so late. We ran into some other folks there, including Glen Swanson (ex-editor of Quest magazine, now the official historian at NASA JSC), Steward Bailey (curator at the Michigan Museum of Science), and Jonathan McDowell (FPSpace e-list contributor and web master of a nice data base of space launches. Turns out his real job is an astrophysicist and he is on the Chandra science team.).
Military Space Exhibit
The X-20 exhibit in the military space display at the USAF Space and Missile Museum.

X-20 model
Glenn Johnson's X-20 model in the exhibit.
Group photo

Space geeks at Pad 2: (L - R): Doug Bernstein, Sven Knudson, Al Hartmann, Jeff Bernstein, Jonathan McDowell, Mike Mackowski, Stewart Bailey, David Weeks, Glen Swanson.
We first spent some time getting a tour at the main museum, including a look at the old Gemini white room being restored. We wandered around the space park, and looked at the indoor exhibits. It was hot out but not bad in the shade. The USAF military space exhibits featured models by Weeks and Glenn Johnson. Then Al gave us a driving tour, stopping at several old launch pads. We spent the most time at pad 34, where the Apollo 1 astronauts lost their lives. It was an eerie feeling. The monolithic concrete launch table just sitting amongst a vast expanse of concrete, only a few hundred meters from the ocean. You could see the new commercial Atlas pads under construction, and the old relics of the launch equipment sent echoes of times past. I picked up some rusty debris and chips of fire brick. We also stopped at pads 1 - 4, where the first Bumper flights were made. This location was only recently confirmed. It was a neat day, and we were ready to wrap up.

Later we met up with a group of folks for dinner at Paul's Smokehouse on the Indian River in Titusville. About ten people had a nice dinner there, including Joel Powell (another FPSpace contributor who often turns up in the pages of BIS Spaceflight.), McDowell, Knudson, Swanson, Bailey, and several others. Nice food and talk among a group of hard-core space geeks.

Wed. July 21

David Weeks met us at 9 am after Sven and I checked out of the Titusville Days Inn. We spent a couple of hours at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. We met up with Manny Gutsche there along with two of his friends. That was a really nice museum although it was nearly empty. They had Schirra's Mercury capsule, the Apollo 14 CSM, and a nice gift shop. Then we all got in Manny's big van and drove to Cocoa Beach. We were hoping to spot some space souvenir shops but found none.

Had lunch at Wendys. Manny stopped to make a pilgrimage at the Holiday Inn where the astronauts used to hang out. He also stopped at a thrift store on the chance there would be some old books or collectibles. No such luck. Then back to the KSC visitors center. We spent two hours there, checking out the free exhibits. My plan was to get this part out of the way today, and save as much time on Friday (when I was scheduled to go on the IPMS convention-sponsored tour) for the bus tour. It was a bit disappointing, as two major buildings were closed for reconstruction. But there was still a lot to see without having to pay any of the admissions. The MA-1 Mercury capsule and Gemini 9 were here. They had a huge souvenir shop and I got some early Christmas gifts for the kids.

Then Manny took us back to David's car at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Then back to the Titusville Days Inn and Sven's car. From there we drove to Orlando and checked into the Caribe Royale resort where the convention was held. This was near the Disney World complex, but was in a new area and was not very congested. The Caribe resort itself was huge. it featured three big 10 story towers with the sleeping rooms, a central registration building with restaurants, a big pool with a waterfall in the middle, and the convention center in another building in the back. The rooms themselves were not that huge, but they were split and had three beds.

We registered for the convention and made a quick survey of the set up. Then we rendezvoused and drove back for the second launch attempt. Johnson dropped out this time but we picked up Manny and his friends. Manny drove in his big van and I left the other pass for Karl who made a run to the airport to get the rest of his family. We left Orlando about 8:30 pm and got to the causeway in about an hour. Karl eventually caught up with us later at KSC. There were fewer people this time and we were about a mile further up (north) the causeway.

Again, the countdown went swimmingly, but this time the weather did not cooperate. Clouds came in and there were several storms cells in the area. They had a 46 minute window, and they started a weather hold at T-5 minutes due to lightning within 10 miles. About that time, we noticed the storm cell was east of our position, and it was getting more intense and moving closer to the pad. There was more and more lightning and it was moving the wrong direction. So we gave up, correctly expecting a scrub, and headed out before most people did. That probably saved us an hour driving time, since we all were going back to Orlando. Got back about 2:30 am.


Thur. July 22

Slept in til 9. I was hoping to snooze a bit more but John Duncan showed up. He would be the third guy in the room with Sven and I. Spent most of the day at the convention. Very few models had showed up at this point so I toured the dealers room. I was already pretty tired. My back and feet were starting to wear out. I bought the NewWare Mir photo etched detailing set from Glenn Johnson (RealSpace Models). I attended a meeting for OJT judges and checked out the contest room. I moved some model entries around, trying to put entrees in the correct category. I made up a list of categories for various space related models, but we still have category problems. I think it is mostly an educational thing, getting folks to understand the rules.

At 5:15 a bunch of us got in Manny's van and we went to Damons for dinner. I got the ribs which were very good. Got back barely in time for the 7 pm space modelers seminar. I was very pleased to see about 40 people in attendance, including Terry Buschmann from my old St. Louis chapter. The seminar went quite well, with presentations by Sven Knudson, David Weeks, Glen Swanson, Glenn Johnson, John Duncan and myself. At the end, I organized the night's trip back to the Cape. We had a few people drop out and some new folks who wanted to go on this third attempt. David Weeks dropped out, but we picked up Tom Kladiva (from Czechoslovakia) and his girlfriend, and two guys from Venezuela, Ricardo Salame and Mauro Freschi. Another guy, James Corley, had a minivan so he drove Karl. I went with Manny again and we added Mike Idacavage.

STS-93 Group
Space modelers at the successful STS-93 launch, July 22, 1999. (L- R back row): R. Salame, K. Dodenhoff, M. Gray, S. Knudson, J. Corley, R. DeNatale, (bottom row): P. Park, M. Mackowski, T. Kladiva, M. Idacavage.

After dropping off riders at another hotel and the airport we bee-lined to KSC and the causeway. The crowds were even smaller tonight and we were able to park close to last night's position and we walked up to that point near the portajohns. It was also a better view, clear of a small island that obscured the view further southeast. Again, the count went well and launch occurred about 12:20 am. I left the video running on a tripod and took a couple of stills. They did not turn out, as the camera auto-exposed a long exposure, blurring the scene. The video was cool. At launch, the first thing you could see was a little glow behind the initial vapor cloud over the pad, but once the shuttle cleared the tower, the whole sky lit up.

The amazing thing was the brightness of the rising rocket. It was like sunrise. You really couldn't see the vehicle, as it was too far and too dark, and once it launched the flame was like the sun. The sky turned pink (I think the color was from the orange tint of the SRB exhaust.) and the rocket plume was as bright as the sun. The sound was a bit disappointing. There was no low rumble or chest rattling roar that I remember from the other launches I had seen. We heard a bit of a roar and some loud crackling. I guess the problem was the distance (the launch was from pad 39B and we were about 8 miles south), the damp air, and a light breeze from behind us. But it was still really cool.

The shuttle veered horizontal and east pretty quickly. I pulled the video camera off the tripod and followed it through SRB separation. (I promised myself I would not fool with the cameras. Sure. But I did just sort of aim the camera and watch most of it directly.) Once it got to altitude, the glare dimmed, the sky darkened, and we could easily follow the main engines burning until it got lost in the muck near the horizon. They had some minor problems during launch. They lost two engine controllers, but the back-ups took over. There was also a hydrogen leak in an engine, but the severity of that did not become clear until several days later. The rest of the mission, including deploying the Chandra X-ray observatory, went well. We got back to Orlando about 2:30. Traffic was thick, but it was moving pretty well the entire way.


Fri. July 23

Sven and I forced ourselves up at 6:30 am to get to the convention sponsored KSC tour. I teamed up with Sven most of the way. It is almost an hours drive, and there was a hang-up with some of the group's tickets that held up Sven, so I made a run to the gift shop. Got my wife, Maura, a shirt and a first day cover. We went on the bus tour and the first stop was a four story observation tower to look at the shuttle launch pads. Then to the Apollo Saturn V center which was just tremendous. They have a completely restored Saturn V there.

Lunar Module
LM-9 (?) at the Apollo Saturn Center at KSC. Note the many colors of the thermal blankets.

We ran into Weeks and Duncan who came out on their own, and they were nit picking the accuracy and genealogy of the artifacts. Space geek heaven. It was nice to see the big machine in good shape, up close, and indoors. There was also a flight LM (LM-9?) and an unused CSM (Skylab rescue vehicle). Also the Apollo CM from ASTP was there. We had lunch under the LM hanging from the ceiling. Neat. Took lots of photos and video.

The nice thing about this exhibit is that it is not just hardware on display. The entrance has a multi-media presentation and the reconstructed Apollo launch control room. They replay the Apollo 8 launch and even rattle the windows. Very dramatic. Then, at the end, they have a lunar landing theater. At the entrance they replay television news coverage from Apollo 11, and take you into a theater with a simulated moonscape. Multiple screens relive the drama of the first landing, clearly explaining the many problems that almost scrubbed the mission in lunar orbit. Then a one-third scale Eagle descends from the ceiling, and later an astronaut figure pops out of the floor. Again, very dramatic, but not hokey or too "Disney-fied".

Sven and I wrapped up there, and thought we might have time to quickly check out the Space Station exhibit, but the bus schedule was slower than we thought, so we had to stay on the bus. We were supposed to be back at the main visitor center by 2:30, and the convention bus would leave at 2:45. Well, Sven and I ran through the center and made it to the busses by 2:44. Had a quiet ride back to the Caribe Royale.

I took a nap - four hours sleep and a day at KSC was too much, especially with late judging planned for tonight. There was a judges dinner at 6, which was basically a run through the buffet line. But they had a full dinner laid out, including salad, shrimp, prime rib, etc. Nice meal. After a judges meeting we did the first ever "moonlight" judging. It went pretty well. I had less than the usual number of models to move, possibly because the count was down a bit in the space and sci fi area. I had put out a category list at the entry area which also may have helped.

There was a bottleneck in getting the photography done. Sven was involved with that and he was up all night, literally. Judging was done about 2 am, and best of show went to a piece of Russian rail armor. Actually, none of the major divisional "bests" were that outstanding, at least in my opinion. I found nit pick flaws in all of them.


Sat. July 24

Slept til 11. Sven still had not shown up. At the time, I did not know he was still processing electronic photos into the presentation software. First I checked out the dealer room. Glenn's table is a good place to find the space modelers. Hooked up with Rick DeNatale for lunch. Went to Story Musgrave's talk from 2 to 4. He is an ex-astronaut who did EVAs on the first HST repair mission. He was pretty laid back and into cerebral stuff, the whole space-as-destiny mind set. Neat stuff, nice slides, and a good message. He signed autographs, and I got some.

Then I ran through the model room, taking what few photos I would get. They closed that at 5, and the dealers shut down then, too. Bought a car kit at half price for my six-year old son, Ben. Got together with some of the usual gang - Manny, Sven, Idacavage, etc. - for the buffet dinner at 6:30. The awards were in an adjacent hall (same as Musgrave's talk) and we got a row of seats. That started at 8, and the preliminary announcements and awards wrapped up at 8:45 pm. For the first time in my convention experience, Aris Pappas and Bill Devins did not announce the contest results. I missed their comedy routine, but a local guy did a good job getting through two hours of results.

I spent 11 pm til 1 am in the contest room as people hauled stuff out. We talked amongst the spacers, and went over Week's Gemini B as he told us the problems he had with it. Some of us went to get a drink at the main hotel bar. We hung around there til it closed at 1:00 am. Then Sven and I started packing up so we could make an early departure Sunday. Or at least a relaxed departure. Earlier in the day, I reserved a rental car so I could tour around on my own on Sunday.


Sunday, July 25

Got up at 8 and took a swim. They have a huge pool with a waterfall. The water was a bit cool but it was refreshing and nice to get some exercise. Sven got up and he and John Duncan and I got a nice breakfast. Sven and John were gone by 11 and I picked up my rental car. Although I reserved a compact yesterday, all they had was a Eclipse Spyder convertible. Tough duty. I was on the road by 11:30 am, headed for Cocoa.

Got more film at K-Mart and then went to Ron Jons surf shop. Basically a big clothing store. Bought my daughter a shirt for Christmas. I never got hungry and subsisted on a candy bar and Gator Ade. Stopped at Jetty Park just to have a look. Then to KSC again. Paid the $14 admission and took the bus tour. I had skipped the shuttle exhibits at the viewing tower so I took that in today. Spent more time at the Saturn V center and shot a roll and a half of film there, mostly on the LM and the CSM. Also saw the space station exhibit. Interesting to see the real flight hardware. Finished up with the somewhat hokey Robot Explorers exhibit. That took til 6 and then I headed back to Orlando.

I was supposed to meet up with Dr. Ken Patterson from England. He could not make the convention, but was coming to a vacation and I had some kits he ordered from RealSpace. I got caught in traffic (there was a wreck on the Bee Line). Karl had been trying to page me but my cel phone battery ran down so I couldn’t get back to them. Finally got to the Quality Inn near the airport and called them. We arranged to meet at Bennigans for dinner at 8.

After cleaning up a bit, I headed that way but went north instead of south on International Blvd. That place is a zoo. All the chain restaurants and hotels and gaudy attractions. Traffic was awful. I found a different Bennigans, realized it, and headed back south. Finally found the place at 8:45 pm. Met up with Karl D., Ken Patterson and his 9 year old son for dinner. We had a nice meal, but the poor youngster fell asleep from jet lag. They flew in from England earlier in the day. We had a nice evening.

  Monday, July 26
Checked out, returned the car after getting gas, and got the 8:15 am non-stop America West flight back to Phoenix. Sunday, August 8 After getting the ten rolls of film back, I left town for a business trip for four days. I just got back from that late this past Thursday evening, and have been catching up on bills and mail and household stuff ever since. So I still haven't even reviewed all of my photos from the trip. Nor collected the info on the contest (model count per category) and compared to previous years. Hope to do that soon.

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This page revised Sept. 29, 1999