Homer's Travels: Key West 2023 Roadtrip - Days Nine, Ten, And Eleven - NASA, Manatees, And Civil Rights

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Key West 2023 Roadtrip - Days Nine, Ten, And Eleven - NASA, Manatees, And Civil Rights

UPDATED 02-04-2023

Day Nine

We had some breakfast and headed to the Kennedy Space Center.  We arrived right before the parking lot opened and thirty minutes before the gates opened.  We ended up being first in line.  They opened the gates and we walked to the bus tour terminal.  We were following advice the Wife had read suggesting it was best to do the Bus and the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit along the route first before it got crowded.  The advice turned out to be right.

The Saturn V rocket with the insignia of the moon missions.
I'd visited the Kennedy Space Center when I was seven or eight and a lot had changed since I was there.  The command center for the Apollo moon program was now a visitor's center with a Saturn V rocket and displays about the moon landings.  They lead you from one introductory film to another until you exit into the main display room and the Saturn V rocket is revealed.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket being transported for reuse.
We got back on the bus and headed back to the main visitor's center.  Our trip back was interrupted briefly when a truck pulling a refurbished Falcon 9 rocket crossed the road.  I was surprised the refurbished rocket, that was being reused, still had carbon scoring from prior missions.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Back at the visitor's center we did the Atlantis exhibit which covered the entire Space Shuttle program.  The exhibit was set up like the Apollo one - a movie opening to reveal the Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in front of you.  The shuttle is a lot smaller than you think.  The exhibits include simulations of working in a zero-G environment, a model of the space station you can climb through (the Wife did ... I didn't), and a 'reentry' slide (the Wife did ... I didn't).  There was also a section about the astronauts lost during the Challenger and Columbia disasters.  The last thing we both did was a Space Shuttle launch simulator that was interesting and felt surprisingly real.

We ate some lunch and hit a few smaller exhibits about Mars and commercial space partners.  We finished with an attempted shopping spree in the "Largest Space Store".  I say attempted because nearly every shirt I liked was not available in my size.  We still managed to leave with three shirts and several magnets.

The rest of the day we drove back to the Wife's cousin's place for the night.  Google Maps tried to steer us away from congestion but just managed to add an extra hour to our travels.  The algorithm does weird things sometimes.  We filled up the car with family heirlooms to take back home to distribute to others in her family.  

Day Ten

A manatee and friends.
We left Tampa and headed an hour up the coast to Crystal River, Florida where we swam with the manatees.  First of all, it was cold that day with temps in the fifties.  We donned wetsuits and took a pontoon boat cruise through the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.  Manatees need fresh water and there are five fresh water springs that feed into the refuge.

We found one early and we all got in the water.  It turns out it was warmer in the water than on the boat.  I got some good pictures of the feeding manatee and large fish in the area.  The manatees are huge.  Almost hippopotamus size fully grown.  I won't post pictures until I get home and have a chance to process the pictures on my camera.

We got back in the boat and froze out patootees off.  I developed the most severe case of the shakes I've ever experienced.  We did get some relief when we poured cups of hot water inside our wetsuits.

Momma and baby manatees ... they stay together for almost five years.
We moved to another spring and there were manatees everywhere so we got back in.  We saw a mother and baby along with others of all sizes.  We were making our way back towards the boat when a manatee swam under the Wife, turned over on its back, and grabbed the Wife with his fins.  They to cuddle her.  The Wife held still and stared down into the face of the manatee.  It probably was just trying to warm up.  It eventually let her go and swam away.  You can say the Wife got her money's worth on that tour.

A memorial to the victims of
water cannons made more
poignant by rain water running
down her face and chin.

We returned to a hot shower and dry clothes.  We left Crystal River and drove just over seven hours to just south of Birmingham, Alabama.  As we drove north several muscles in my neck, shoulders, and back started stiffening up and hurting.  I suspect it was a result of the shivering and cold water.  

Day Eleven

It was raining off and on this day when we drove into Birmingham to take a civil rights tour of the city.  We met with the guide and one other  tour member and had an interesting combination of walking and driving tour of the civil rights history of Birmingham.  The area was in iron country and back during the civil rights struggles the Klan had access to dynamite.  The result was fifty - sixty bombings against civil rights leaders giving Birmingham the nickname of Bombingham.

We learned about the children marches and the four children killed when a church was dynamited.  The twisting of the laws by white supremacist Bull Connor.  All this was with the backdrop of the dilapidated, run down city streets.  The poverty reeked.

History is important to learn no matter how painful it is.  It cannot be buried by bigotry for long.  It will always come back even stronger.

After the tour we drove towards Memphis, Tennessee in the pouring rain.  We were grateful that the hard rain held off until the end of our tour.  We stopped for the night just outside the city.

Tomorrow we drive into Memphis to visit their civil rights museum and the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.   We are hoping the upheaval caused by the recent killings by police there doesn't hamper our plans.

Photos can be found in my 2023-01 Key West Roadtrip Google Photos album.

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