Today was Memorial Day in the US. Along with three co-workers, I went to downtown Kansas City to listen to the free concert (“Celebration at the Station“) and watch the fireworks. The concert was at Union Station and was presented by the Kansas City Symphony.
We arrived in the afternoon. After walking around a little, we grabbed some supper. I had a really amazingly delicious frozen custard at Sheridan’s.
We walked around the concert site as the sun began to set. We found a place to sit on the lawn to listen before it got too dark. The lawn was part of the Liberty Memorial and National World War I Museum, which overlooks Union Station.
I had to leave the hotel at 7:45AM to get to Hutchinson, which is about 3.5 hours from Overland Park. As I did not get a GPS with the rental car, I printed the directions.
I arrived after 11:00AM. I spent some time outside looking at the Mercury-Redstone and Titan-II rockets and an example of the mighty F-1 engine. The F-1 engine did not have the nozzle extension, so the vents for the turbopump were visible. Counter-intuitively, the exhaust from the massive turbopump was pumped along the inside of the exhaust bell for cooling; the turbopump exhaust was much cooler than the 3,200°C hot gas exiting the engine combustion chamber.
Hanging inside the entrance was the incredible SR-71 Blackbird. The SR-71 spy plane first flew in 1964 and even at its retirement in 1998 was an unparalleled technological achievement. It was capable of Mach 3.3 (3,529 km/h) and flew at 85,069 feet (25,929 m) using two very innovative Pratt & Whitney J58 engines, which were a combination turbojet and a fan-assisted ramjet. Only 32 of these fascinating planes were built.
I bought tickets to see everything at the Cosmosphere: ‘Dr. Goddard’s Lab’, the planetarium, IMAX, and of course the museum itself.
I rushed to the ‘Dr. Goddard’s Lab’ first, as the next demonstration started soon after I arrived. The host of ‘Dr. Goddard’s Lab’ demonstrated principles of rocketry. The demos involved liquid oxygen, hydrogen and explosions. It was more for kids, but hey, who doesn’t like explosions?
After the Lab, I grabbed a slice of pizza in the café and then plunged back into the museum. There was so much to see.
After the Planetarium, I continued through the rest of the museum. In one corner was a full-size engineering test structure of an Apollo Lunar Module (LM) and a lunar rover. The LM was built by Grumman for testing during the Apollo program, and contains many flight-ready components. When I saw the LM hanging from the ceiling at Kennedy Space Center, it was mounted too far up to allow me to really connect with the vehicle. Being able to stand next to the LM footpad, you get a much more intimate relationship with the towering Lunar Module (17.9 ft (5.5 m) tall).
For the American space program, the two jewels of the collection were the notorious Liberty Bell 7 capsule and the Apollo 13 Command Module.
The Liberty Bell 7 (Project Mercury) was the second American manned space flight, launching Gus Grissom on a sub-orbital flight in July 1961. After landing in the Atlantic Ocean, the explosive hatch blew open. The capsule filled with water and was lost. Gus Grissom almost died too, as he had removed his helmet upon landing and his suit also filled with water. Research after the flight indicates that it would have been nearly impossible for him to blow the hatch without sustaining an injury to his hand. But at the time, some had blamed Grissom for the incident.
Sadly, the Liberty Bell 7 incident led to a design change that removed the explosive hatches in future American spacecraft. When Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were testing the Apollo 1 capsule on January 17, 1967, a fire started in the high pressure pure-oxygen environment. The three astronauts perished partly as a result of the non-explosive hatch which could not be opened quickly.
The Liberty Bell 7 was located on the bottom of the Atlantic and was lifted back to the surface in 1999. It was partially restored by the Cosmosphere and put on display.
Everyone is familiar with the story of Apollo 13. It was a thrill to see the actual Command Module. The three Apollo 13 astronauts had one of the most amazing rescues in history in that tiny vessel (well, they stayed in the LM during the lunar slingshot phase). Jim Lovell’s space suit was also on display. It was the one he would have worn had the mission accomplished the lunar landing.
One of the two Apollo white rooms is also at the Cosmosphere; the other one is at Kennedy Space Center. There is also a mock-up of the LM ascent stage, with plexiglass sides for people to look in. I spent a few minutes staring at the interior of the small craft, imagining what it would have been like to live in the LM for 1 to 3 days while on the surface of the moon. The interior is only the size of a closet. That little space was used by the two astronauts for preparing for the EVAs, eating meals, sleeping and using the washroom :().
The collection also includes the Gemini X module, which was flown by John Young and Michael Collins, both of whom later flew Apollo missions. The larger Gemini spacecraft had two-person crews (Mercury supported one person, and Apollo supported three). The Gemini program explored longer duration missions and docking procedures that were needed for the Apollo lunar orbit rendezvous.
Last were the Space Shuttle artefacts. A mock-up of the washroom, a tire, tiles, tools, food and many other items were on display. The tire was neat – I was surprised by the thickness of the sidewall. Another neat item was a set of the frangible nuts that were used to hold down the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters before they fire. There are four on each booster, and they are all that is holding the entire 4.46 million pound (2,027 tonne) vehicle to the mobile launcher platform. The nuts are explosively cut at T=0 (lift-off).
After more than 6 hours at the Cosmosphere, it was time to leave. On my long drive back to Overland Park, I stopped to take pictures of the Kansas countryside. I stumbled upon a cemetery surrounded by American flags. It was Memorial Day weekend. It was a nice, quiet spot to watch the sunset.
I arrived back at the hotel around 10:30pm, exhausted. But I was so happy to see such an amazing collection at the Cosmosphere.
Maygan has a great smile and a ready selection of different outfits. We started outside in the lovely evening sun before moving indoors to the studio. There was one other photographer, plus Denis and Maygan. So we all had ample time to work with Maygan and playing with the studio lighting setups. For me, it was a pleasure to work with an experienced model in a small group. In the larger groups at the RA Photo Club studio events, I used to get very anxious.
Today, Rosa, Lemin, and I went to see the tulips at the Tulip Festival. The weather was great. We wondered around the Byward Market, taking photos in front of the flower displays. At one location, Lemin wanted to take a photo of Rosa and I so I handed her my camera. This turned out to be a bad idea. First, somehow she managed to hit the lens release button and rotate the lens trying to turn the zoom ring. I had a heart-stopping moment as I watched the expensive EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 come off the front of the camera. Luckily Lemin caught it before it fell.
I put the lens back on and she wanted to try again. She seemed to struggle with holding the camera in portrait mode. She said later that the camera is too heavy for her. Instead of zooming the lens out, she took a step backwards without looking and fell off the step behind her. She landed on her back and badly scratched her elbow and knee. We picked her up, dusted her off, and then slowly walked to the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart to get some bandages. It was another heart-stopping moment as she is 71 and could have broken something. We were very lucky that she was not hurt badly.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the posters were not clear on what the exhibit was really about. I thought it was an Star Wars-related art show. Instead, it was an exhibit about the factors that contribute to making each of us unique – genetics, upbringing, culture, religion, schooling, friends, work, and so forth. The used the Star Wars universe to show how these different contributions shapes each of us. That was a little hokey, but I still was excited by the exhibit because of the displays.
The exhibit also had Akankin’s pod racer, a few other vehicles and some of the smaller creatures and remote controlled robots. There was one of the Yoda puppets, and the eyes of the Jabba the Hutt puppet – all that remained of the original.
But I have some real issues with the direction of the Star Wars franchise starting with the first prequel, The Phantom Menace. I think that many of the new plot lines broke the believability of the universe, at once introducing unnecessary supernatural elements (the virgin birth of Anakin Skywalker) and breaking the supernatural elements that existed before (explaining The Force in biological terms with midiclorians). The stories were muddled, the dialog was awful, and while I don’t hate Jar Jar Binks, I think the animation for the character was terrible.
For a really great breakdown on everything I found wrong with the three prequels, I would suggest the Plinkett video reviews from RedLetterMedia. They are long, and have some disturbing parts, but really get to the points I raise above, with supporting videos showing the issues with the movies.
I had some free time in the evening, so I decided to try to photograph the event. I choose to use Parliament Hill as the foreground, so I drove to the Museum of Civilization. There were over a dozen other photographers there, all with tripods like myself. I wasn’t quite sure what lens I should use, but after experimenting, I found that the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 allowed the best magnification of the moon and to bring the moon and the foreground together. If I went with a wider lens (like the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8), the details would be too small, and the moon would seem insignificant. If I had used the Canon EF 1.4x EXII extender, it would crop the buildings in the foreground.
In the end, I was not able to solve the biggest problem – the massive contrast difference between the full (‘super’) moon and the local buildings after sunset. I could not maintain any surface detail on the moon, even if I tried tone-mapping/HDR.