Rockets and tires
Trip Start Sep 27, 2010
34Trip End Mar 23, 2011
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It was soon time to get back on the road again, that lovely I-10, back to what I remember from our very first trip when we were travelling west – potholes and roadworks (maybe one day it will be a great surface to travel on after all the work they are doing). Down in this area of course it's nearly all flat, the only hills being when you get high bridges over navigable waterways. There are those long concrete structures that take us over the swamp land, they seem to have undulating sections that set up a rocking motion for Bree. We get the front end going up as the back goes down this gets more and more violent as poor old Scoobie at the back tries to hang on until it literally lifts me out of my seat and I have to slow down a bit to let everything settle again, ready for the next time.
We were on our way to Mobile in Alabama where I had located a garage, not too far off the highway, that would put two new tires on the front of Bree at, believe me, the very reasonable price of $400 each – fitted.
On the way we travelled through Mississippi, stopping at one of the rest areas for lunch at exit 2. As we pulled in there was a big sign saying "free shuttle to the Stennis Space Station, Rocket testing facility". At this rest area is a Mississippi visitors information centre, inside the fantastic plantation style building they had a great exhibition of Mardi Gras costumes as its coming up to that time of the year. Next door is another building with information about the aforementioned rocket testing facility, yes there is a free shuttle service every 20 minutes taking you about 4 miles north into this huge facility covering 13,500-acres on a total site of close to 125,000 acres. The guide reckoned on allowing about two hours to be able to take in the tour of the facility on the shuttle (bus not space ~ shame…) and the museum on site.
Being so close, we just couldn’t refuse, so I called the garage to say we probably wouldn’t make it before they closed but if we could stay somewhere close by we would be their first customer next morning. Getting permission to stay the night on their forecourt seemed to be a close place to stay :), people are so friendly and helpful ( I suppose $800 worth of business helps too). We had our lunch and popped over to catch one of those shuttles, after first registering with our passports in order to enter the NASA facility.
Barry, our driver/guide was a font of knowledge as we headed off. Upon entering the facility you cross a canal that was built when they were testing the Saturn V engines. They were too big to transport over the roads so they came in by sea. No longer needed for this now the canal is still used to bring in marine buoys for servicing (another part of this facility).
We went straight on out to the huge gantries where rocket engines were and are still tested. The original structures for those Saturn V’s are still there as is the old warning horn, used to check the sound buffer zone prior to any rocket test. Let me explain, those 125,000 acres surrounding the test gantry are mainly trees and they act as a sound buffer for the incredibly loud engines but if the wind is in the wrong direction or too strong then that sound can be carried on to surrounding towns. So prior to any test they would simulate the sound using the horn, this rotates 360° and if sensors outside the buffer zone registered too loud a sound then no testing would be done – how thoughtful is that?
From being built in the early 1960’s every rocket has been tested here, in the late 1960s and early 70s, there was an old saying around the community, "If you want to go to the moon, you first have to go through Hancock County, Mississippi."
We had a great time (well I did) wandering through the museum with exhibits from the area prior to rockets ever being thought of right up through the Apollo missions, today’s space shuttles and on to something similar to those Apollo modules that are being re-developed for future space missions. There are also exhibits about the oceanography work that is now done on this facility too. Of course I got to sit in a mock up of the shuttle cockpit in order to bring it into land safely (not) – remember that, Malcolm, back in the Houston Space Centre? Two hours is only just about enough time but, as we had caught about the last tour bus out, we got the last bus back to the rest area. All in all a very serendipitous stop for a rest.
Continuing on towards Mobile, no longer in a hurry, trying to get to the garage in time for the new tires to be put on as no way would we get there before dark now. We actually pulled onto the forecourt of Charter Tire Co at about 8:30 pm and unhooked Scoobie so that we could go for a wander round the town before settling down early to be up in time to shower and breakfast before the workers turned up.