I’m back from Florida. Each step in this journey has been so remarkable. When we set out from Toronto at the outset of “Chasing Atlantis” I never imagined that we would have such a rich story to tell or have met so many amazing individuals. This most recent return journey to Florida is yet another example.
I arrived in Florida the evening of March 7th. Our supporter and friend, Ryan Horan, who works at the Kennedy Space Center, informed me that Atlantis was being moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to one of the KSC’s Orbital Processing Facilities. Once inside, access to the orbiter is even more limited. If we were going to get a shot at seeing her up close, we needed to be on a flight that night. So, stuffing suitcases and packing cameras, I was off to Vancouver airport.
The next morning, I was back at the Vehicle Assembly Building. The structure is massive even on the outside and yet still even more so once you walk through the massive exterior doors. Inside, by volume, the VAB could house 4 of New York’s Empire State Building.
Any vehicle seems dwarfed. This is where the mighty Saturn V rocket that took humans to the moon could stand completely upright pointing toward its heavenly destination. But I was here to see the shuttle that inspired our entire journey, and, finally, there she was, Atlantis, not more than 30 feet in front of me, dwarfed by the VAB yet seemingly larger than life.
Because Atlantis was being rolled out to the Orbiter Processing Facility, it meant that I was in store for a shuttle double header. The following morning Atlantis was swapped with Discovery in the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Following NASA, Ryan and his wife, Rachel, took me out on the town for an evening concert featuring Big Head Todd and the Monsters in Orlando’s House of Blues in Downtown Disney. Big Head Todd is a favorite around NASA. Each morning during Atlantis’ last journey in orbit, music was played to the astronauts to get their day started as a sort of reveille. This has been tradition for many shuttle missions. Big Head Todd played live in Houston Mission Control to facilitate the morning wakeup call. It was the first time live music was played to any shuttle crew while in orbit.
Saturday was my day “off”. I decided that it would be great to reconnect with some familiar faces in and around Titusville and catch up with those who helped to support our documentary when we were in town in July and October. I managed to reconnect with Space Walk of Fame Director Karan Conklin, however she was not at the Space Walk. I found Karan at this amazing project started by local Titusville entrepreneur Maxine Trainer. Maxine, who we also first met back in July during the Atlantis launch, had mobilized the Titusville community to completely renovate an old Firestone garage into an art studio. The studio featured the work of local artists and also raised funds to support charitable causes such as the non-profit Just for the Cause founded by Chasing interviewee Liz Parker, which raises awareness of the challenges faced by young children with autism. The name for the Firestone garage-turned-art-studio? Stone Fire! Interviewing some of the Stone Fire team, I asked Maxine “would this have happened if the Shuttle Program was still in operation?” I wanted to know if there was a connection. In the absence of the Program, Titusville’s economy has taken a hit. House values have been impacted and the city is struggling to find its footing. Maxine’s answer was a clear “No.” “This city had become dependent on that…” she said gesturing toward the Vehicle Assembly Building. In her view, Titusville was in a state of transition and this art studio represented a community that was helping the city find a new identity in the post-space shuttle era.
Maxine wanted to show me more of the new growth in Titusville and invited me to another concert with local artists at the brand new Rabbitfoot Records – a new store which exclusively features vinyl LPs. The March 10th concert marked the grand opening of the store and headlined local band The Dull Blades. I was able to sit down with store owners Robert Wallace and Kendra Heckart. Kendra described Titusville’s post shuttle program experiences as a “renaissance”, one where the city itself was “waking up” to a new era. When I asked Rob why it seemed economically sound to start a business in Titusville, he said the rationale was obvious: Their store could find a niche market much more easily than in a larger city like Orlando or Miami. There were many local artists who can now find a community hub within the store, and rent rates in Titusville are very competitive right now.
Rabbitfoot’s vinyl collection was amazing. My brother has a record player. Being that he is a jazz musician, I went hunting for some records and found stuff I hadn’t even seen in Toronto stores. Needless to say, the bottom layers of my suitcase were a vinyl Satchmo sandwich.
This second return journey to Florida was a vivid reminder of the themes that have woven themselves through our documentary from the very beginning: We came for the technology, but were truly inspired by the people. Whether it was the astronaut flying the shuttle, the fire safety crewman who protected Apollo crews, the woman who started an art studio, or a couple who founded a record store, we have been so amazed at the people who have been a part of our story and I am really looking forward to when we get to share that story with all of you. Keep an eye out for news about our Summer release! And speaking of some of those amazing folks, here are some links below where you can learn more about them and their cool projects.
Just for the Cause On the Web
The Dull Blades On Facebook
Rabbitfoot Records On Facebook
PS, another huge thanks to Ryan (@Whitethunder75 on Twitter) and Rachel Horan for hosting me while I was in town, and for keeping us updated on all things space!