Rockets and Roll

We took yesterday off the road completely due to yet another wind storm. The high wind warning expired at noon, but the wind clearly didn’t get the memo, and kept blowing hard until almost sunset. Just when we thought we were ready to go, another hard gust hit the vans, convincing us otherwise. So we had an uneventful second night at Boomtown Casino. If my bike was working I might’ve explored New Orleans a bit more. But it wasn’t, and the van is too big and tall to drive around in that wind, so I didn’t go anywhere.

Today was a day of surprises. It was not a surprise that Amy would be departing our convoy, diverting to Tennessee to continue on her own mission. We determined that New Orleans drivers are about as bad as Boston drivers, but escaped the city, and soon crossed into Mississippi — another new state for me.

Google gave us confusing directions, so we pulled off at a rest area to take a closer look at the map. On the way in we passed the entrance to the Infinity Science Center, located on the grounds of the NASA Stennis Space Center where they test rocket engines. We decided to check it out. I parked next to the first stage of the Saturn V rocket originally intended for Apollo 19. There were supposed to be 20 Apollo missions, but only 17 flew before Nixon canceled the program. The rocket meant for Apollo 18 became Skylab, so this is one of only two remaining genuine first stages in the world. At least, that aren’t sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after launches.

To say it’s huge would be an understatement. Photos don’t do it justice. Just know that I had to use the widest angle my phone would provide just to get the whole thing in the shot. It was great to be able to walk all the way around it, see all the detail, and get a real feel for how large it is.

There’s plenty to see inside, too. This is the Apollo 4 command module, the first one ever launched into space, and one of the few unmanned missions. This was a test flight to make sure the command module was suitable for people to fly in, and that they would survive the trip back to Earth. It made it back and is on display here, so I guess it worked.

My parents always called me a space cadet. This picture’s for you!

It’s not all about space here, though. At the Pima Air and Space Museum I got to walk around a Boeing 787. Here, one of the jet engines alone is on display. Seeing it on the Dreamliner was great, but here I got to check out the inner workings of it. Now it’s easy to see why they call this a “high-bypass” engine. The actual jet engine is only the “small” cylinder in the center. It turns the turbofans that suck air both into the jet as well as around it within the nacelle, bypassing the engine itself. The more bypass a jet engine has, the more efficient it is, which is why modern airliners have enormous engines compared to earlier ones.

There’s a lot more to see at this museum, but these were the highlights for me. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Unlike us, you could even plan to go there.

The biggest surprise for me on this cross-country trip is the Missisippi Gulf Coast. US 90 runs right along the beach through many of its towns and cities. I’m used to places like Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, which is extremely crowded, you have to pay for parking, and it’s full of tourist traps. Not here! The road runs right along the beach for miles, with frequent pulloffs and parking lots where you can stop and enjoy the beach for free. The town of Pass Christian even has a Walmart right across the street from the beach. We didn’t spend the night there since it wasn’t very far past New Orleans, but if I did I’d probably take myself to the beach while I was there. Even driving through the city of Biloxi was quite pleasant as far as cities go. The weather today was absolutely perfect, so I rolled the window down and took in the ocean air. This, by the way, is the first I’ve seen of the Atlantic Ocean since leaving New England two summers ago. Okay, so it’s the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s attached to the Atlantic, which is close enough for me.

Birgit took me on a little detour in the town of Gulfport. We parked at a marina (she loves marinas) and walked to this pavilion. The red sign, 28 feet above the ground, marks the high water mark during Hurricane Katrina. Waves got as high as 55 feet, which must’ve gone over the roof. For scale, I’m six feet tall, and I would’ve been drowning here during the storm surge.

Of course, I read all about Katrina in the news in 2005. I knew the flooding and damage were horrific. Nothing drove home the scale of just how bad it was until I saw this little red sign. Even this picture doesn’t give you the full effect of what I experienced. It’s one thing to look and say, “gee, that’s high.” It’s quite another to be there, see it for yourself, and take in the scale of it — just like the Saturn V first stage.

We continued on, and crossed into Alabama. I don’t remember if this is a new state for me or not. After leaving Florida in 2021 we scooted up the Georgia and Alabama border to Chattanooga, then the Tail of the Dragon. We might’ve crossed the border along the way. But now I’ve definitely been to Alabama. This means that I have now visited every southern state of the US, from California to Florida. That’s quite an accomplishment for this New England native.

For the first time since on this convoy, we’re staying somewhere that doesn’t have free WiFi for me to mooch off of. No big deal — it’s good for me to fire up Starlink from time to time, just so it keeps up with updates and doesn’t brick on me from being too far behind. We’ve actually already passed our first stop for tomorrow, but it’ll be well worth backtracking a few miles to see. It has Alabama written all over it.

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