Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Beach in Cocoa Beach

As we walked outside, the sun was just going down behind the palm trees and buildings in the west. The sky was ablaze with brilliant pink on blue. We marvelled at the colors and then walked to the beach on the other side of the motel.

Some people were cooking their dinner on the grill. Two kids tossed a baseball back and forth. Beyond a low fence the dune grass was waving in the wind, and beyond the dunes, two-foot waves thundered as they pounded the beach. The sea foam was lit bright white in the last light of day, and the waves glowed emerald/pea green.

A shrimp boat was sitting far offshore, its trawling gear hanging limply off one side. Further out to sea, the Disney cruise ship was leaving port. We had passed it on our way into town and noticed smoke coming from one of its two red stacks. It was a floating city, with swimming pools and high-rise apartments with balconies looking out over the ocean.

Ben had underestimated the coolness of the ocean breeze. Although Trudy and I wore jackets, he had only his T-shirt, and he cowered behind me trying to keep out of the wind. We turned to leave, and Ben spotted a shell in the sand. He picked it up and showed it to me, marvelling at how perfect it was.

Tomorrow morning we planned to go beach combing, but now it was time to go to dinner. Ben put the shell in his pocket, and we walked back across the dunes.

Cocoa Beach, Florida before the New Horizons/Pluto launch

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The Sea Aire motel was a pink, mostly one-story building that sat between the boulevard and the beach. Seaside you could grill burgers or sit in hanging swings and watch the thundering surf pound the sand. Streetside, there was a small parking lot that held half a dozen cars. Our room was in between.

We were hungry, but there we were on the beach with the sound of the surf coming from just beyond the dunes. So we took a quick walk in the sand. I mean, what else would you do in a place like that?

Dinner wasat one of the big hotels in Cocoa Beach. The New Horizons launch team was hosting a party in the Galaxy Room, and we were invited. There were engineers. There were scientists. There were spouses. There were friends. And there were kids running around. There was a slide show of the history of the project so far. There were scrumptious hors d'oeuvres. There were large racks of beef. There were big red strawberries and chocolate fondue.

Clyde Tombaugh's widow was there and his family. And Alan was there. I could hear his animated voice down the hall. When he turned and saw us, a smile broke out on his face. He shouted my name and gave me a hug. We had not seen each other for a very long time.

After a couple hours of munching and socializing, the crowd began to thin as the hour got late.

It was nighttime, and the sky was black. Orion periodically looked down on us thru broken clouds sailing in from the east. Far out in the water, the white lights of a ship and two trawlers shimmered on the horizon. Behind them, a mostly full moon was rising out of the eastern sea.

To the north, out of sight around the bend of Cape Canaveral, an Atlas V rocket was standing on its launch pad shining in white spot lights. It was waiting for tomorrow.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow was what we had come for. Tomorrow they were going to light that rocket and send a piano-sized spacecraft on a decade-long journey to the far reaches of the solar system, to a point somewhere up in that black, star-speckled sky where Pluto and Charon circle each other in silence.

Tomorrow. We had our fingers crossed.

At Cape Canveral before the New Horizons/Pluto launch

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