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Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Time Event
12:10a
Giant Steps Are What You Take

Our second amusement park tour of the year, to Cincinnati and to Santa Claus, Indiana, required as a start a five-hour drive. We got a good break point, though, when I noticed on the Google Maps suggested drive that we would go very close to Wapakoneta, Ohio, a town that immediately registered to bunny_hugger as ``What?'' But I recognized it: it's the birthplace of Neil Armstrong, and of course they have a museum dedicated to him, in a building described as ``moon-shaped''. And it'd be tolerably near the midpoint of the drive. Who could resist?

It was even closer to the drive than we imagined: the building was visible from the highway we had to take anyway, and yes, the center is an off-white sphere, as the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum opened in 1972 and now you know everything you need to in order to know what it looks like. There's a plaque outside explaining very carefully that while the museum has many artifacts from Armstrong's life and career he himself does not have anything to do with it. (Armstrong suffered from having more people asking him for support than probably anyone else in the world got, and so was extremely careful about what he did anything with, even if it was something like an air and space museum in his hometown.)

Despite its early 70s origin it's a pretty handsome museum. We only had about an hour and a half to visit, given the hours they're open and the hour when we set out, and we might have spent the whole time just looking over the Official NASA Portraits of Ohio astronauts and picking out who had the most unfortunate Official Portrait. They have the sorts of miscellaneous things you might expect (the snack room, for example, has vintage advertising posters for Moon Pies, although no actual Moon Pies for sale): stuff he had as a kid, his yearbook opened to the band group he was part of, the airplane he learned to fly in (displayed vertically and in wonderful touching range), and the Gemini VIII capsule.

The museum also tries to explain a little about the Soviet program, but tries to advance the thesis that what really killed the Soviet lunar program was that the Communist system meant that everything was paid for by the government and there wasn't the support of many companies to, apparently, finance the thing. Why the Soviets didn't land men on the Moon first (or at all) is a great question and it deserves a competent answer in a place like this.

There's a neat little simulator station to let you simulate a Gemini-Agena docking, which neither of us were able to get even close to, even on the easiest level. I blame the tutorial; it explains that you do translations by pulling the translation joystick --- fine so far --- but not, like, whether you move the Gemini to the left by pushing the joystick to the left, or whether you fire the left thrusters (moving you to the right) by pushing to the left. But Gemini gets a nice bit of attention, perhaps because it's easier for a place in Wapakoneta, Ohio, to claim Gemini artifacts, so as a fan of the forgotten 60s space program I was glad to see it. (They also have a space shuttle landing simulator, on the grounds that why not, but we didn't have time to play with it and after being burned on the Gemini simulator we might not have taken the time anyway.)

There was a movie theater --- the thing that fits inside the moon-shaped part of the building --- but we didn't have the time to watch the film. Maybe next year. We did find some Christmas ornaments in the gift shop, as well as some plastic scale models I was sorely tempted to buy, but I think I have to build some --- any --- of my existing models before I start buying others. What's going on in the plastic scale model business that they're selling Apollo 10 kits, though?

Outside the museum there's mockups of the Gemini that you can climb and sit in, so bunny_hugger got to sense how ridiculous staying in one of them for up to two weeks would be (even as I pointed out only one crew did the full two-week stint and most of them did a mere three to four days), and an Apollo capsule mockup you can peek in but not enter. Besides our own photographs we traded would-you-like-me-to-take-pictures-of-you with the other group of people lingering after the museum had closed.

By then it was about the time we have our normal evening snack, so we thought we could find a coffee shop in town, which we couldn't. Or a cafe. We finally found a diner, with some curious double-named bit --- I think it was something like Jim's Al's Diner --- where we stopped in, got some soda and some cheesecake, and noticed how much Ohio State University stuff they had. They also had a University of Michigan figure in the corner but I didn't look closely at what they had done to it. On the wall was a framed article from the local newspaper about a guy who was attempting to eat their gargantuan-burger in one hour, but failed.

That was a good mid-drive break, though, and we got back on the road for Cincinnati. bunny_hugger had found a hotel not two miles from King's Island, and in the vicinity of several other amusement parks we wanted to see --- Coney Island and Stricker's Grove, particularly --- and this would be our home for several days. I missed the turn into the hotel initially, and turned around in the parking lot of a Skyline Chili, where I said, ``Hey, look, it's my car!'' I was pointing at another 2009 Scion tC Release Series: my car was that year's limited-edition release of the tC, and something brought one of the 1,999 others from that year to the same Skyline Chili just outside Cincinnati at that moment. The other driver noticed I was driving his car, too.

By the time we were settling in we could see fireworks over the treeline: King's Island celebrating the end of the amusement park's day in that runup to the Fourth of July. It was a little past the expected end of the day, but there'd been storms threatening so maybe that's just what delayed it a little.

We checked out the hotel's game room, just on the off chance they had pinball, and we were both sighing too-bad when we realized they had a machine in the back of the room, and we both cried something like ``Oh!'' together. It was a Fish Tales, a 1992 fishing-themed game (concept partly from the mind of madman Python Anghelo) and while it was not in very good shape, it was basically working and very generous in the ball's auto-save. (In most modern pinball machines you get a grace period in which, if the ball drains, it's returned to you. This one had a grace period of up to a week.) The only downside is the machine required tokens, so we had to scrounge for bills to put in the coin changer so we could keep playing. This even though I'd won a game and one of the kids playing video games helpfully explained we had a credit and could play another game. I sound snarky, but I understand the kid was trying to be helpful; it is easy to overlook when you've won a free game.

So. We had a hotel room, pinball, an amusement park almost in walking distance, Cincinnati chili right next door: what more could we want for?

Trivia: In the final approach of the Agena, Neil Armstrong had the Gemini VIII capsule approach from 150 feet to two feet at eight feet per second. Source: Gemini: Steps To The Moon, David J Shayler.

Currently Reading: Sputnik: The Shock of the Century, Paul Dickson.

PS: Reading the Comics, July 18, 2014: Summer Doldrums Edition, as there's finally some more mathematics comics out there, after literally multiple days of waiting.

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