Dave Reneke On Assignment In The USA

New York – Philadelphia – Washington DC – KSC Florida – Florida Keyes – Arizona – California

What’s it like to be blasted into space at several kilometres a second? One man who knows the answer is Astro-Space News editor, Dave Reneke.

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 Dave with Richard Branson in N.Y.

Philadelphia was Dave’s first stop on 21 January  2008, along with a number of accredited Virgin Galactic travel agents from around the world to attend the inaugural Virgin Galactic Accredited Space Agent (ASA) Forum, to meet Branson’s team and talk with some of the people already signed up to take their trip into space before the end of the decade.

   At Philadelphia’s National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Centre, Dave was accorded the unprecedented honour of being allowed to ride in the special ‘flight simulator’ – a centrifuge, designed to train fighter pilots and future space travellers. “This is the closest thing to actually taking the spaceflight,” David said. “It simulates almost exactly the roar of take-off, the acceleration through the atmosphere and the pressure of the return to earth. 

You really get pushed back in your seat and virtual reality screens stun you with exactly what you'd see in orbit.” Dave said he took 3.5 G’s before almost blacking out and could feel the blood draining from his head. “Amazing, it’s something I'll never forget,” he said. Dave was the only representative from the world media selected to take the ride.

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Astronaut training flight simulator     

After being bussed to New York, Dave got to meet Sir Richard Branson and was present when the actual model of Spaceship-2 was shown to the world media at a special function at the Hayden Planetarium. Branson told Dave Australia is short listed to eventually host one of his future spaceports – the launch platform for commercial flights into space. Spaceship 2 passengers

Dave then visited the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. It maintains the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world and almost all are originals or backup crafts to the originals. “I saw the command module of Apollo 11 – the first mission to land astronauts on the moon, a replica of Pioneer 10 and the Spirit of St. Louis in which Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic” Dave said. “Hanging above me was the original SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately built and piloted vehicle to reach space. 

   Left: Unveiling Spaceship-2 in New York 2008

Nearby was the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis in which Chuck Yeager made the first powered supersonic level flight, the original Wright Flyer, the plane that made the first controlled, powered flight in 1903 and a model of Robert H. Goddard’s original 1926 liquid-fuelled rocket. “Everywhere you turn, there is history,” Dave said.

The Kennedy Space Centre beckoned so Dave headed for Florida and spent a week there inspecting the visitor centre and photographing several of the original launch sites for a series of articles he’ll be writing. After passing the necessary security checks, and under NASA escort, Dave was allowed to inspect a few areas not normally open to visitors. 

 One of these included the new ORION assembly building, the name for NASA’s upcoming replacement for the ageing Space Shuttle fleet. Dave also met famed astronaut Story Musgrave and took part in the remembrance ceremony at the Cape for the seven astronauts who lost their lives when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere on 1 February 2003.

Thanks go to his good friends Tom and Trish Savage for their hospitality and generosity making all the arrangements and allowing dave to stay with them for the entire period . 

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World's best playground – Kennedy Space Centre

Dave’s passion and his track record writing about anything to do with space has earned him an impressive international reputation and respect among his peers. Besides being involved with Australasian Science Magazine, David also teaches astronomy at college level, writes for several major Australian daily newspapers, is a regular on over a dozen radio stations each week and runs his own Astronomy outreach program for Australian schools.

After visiting Kennedy, Dave headed down to the Florida Keys for 3 days at the Winter Star Party. Over 600 telescopes and as many people attended for one of the biggest ‘star parties’ in the USA. Again thanks go to good friends Tom Clark, Charlie Warren, Fed and Lucille for a great 3 days with you all. Dave learned so much!

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No, not a terrorist…just an astronomer with a Whopper!! Florida Keyes 2008

It was then across to Arizona to visit the world famous ‘Meteor Crater’ in Flagstaff Arizona. Meteor Crater is about 1,200 metres in diameter, some 170 metres deep and surrounded by a rim that rises 45 metres above the surrounding plains. It was caused by a huge asteroid that slammed into the desert there 50,000 years ago producing a massive explosion equivalent to 150 times the yield of the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The explosion dug out 175 million tons of rock.

Thanks to good mate Ron Boe from Phoenix Arizona who went out of his way to make the visit an enjoyable and memorable experience. 

While still in Arizona, Dave was invited to spend a few nights at the world famous Lowell Observatory, a mile outside Flagstaff, and got to peruse the actual documents and glass plates used by Clyde Tombaugh when he discovered Pluto there in 1930.

Such invitations are usually only accorded to leading world scientists and visiting dignitaries. He also saw and held the original drawings of Percival Lowell, the observatory’s founder, and a man who all his life claimed he could make out canals on the planet Mars.

 Finally, before returning home, Dave received a call from Buzz Aldrin’s office inviting him to visit Buzz, the second man to walk on the Moon, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. “Meeting this guy was the ultimate end to a great US tour,” Dave said.

The interview went extremely well and Dave managed to uncover quite a few interesting and relatively unknown facts about the launch of Apollo-11 back in 1969 as well as a few quirky things about how Buzz and Neil Armstrong coped on the lunar surface.

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 Dave standing on the edge of Meteor Crater in Flagstaff Arizona 2008

Aldrin reflected back on the halcyon days following the moon landing and how he involuntarily became the focal point for the world press because of Armstrong’s reluctance to speak publicly about the mission. Buzz recovered with the support of his present wife and manager Lois, and now at 78, Buzz Aldrin is again reaching for the stars through his involvement with various private space consortia and a special interest in space tourism.

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 Dave visiting Buzz Aldrin at his home in L.A. 2008

Buzz is pursuing some pretty heavyweight concepts. He really believes human beings can fly! Back to the Moon that is. Buzz travels the world to pursue and discuss his concepts and ideas for exploring the universe. Much of what Dave learned on his U.S. trip will be contained in upcoming feature stories on his meeting with Buzz Aldrin in magazines and space journals world wide. Will he go back? “You bet,” said Dave. “I want to catch a Shuttle launch before NASA retire them in 2010.” 

More Pictures from Dave's trip

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Dave meets up with telescope legend Al Nagler in the Florida Keyes  

 Dave And Story Musgrave at KSC

 Dave And Story Musgrave at Kennedy Space Centre Florida USA 

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      Now … That's a BIG pair of binoculars – Florida Winter Star Party 2008 

 Underneath the famous Saturn-5 moon rocket

     Underneath the famous Saturn-5 moon rocket at KSC  

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                     Lunar Lander -Washington Air & Space museum 

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                         Lowell Observatory – Flagstaff Arizona   

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                          'Rocket Park' – Kennedy Space Centre Florida

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                                Inside the visitor's centre – KSC

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