On August 1 a great adventure began. Elena and Luah drove me to San Francisco International Airport. I caught a flight on Virgin America to Los Angeles International Airport. I caught the shuttle to Pasadena, California. I checked in at the Pasadena Inn.
Elena and Luah drove to Yosemite National Park. They checked in at the Curry Village. It’s not really a hotel but a complex of tents. It was a rugged and a rustic evening.
The following morning Elena began a grueling 15 mile hike in the Half Dome area. Her hike took her up to 9,000 feet. She had to do dangerous rope climbs that have led to fatalities. At 51 years of age Elena conquered Half Dome. She came down and was able to stay at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Luah joined her the following morning.
I spent Tuesday getting to know Pasadena again. I had lived in Pasadena in 1989 and 1990. It had not changed that much. I spent the morning exploring Colorado Avenue. In the afternoon I hiked to the California Institute of Technology. This is the finest science university in the world. Only 182 freshmen are accepted each year. I walked around the campus and bought some shirts.
I came back exhausted and with heat exhaustion. I had a long shower. I called Elena and got the good news that she had passed through the dangerous part of Half Dome and was 90 minutes away from the end of the trail. I was so relieved! I fell into a deep sleep. I got up at ten and went back to sleep again.
On Friday Elena and Luah began the drive from Yosemite National Park to Pasadena. It was supposed to take 4 hous. But they hit a traffic jam outside Bakersfied and were delayed for 3 hours.
On Friday morning I had breakfast at the Sheraton. I then walked to the Pasadena Convention Center. I went downstairs and registered for the Mars Society Convention. It was the 15th annual convention. I ran into a lot of old friends. I bought a couple of books. I listened to a day of superb speaker and exciting ideas. I came back with a bag full of books and other things. I waited at the hotel. Elena and Luah drove up. I was so relieved to see them again and to know that they were OK.
We went to dinner at the Porto Alegre Brasilian Churascaria. The bill was over $200 but was worth every penny. It was the celebration of Elena climbing Half Dome and returning alive.
Saturday I had another day of intense conferences at the Mars Society Convention. Speakers included George Whitesides, president of Virgin Galactic, Lori Garver, Deputy NASA administrator, and Congressman Adam Schiff.
In the evening Elena, Luah and I attended the Mars Society banquet. It was well attended. Elon Musk of Space-X was the keynote speaker. He is the man who sent an unmanned space capsule to the International Space Station. He just got the good news that his firm had been awarded $440 million by NASA to spend 21 months developing a crew escape system for the Dragon space capsule. Elon gave an incredible speech. He is my hero in life.
Sunday I was back at the Mars Society convention. Elena went to see some art museums in Los Angeles. Luah went out to see some surfers.
The moment of truth was in the evening. The NASA Mars rover Curiosity was about to enter the Mars atmosphere to land at Gale Crater. A large group of us had gathered. Retiured astronaut Story Musgrave talked for almost 2 hours about his adventures in space. He’s a fascinating man and a “Chuck Yeager” kind of pilot. I had to close my eyes as the rover approached the Martian atmosphere. The rover cost over $2.5 billion and is the size of a Mini Cooper auto. It entered the atmosphere right on course. The heat shield jettisoned. A drogue chute deployed. As it got close to the surface of Mars, four small rockets fired and the rover landed on the Mars surface right on target at 1.5 miles per hour. The room went wild! Please note that some 15,000 people came to Pasadena for this event. This is because the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located right in Pasadena. The rover was designed there and is controlled from there. Not a spare hotel room could be found. We were all so happy when it landed and started to send pictures.
On Monday Elena, Luah, and I drove from Pasadena to San Diego and crossed the border into Tijuana. Luah had to go out and reenter the country to satisfy a technical condition of her student visa. We were frightened of drug cartels and violence. Fortunately things in Tijuana were mellow that day. We walked around downtown and bought some small souvenirs.
At the border crossing we found that they had a special building for I-94 holders Luah went through a two hour wait to get her papers in order. We had another long wait to legally enter the USA. It was another long walk to the car. We found a Mexican restaurant ad had a nice dinner. We then had a grueling two-hour ride up I-15 and I-5 back to Pasadena. At least the traffic was lighter at night. We marveled at the wealth of Southern California. We arrived at the hotel exhausted. I had to pay for another day at the hotel.
On Tuesday we drove down I-710 to Long Beach. We got on the Catalina Express. We sailed one hour to Avalon, Catalina Island. I remembered the old 1940’s song:”Santa Catalina is the island of romance, romance,romance, romance!”
It was beautiful and reminded us of a Hawaiian island. Few cars were permitted on the island. We rented a golf cart and explored the island. We went high in the hills. We took some fabulous pictures and videos. We even encountered a family of deer that came right up to us. We rested on the beach and had a delightful dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was with a sad heart that we had to return to the mainland and Long Beach.