Texas 2021:
Day 3 - Boca Chica


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Texas 2021: [Day 1 - Missouri] [Day 2 - Dallas] [Day 3 - Boca Chica] [Day 4 - South Padre Island] [Day 5 - South Padre Island] [Day 6 - South Padre Island] [Day 7 - Corpus Christi] [Day 8 - Arkansas] [Day 9 - Heading Home]

Sunday, January 24, 2021: We left our lovely rest area while it was still dark and we were passing Baylor University before 7:00 AM.
We got breakfast at McDonald's and Debbie tried a Chicken McGriddle, which is not something that appears on northern McDonald's menus.
It was dreary when we arrived in Austin.
We drove past the capitol building where fog obscured the very top, ...
... then headed back to Sixth Street, passing this colorful mural along the way.
We parked The Ocho on the street and walked a block to Voodoo Doughnut, which we were relieved to find was empty early on a Sunday morning.
We perused the glass case of goodies, ...
... knowing that we were here for the Voodoo Doll. Always.
Another customer was coming in as we left. There was also an epic shoutout between two local residents as we walked away.
Back in The Ocho, we examined our treasure.
Two chocolate coconut donuts for Debbie, one apple fritter for Tom, and three Voodoo Donuts to share. Just kidding, those are for Debbie too.
Let's get a closer look at one. The pretzel stabbing the voodoo doll is always a nice touch. But really, while the decoration is fantastic, it's hard to beat a chocolate-covered yeast donut with raspberry filling.
Here's a little more scenery on the way out: the Stephen F. Austin Hotel.
We headed south to the outskirts of San Antonio, where we visited Morgan's Wonderland, an amusement park built by a father for his daughter with disabilities.
It had been closed for nearly a year due to the pandemic but was scheduled to open again in early March.
All we could do was peer through the fence, ...
... and dream about taking our daughter, Claire, here someday. Unfortunately, Claire doesn't like car rides, so it's not likely to happen.
Morgan's Inspiration Island is an inclusive water park that was added on later.
It's always fun to see the creative entrances to ranches. Here's one.
Here's another.
Our mushroom kit, "Annette Fungicello," was growing quickly and enjoying the scenery at a rest area.
Speaking of scenery, there's a lot of flatness in south Texas.
We were passing the road south to Corpus Christi when we stopped to get lunch at Whataburger.
It turned out to be a great choice because we later learned that Whataburger was started in Corpus Christi, so we were eating like the locals.
That's an interesting vehicle.
Tom: "Debbie, take a picture of that." Debbie: "OK." Tom fondly remembers getting to experience an A-4 simulator long ago.
What's this? Sunshine? Nice!
If there's cactus, we must be pretty far south.
Sand blew across the road in the high winds.
Scenery.
We were seeing lots of palm trees by the time we passed Harlingen.
We had passed several chains with "Taco" in the name, so we were anxious to continue our tradition of trying each one. We'd be back to this one soon. Patience.
Who knew that San Benito was the hometown of Freddy Fender? Everyone who ever read this water tower, that's who.
We passed the Port of Brownsville where we saw exactly zero Maersk containers, ...
... but lots of windmill arms.
We were getting close to the SpaceX's South Texas launch facility. The road closure marks the beginning of their facilities off Texas Highway 4.
This Customs and Border Patrol checkpoint is for agricultural inspection. We were less than a mile from the US-Mexico border.
The Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge protects the wetlands species of birds, butterflies, and plants native to the Rio Grande valley.
Right after passing this sign, we saw a huge black snake crossing the road, but it turned back when The Ocho approached.
We were coming to the end of the greenery and the trees. We should be seeing something soon.
What's that in the distance?
That's the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy high-bay, where they perform final assembly of Starship!
And that's why we are here! Starship SN9 on the launch pad!
The silver silo is likely Starship SN11 or SN12, awaiting a space in the high-bay to have it's nosecone and aero-surfaces attached. The white nosecone next to it is part of the Lunar Starship mockup for a NASA human lander competition. It may one day be part of a Starship headed to the Moon.
These two huge satellite dishes are part of the South Texas Tracking Station used to monitor telemetry from the test launches.
The cars in the foreground really give you scale on how big these things are. For a launch, they rotate and point their big dishes toward the rocket and track it in flight. Impressive.
All of these facilities are built on the outskirts and in the town of Boca Chica Village.
The launch pad is right down the road. Let's go there!
I wonder what the story is with this abandoned trailer?
The launch pad is right next to the road, and unless SpaceX is performing either test operations or a launch, everyone can drive by and take pictures of the facility. It really is amazing to be able to get this close.
We pulled over by the side of the road to get some pictures. At first, Debbie took some pictures from inside the cab, ...
... but then got serious and went outside for some better shots. The main Boca Chica facilities that we had just driven by were visible back down the road.
Now, where were we? Oh, yes, checking out the great view.
Starship SN9: 400 ft of stainless steel awesomeness!
Debbie zoomed in as far as she could with our 40x camera ...
... and got individual photos of each part of the rocket, then patched them all together. See the full-size version of this here.
The launch mount looks like a very rudimentary platform compared to what is used for other operational rockets. To the right of the launch platform is the beginning of the orbital launch mount that will be built to support the launch of Superheavy, the first stage of the SpaceX Starship launch system.
That's SN7.2, which is just the fuel tank portion of Starship, but is 3mm thick rather than the 4mm on all previous versions. They will be testing that tank to destruction to verify whether future Starships can be made lighter with the thinner construction.
The tank farm contains liquid methane and liquid oxygen for fueling the rocket.
You can see Starhopper behind the tank farm. This was the first test vehicle that flew with methane-powered rocket engines, "hopping" to an altitude of 20 meters in July 2019, and then 50 meters in August 2019 before being retired.
Of course, Debbie had to get a picture of The Ocho with Starship SN9.
Sights like this are the reason we pack binoculars.
A family of identically-dressed kids walked by, and their dad started to line them up when Debbie asked to get a picture. He said that the kids were YouTubers who were going to make a video here. Parents like these are the modern equivalent of stage mothers.
We got back into The Ocho and drove past the facility toward the beach. Starhopper is right on the fenceline so we got a good look at it.
This stretch of road is part of the Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail.
Boca Chica State Park is just south of the SpaceX launch site, so we parked ...
... and went to take a look.
There's the view toward South Padre Island, ...
... and there's the view toward Mexico, which is just two miles away.
When visiting a beach briefly, Debbie must be photographed with her arms out. It's a rule.
We climbed the dunes ...
... to get another view of the launch facility. It's hard to believe there was nothing here before 2014, and now this is the second sub-orbital class Starship to be ready for flight.
The black rectangle just below the half-way mark is a small section of Starship that is covered with thermal protection system (TPS) tiles. Starship has a very unique re-entry profile, coming in horizontally like a skydiver to bleed off excess energy. With that re-entry profile, they only need to cover the bottom part of Starship with thermal protection. They are still experimenting with their TPS solution, so they only cover a small portion of the ship, gather data from each test flight, and then refine the tiles.
That's one happy guy right there.
We made our way back down to the beach and then to The Ocho, stopping briefly for this artsy photo.
It only seems fitting that SpaceX would be cleaning up this section of the road.
They are still constructing the launch mount for the Superheavy, the massively powerful first stage that will take Starship to orbit.
The gate is open. Can't we go in? Just for a second?
There are multiple livestreams that cover SpaceX and their Starship operations. We showed up on the LabPadre livestream as we were driving away.
We passed the Boca Chica complex again, where a single firetruck is parked, presumably to put out fires when rockets go boom when they shouldn't.
Starship SN10 is visible in the corner of the high-bay, waiting its turn to launch, with SN11 sitting just outside.
One last shot of the high-bay, the SpaceX South Texas Control Center, and the other supporting office buildings.
This section of road is maintained by Rocket Ranch, ...
... a mysterious entity with a sign we couldn't quite photograph. We later learned that it is a brand new campground created for space enthusiasts just like us.
As we drove, we looked very closely at every Tesla that we passed to see if Elon Musk was any of them. This driver had a moustache but perhaps it was just an elaborate disguise.
Time for inspection. The officers here must get used to seeing space nerds all the time.
Soon, we were back at the Port of Brownsville, ...
... then passing Bahia Grande, ...
... where a sign warned about pelicans on the roadway.
Soon, we were in the town of Port Isabel, gateway to South Padre Island and home to many tourist shops.
We drove over the Queen Isabella Causeway.
It's two and a half miles long.
We could see our destination, the South Padre Island KOA, in the distance.
Welcome to South Padre Island!
We arrived at South Padre Island KOA a half hour after the office closed, ...
... but our reservation paperwork was waiting for us on the Late Arrivals board, ...
... and our spot was marked by a cone with our name on it. We set up camp surrounded by huge Class A motorhomes and trailers.
We went out for a walk ...
... to the waterfront near the pier to check out the view west across the water to Boca Chica. It was too dark and foggy to see anything yet, but we could tell that there was nothing but water between us and the launch site.
We watched the pelicans flying nearby.
Aren't they handsome?
Then we walked to the other side of the pier ...
... to check out the view to the north of the Queen Isabella Causeway.
We enjoyed chips and salsa for dinner, along with a couple of well-deserved beers.
The sky was foggy and spooky when we went out for a pre-bedtime bathroom break. Sure, we have a cassette toilet in the RV that we use most of the time, but some things are reserved for regular toilets.
There's our beautiful The Ocho ...
... and here's the interior with the bed set up in back.

Day 4 >


Texas 2021: [Day 1 - Missouri] [Day 2 - Dallas] [Day 3 - Boca Chica] [Day 4 - South Padre Island] [Day 5 - South Padre Island] [Day 6 - South Padre Island] [Day 7 - Corpus Christi] [Day 8 - Arkansas] [Day 9 - Heading Home]

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