About ten days ago we watched a SpaceX launch and expected to see the next one two days later. This launch was to take sixty more Starlink satellites into orbit. The SpaceX Starlink is a satellite constellation being constructed to provide Internet access world wide. The constellation will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites, working in combination with ground transceivers. The goal is to give people all over the world access to the internet, which has become as vital to life as air and water. So far SpaceX has deployed 242 satellites. In total, nearly 12,000 satellites will be deployed by the mid-2020s, with a possible later extension to 42,000. The initial 12,000 satellites are planned to orbit in three orbital shells: first placing approximately 1,600 in a 340 mile shell, then approximately 2,800 satellites at 710 miles and approximately 7,500 210 miles. While the connectivity goal is an admirable one, concerns have been raised about the long-term danger of space junk resulting from placing thousands of satellites in orbits and a possible impact on astronomy. It's impossible to do long range photography and exploration when your field of vision is interrupted by a satellite whizzing by. Every time another launch date was announced, we traveled a few miles from our campground to the coast on the Indian River to join many other space fans to see the rocket go off. Sometimes when the weather was cloudy or rain was in the forecast, we were not surprised by the cancellation, but yesterday on what looked like perfect day, strong upper level winds were the culprit.
The incessant delays lasted long enough to give visiting neighbors from home the opportunity to see a launch. We were so glad that today on their last day here, the rocket finally blasted off. As always the view will be much more dramatic on TV tonight, but seeing that bright ball of fire rise in the sky followed by a heart stopping rumble never fails to impress. The first stage booster returned to earth so that it can be used again, but that took place over 200 miles out to sea. We'll have to take their word for it.
We've been wanting to take an airboat ride and out visiting friends provided the impetus to make this the day we finally did it. Our campground is surrounded by swampland and if the wind is blowing in the right direction we can hear the airboats providing tours and taking hunters out to shoot alligators. The boats are specialized craft that can move easily between water and land. We did not need to follow the meandering St. John River, but traveled directly to spots that the driver selected to show us alligators, grazing cattle and cypress trees. There were also numerous water birds fishing along the way, but the airboats are so loud, they inevitably flew away long before we got close enough for photographs. The cattle surprised us greatly the first time we came down here. As midwesterners we expect to see cows standing on solid ground, but here in the shallow waters, the cattle ate the vegetation down to the muck. This gave us wonderful panoramic views of the area. When it's time to take the cattle to market, they will also be rounded up by airboats. Once we went under the bridge where the cattle could not go, the vegetation was thick and high and we drove through tunnels of green taller than we were. Many of the alligators were half in and half out of the water, doing their best to stay warm on this 70º day. The boat driver encouraged us to come again after the water levels have receded to get a totally different take on the landscape and animals. We hope someone visits us to insure that we take advantage of this novel experience so close to where we live in our home away from home.