Friday, September 4, 2015

Kennedy Space Center

We didn't go to the space centers in Houston or Huntsville, so while we are near Cape Canaveral, we decided we should at least go to one.  Our reluctance has stemmed from the fact that the tickets to get in are expensive and what could there really be to see?  We bit the bullet, paid our $45 each plus another $10 for parking (Really?! In theory, we own it.) and went to the Kennedy Space Center.

Whoa!  What I thought was going to be a quick trip around a museum turned into a full day of interesting things to see and do.  In fact, we could have stayed longer or come back another day!

History of the space program, beginning in 1926 with the first liquid powered rocket launch, is highlighted in the first building.

Early Space exhibit

Do you remember this guy?
The robot from Lost in Space, the TV series in the 60s.

The Mercury astronauts
First American men in space, this picture caught my interest because I had just finished watching "The Astronaut Wives Club" on TV.  The actors they used in the series bore remarkable resemblances to the actual men.

Mission control for the Mercury program.
(Compare this to mission control for the shuttle launches further down in this post)

This rocket display shows the evolution of the power to put things in space.

Launched in 1953, the Vanguard transmitted signals that verified the earth was not round, but pear-shaped.  I had no idea!

The grounds of the center were covered with all kinds of rockets and space modules.  One of the modules had attached the walkway that the astronauts of the Apollo missions used.

Rockets, rockets and more rockets!

Travel the same path as the astronauts!

The largest exhibit was dedicated to the space shuttle Atlantis.  The building is impressive, but what lies within was spectacular.

Rockets and fuel tank on which the shuttle sits during launch.
The rockets were designed to be reusable and were recovered after each mission.  The fuel tank was not.

It's hard to describe what happens when you enter the building, but all indications were that the actual shuttle was displayed inside.  However, when I entered, I walked a long, circular ramp to the second floor of the building, where there was a line waiting to go in.  A little weird, I thought, and couldn't imagine where the shuttle could be based on design of the building.

What happened next was amazing.  The first room you entered showed a short film about the history of the development of the shuttle program.  Interesting, but not what I was expecting.  At the end of that film, we were routed into another room and the doors shut.  A documentary about the Atlantis itself began playing in the round and on the ceiling.  Pretty spectacular, with the feeling that you were floating in space.  At the end, the big door opened and there she was, the Atlantis space shuttle with the payload doors open and the robotic arm extended as if she had just undocked from the space station.

Very hard to get a picture of the whole thing at once.  It's massive!

Close up of the nose where the pilots sit.
The little hole looking spot under the name is the actual portal through which astronauts and crew enter.

Rocket boosters

The underneath of the shuttle.
A bit hard to see in the picture, but you could see the marks from the friction of the reentries.

While large, it didn't appear as large as I expected.  Of course, I've seen a shuttle before on top of a 747 when one was being transferred across the country, but it was really impressive.

Crew bus
This was what you used to see the astronauts ride to the launch pad in.

Astronaut suit
This display detailed what all the various items are on a flight suit.  The astronaut is positioned this way in the shuttle during launch.

The space toilet
A different kind of "necessary" than we have seen at many of the historical sites we've visited on this adventure, but none the less, essential.  The display told exactly how going to the bathroom was accomplished in space, details of which I don't think I'll repeat here!

There was also a new display called "Forever Remembered" honoring the 14 men and women who lost their lives on the Challenger and Columbia missions.

Body panel recovered from Challenger

This exhibit also contained a "ride" where we got to experience a simulation of a shuttle launch.  Strapped into chairs, safety checks were done, the rockets were ignited and we launched, accompanied by lots of noise and plenty of tilting and shaking.  Pretty hokey, but I'm sure the younger ones enjoyed it!

After having lunch at one of the multiple cafes on site, we boarded a bus for a tour of the actual launch sites. This is the only way a civilian can get anywhere close to the actual business end of the whole space center. The narrated tour took us by several iconic sites I had only ever seen on TV.

The building is the largest single story building in the world!

The large space vehicles are assembled on a mover like this inside the assembly building, then moved to the launch pad.

Close up of a crawler-transporter
This thing was massive!  The tracks on it alone weighed in excess of a ton each!

Track (the gravel on the right side of the picture) to the launch sites.
The engineering of this track is amazing to be able to hold the enormous weight of the crawler.

Launch mission control building
The launch is controlled from here until it clears the launch pad, at which time, control is transferred to mission control in Houston.  (Houston, we have a problem!)

The final stop on the tour was at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where a 363-foot Saturn V rocket was displayed in sections, along with other artifacts from the shuttle program.

Apollo 14 space capsule
The actual capsule that went to the moon!

Hand castings
Hand and body casts were used to create custom space suits and gloves for the astronauts.

Mission control for the moon mission
Comparing this to mission control for the Mercury program, it's much larger and more complex.  Interesting to see the changes.
Skylab mockup
Engineering mockups like this were used to test equipment.

Forget about the Hard Rock Cafe - eat lunch at the Moon Rock Cafe!

Of course, there's lots more to the Kennedy Space Center than what I've talked about here.  Lots of narrative to read, if you're into that, and many hands on activities for kids of all ages.  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed our visit and would certainly recommend that anyone with the opportunity to go there should do so.

Until next time...

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