I suppose it was inevitable that I would become a NASA buff. I’ve been a science fiction fan since I checked Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet out of the library to read for a fourth grade book report. [It was a science fiction juvenile novel actually written for boys, but why couldn’t a girl read it? Aren’t we all taught to share?]
When NASA began turning science fiction into science fact, it was only natural for me to drool like Pavlov’s dog at the very mention of the space program. Astronauts, rockets, and capsules—oh, my! Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. To the moon, Alice! [Kramden, that is.] Not to mention the Space Shuttle, a reusable spacecraft. [We actually saw a shuttle launch one year. Impressive—and loud!] The International Space Station (ISS) is a modern-day miracle. Fifteen nations worked together to construct and operate it in low Earth orbit. How often do we see that many nations working together on a peaceful endeavor? That was the real miracle.
A few years ago, I signed up for email notice of when the ISS passes over my house so I can watch it fly by—no telescope needed to see the ISS in low Earth orbit.
[You can sign up too at http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station]
In early February, MG and I were in Florida visiting my Baby Sis and hubby. We accompanied them on a Cocoa Beach outing, and so we had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the fourth time. As far as I’m concerned, a visit to the KSC is akin to a little kid’s visit to Walt Disney World. Admission isn’t as pricy as Disney World, but it isn’t cheap either. That probably explains how the KSC Visitor Complex is entirely visitor-funded—that means without US tax dollars, praise the Lord.
The KSC is a first-class operation, and it never gets old for me. There is so much to see, do, and learn, and there is always something new and/or different whenever we visit. The exhibits and movies are presented in dramatic, state of the art fashion. The Rocket Garden in which the outdoor space artifacts are kept in pristine condition. Heroes & Legends, which includes The Astronaut Museum. The Astronaut Encounter Theater. [So far, MG and I have met Al Worden and Story Musgrave.] Journey to Mars. The Astronaut Memorial. IMAX Theaters. A bus tour of the entire working spaceflight center, plus special interest [extra charge] bus tours: The Explore Tour [launch pads, Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s rocket launch sites]; The Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour [Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, landmarks of the Mercury and Gemini launches]; and The Launch Control Center Tour [the firing rooms where engineers perform system checks prior to liftoff].
Plus there is the fabulous Apollo/Saturn V Center housing the Saturn V Moon Rocket. [One of three Saturn V’s in existence, and it is meganormous!!!] The Apollo missions and the Saturn V rocket are presented with spectacular videos, artifacts, exhibits, and the historical reverence they deserve.
And—and—and [::drool:: ::pant, pant:: ::sigh::] the last Space Shuttle to fly, ending the STS program! The actual, authentic, amazing Space Shuttle Atlantis!!!!!
Space Shuttle Atlantis, in its own exhibit center, is the jewel in the KSC’s crown. Atlantis receives impressive, practically pyrotechnic rock star treatment during its video introduction to visitors. When the video ends, visitors get to walk under the risen screen and approach Atlantis itself—suspended in midair—tilted at an angle with its cargo bay doors open for viewing. Visitors all pay homage to Atlantis by falling all over themselves and each other jockeying for the best angle from which to shoot photos of the KSC superstar. In addition to Atlantis, there is a shuttle-launched Hubble Telescope exhibit, and The Shuttle Experience, which feels as close to being a passenger during a shuttle launch as is possible without actually lifting off. Exciting, and fun, fun, fun!
This time around, we signed up for a special interest bus tour that wasn’t available on our previous visits—the Launch Control Center (LCC). Our guide presented a brief history of the space program, as well as the early instrumentation and hardware from its beginnings up to that of its current programs. We got a close-up view of the VAB before entering the LCC. Then came the piece de resistance—the firing rooms inside the LCC. Firing Room Three was in use, in preparation for the next vehicle launch. We were allowed to peek into the room through the glass panes in the locked doors, but we couldn’t enter and couldn’t take photos. We did get to enter and tour the newest firing room, Firing Room Four, which will be the launch control for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). I took a photo of Firing Room Four from the vantage point of the Launch Director’s console on the room’s top tier of desks.
Afterward, our bus took us past several launch pads and crawler vehicles that moved spacecraft from the VAB to the launch pads. Our LCC bus tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V Center for our fourth awe-inspiring visit there.
The KSC grounds are well-groomed, neat and clean, and there are several large, strategically located restrooms. There are seven dining and snack choices available. We found the food service in the Orbit Cafe to be extremely good. [We had the huge pulled pork sandwiches and fries.] The fleet of bus tour vehicles are comfortable, air-conditioned, and well-maintained.
Our last stop was to the gift shop, of course. All in all, a pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable first-class outing that made us look forward to a fifth visit to the KSC.
Drop by next time for A Tale of Two Space Centers, Part II—our visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in The Rocket City, Huntsville, Alabama.