Major excitement today as we have our first ever post from Brian, who is Jess and Robert’s dad! Read on for his visit to the Kennedy Space Center…
I spent roughly half of my time at the Visitor Complex, and the other half taking a bus tour and then exploring the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
I had an amazing time, and here are some of the highlights.
THE VISITOR COMPLEX
The Rocket Garden: I really enjoyed walking round the “garden” which contains many of the rockets used in the earlier space missions. Seven are real – but were simply not flown – and one is a replica (the Gemini rocket, which ironically is the first one you come to when you enter). I joined one of the 15 minute tours, and was interested to hear the guide talk about the significance of the “space race” during the Cold War: how Americans were genuinely scared of what was flying above them when the Soviets launched the first satellite into space, and then “embarrassed” when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
The Astronaut Encounter theatre: I saw veteran astronaut Bob Springer, who served on two Space Shuttle flights (on Discovery in 1989 and Atlantis in 1990: the latter carrying a top-secret cargo). He certainly had “the right stuff”, after being a pilot in Vietnam, then a test pilot, before joining NASA.
He told many fascinating stories about his time in the International Space Station: how he slept for only one and half hours each night (a combination of wanting to experience as much of his time in space as possible, and seeing a sunrise every 90 minutes) and the fact that he slept while floating (when most other astronauts velcroed their sleeping bags onto a wall or ceiling). He also spoke humorously about his suffering from space sickness during his second day in space – he managed to vomit into his sick-bag but the contents rebounded from the far side of the container straight back into his mouth!
The IMAX Theatre: There were two 3D films showing there. I saw Hubble, a 45 minute film narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, containing footage from the final space-shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope. The best parts though were the amazing images found by the telescope, with stunning animation of journeys through distant galaxies.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit: this was probably the highlight of my day. It started with a film about the challenges of designing a reusable spacecraft, then another showing the shuttles in action. This film ended with the final landing of the Atlantis, with the commentary saying “Atlantis, welcome home” over the frozen image of the shuttle. The video screen then rose up to reveal that we had actually been looking at the real thing, and the effect was incredibly emotional. The exhibit is tilted on its side and it looks like it is flying in space with its payload doors open and the robot arm extended. (Only the arm is not authentic, the original having been taken back by the Canadian Space Agency). The shuttle was much larger than I expected, and the building was cleverly designed so you could see it from lots of different angles. It was amazing to see such an iconic spacecraft, the one that flew the last ever shuttle mission, with its black scorch marks from re-entry clearly visible on its tiles.
The Shuttle Launch experience: this simulates being launched into space aboard one of the shuttles. It is noisy and the vibrations are quite intense. It starts with the shuttle rotating into a vertical position and ends with the payload doors opening to give the impression that that you are floating in space. I enjoyed it, but would probably give it a miss if time is short.
THE BUS TOUR
I went on the “Up-Close Explore Tour”, led by an expert guide, which took us around some of the famous landmarks at Kennedy Space Center:
* launchpads 39A and 39B, which were used for the Apollo and space shuttle missions;
* the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the gigantic Saturn rockets were stacked and the space shuttles were assembled. This building is massive – it is the world’s fourth largest building by volume, adorned with the world’s largest painted American flag;
* the NASA Causeway, which was the closest spot that the public could watch the space shuttle launches. There are panoramic views over the river from here, and you can also see the VAB in the distance.
* the Shuttle Landing Facility (one of the longest runways in the world)
The bus tour made several stops so we could stretch our legs and take photos.
The tour lasted around two hours – it started at the Visitor Complex and the final destination was the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
APOLLO-SATURN 5 CENTER
This is a huge museum dedicated to the Apollo missions and the Saturn V rockets that took astronauts to the moon.
A fully restored 363-foot Saturn V rocket is the showpiece exhibit. It is suspended on its side, allowing you to walk underneath as well as around it, and it is enormous.
There are lots of other exhibits from the Apollo moon missions, including the Apollo 14 Command Module and some moon rock that you can touch.
There are two very enjoyable theatre shows to see here – the first one is a recreation of the Apollo control room and simulates the final minutes of the Apollo 8 launch , and the second simulates the Apollo 11 moon landing.
It was impossible to see everything properly in just one day, and I would have liked to have spent even more time there.
Daily admission at the Kennedy Space Center costs $50, and this includes the bus tour. The Up-Close tour is an additional $25 per person, plus tax, and $19 per child.