Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Another One Off the Bucket List

On my last business trip to Florida, things wrapped up earlier than expected and I had several hours to myself before my flight was scheduled to depart. I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do and that was to visit Kennedy Space Center. I had driven by there a couple of times but never had the time available.

With about five to six hours at my disposal, I arrived bright and early at KSC's Visitor Center. Yes, I was excited as all get out! The day was overcast with occasional light showers, but I didn't care. It was now or never.

Inside the Visitor Center
One of the first items on my agenda was to take the KSC bus tour. The self-guided tour takes about two hours, depending on how much time you wanted to spend in each area. I was on the first bus to leave the visitor center.

Let the Tour Begin!

Our first stop would be the 60-foot-tall Launch Complex-39 Observation Gantry with 360 degree views. Visible were a few of the difference launch complexes at KSC. LC39 has two pads where Saturn V rockets and the space shuttles were launched from. The last shuttle mission (STS-135) launched from Pad A below.

Launch Complex 39 - Pad A
Launch Complex 37

Also visible from the Observation Gantry is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the Launch Control Center.

Vehicle Assembly Building & Launch Control Center (in front)

The buses run every 15 minutes so when you have had your fill at the Observation Gantry, you hop on the next available bus to go to the Apollo/Saturn V center.

After a short movie presentation, you move into a launch control center and experience a launch simulation from the early days of the Apollo program. The windows above you rattle and the room vibrates as the "rocket" lifts off. I felt like a little kid all over again.

Launch Control Center
Stages of the Mission as it Progresses

You then enter a large hall filled with an actual Saturn V Rocket with its various stages. It is massive! I thoroughly enjoyed looking and learning about this rocket.

Bottom of the Saturn V Rocket
Service & Command Modules
Another View of the Service and Command Modules
Astronaut Van - Looks Like the Start of a Motorhome

There was a gallery of other Apollo related items worthy of exploration and review.

Apollo 14 Capsule
Space Suit Worn by Astronaut Alan Shephard

I spent quite a bit of time here wandering around this stop on the tour but there was still more to see so back on the bus I went to return to the Visitor Center. But not before we drove past the VAB one more time. The gray "stripes" on the building are actually doors that open. The bottom section slides sideways and the upper doors raise up. That's how the rockets and space shuttles got in and out of the building.

Vehicle Assembly Building

Back at the Visitor Center, I had lunch and no, it wasn't of the freeze-dried variety with a side of Tang. It started to rain again which gave me the opportunity to walk around some of the other exhibits in the complex. I tried to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station on a simulator and failed miserably. Guess that shows that I don't own an Xbox or PlayStation! I'm sure a kid could do it easily.

I walked around the Astronaut Memorial, rain or not, and thought back to the time when I was listening to the Challenger lift-off and catastrophe that ensued. Looking at the names engraved on the black granite wall from that mission along with others who have perished was sobering.

I was running out of time and didn't have a chance to wander through the Rocket Garden. Maybe next time. I can visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame then, too. And the new Atlantis shuttle exhibit should be ready as well.

Rocket Garden

I am so glad I got to spend the hours that I did at Kennedy Space Center.

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