This is part 2 of my blog about Kennedy Space Center, which I visited while on my road trip down south.
One of the things I liked about Kennedy Space Center (KSC) now as an adult is the mixture of history combined with the future and the hopes and dreams involved in them. Walking around KSC I often had flashbacks to when I was 8 years old and the sense of wonderment at what I was seeing. I had that same sense of wonderment now as an adult at 34 years old. There are some things I had no idea about when I was 8 years old such as how much things cost, what tours to take and the technical complexities of putting anything in space. However, one thing that NASA seems to have done well or at least is working on is opening the place up to be seen and helping people understand what they actually do it space. Certain things that once were closed off because of security concerns and cold wars are now open to the public.
Walking around the visitor’s complex and the exhibits was great and made me feel like a kid again. Some of those exhibits are somewhat dated and need some modernizing though. The rocket garden of course was great and seeing some of the rocket used in the early days standing tall in the sky or laying down (in the case of the Saturn 1 rocket) was great now as it was before. The vast amount of history and information here was wonderful and they even had more hands on things and kid stuff for the little ones such as Angry Birds in Space and Robots in Space. There is a certain amount of cheesiness to KSC but it has to be to be a draw for all ages. Something’s of the more technical nature are just beyond peoples understanding so they dumb it down and make it understandable.
Some of the exhibits such as the one man capsules used in the Gemini and Mercury programs were interesting as well as scary. It was tough to grasp men (and women…yes women were trained as well) were willing to take to the stars in these machines that seem dated now and roughly the size of smart car. The idea they were even able to do it let alone as often as what they did was true bravery. At one point at KSC we saw an exhibit of the control room used during the Mercury missions. The fact that the laptop I am using to write this blog had nearly 1000 times more computing power than the ones used to launch men into space, track and keep them safe was really was crazy. How they were able to do it doesn’t seem possible. Nevertheless, it also showed me all the innovations NASA and the air force invented just in the process of getting men even to the lower edges of space and one trip around the earth let alone going to the moon.
If you were to visit Kennedy and wanted to see everything I would say you need 2 full days AT LEAST and maybe 3 actually. We took 2 days to see what we wanted to see. There are many different tour options that you can take and are priced differently. The tour that we took at KSC brought us out to the VAB (vehicle assembly building) and a stop 1/4 mile from the launch pads 39A and 39B ( you feel much closer than this because of its size). Then a stop at a viewing area on the beach on the Atlantic Ocean with a wider veiw of all and then onto the building housing the massive exhibit for the Saturn 5 rocket and everything related to the Apollo missions. The tour guide on my tour was full of unique information and often are led by former engineers and occasionally retired astronauts with intimate knowledge of Kennedy and the space program….just don’t talk on the bus, they really don’t like it. Also part of our package but not on the tour was admission to the Astronaut hall of fame down the road from the Visitors Center, which I will talk more about later.
The two tour options we did not take were the guided tour of Mission Control, Cape Canaveral: Then and Now and Lunch with an Astronaut and a few more. Kennedy has some great package deals and I got the Commanders Club, which comes with some really great benefits and discounts like 20% off in the shops and food courts as well as free parking and admission to special events and a few other things. For 63 bucks, it was a great deal and it came with a nifty card. Just so, it is out there taxpayer dollars DO NOT fund anything at the Visitors Center. It is funded by donations and people like me and my mom shelling out bucks to visit and learn. I say this because some asshat griped about some taxpayer dollars being wasted on an exhibit he did not like at KSC and I wanted to slap him. For more information visit http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/experiences.aspx
The VAB or Vehicle Assembly Building is the giant building KSC is famous for. It is the 3rd largest building in the world and seeing it from a distance as I did when I was a kid doesn’t give you a sense of just how massive this building actually is. Wernher Von Braun, former German scientist who helped the USA launch the space program and design rockets such as the Saturn V and also helped design this building. The VAB is where all the Apollo rockets were assembled prior to launch as well as all of the Space Shuttles. We all have seen the USA flag and NASA logo painted high up on the side of the building and visible for miles away. Neat fact I learned just to give you a sense of how big the building is size each star on the flag is 6 feet across.
On our tour, we were able to go inside this building. Security is tight and these people do not screw around, no bags of any kind are allowed inside not even purses so ladies forget your make up and leave it on the bus. My mom was all paranoid about someone taking her wallet so she put it in her pocket. “I was like really mom? We are at at one of the most secure facilities in the world and going into a sometimes top secret building and you think someone is going to steal your wallet on the bus parked 10 feet from the door”? She got a laugh out of it but took her wallet anyway.
Being inside this building was something of a dream coming true for me since I wished I could when I was 8. It was a dream of a lot of people who went to NASA in the 80’s thru 2009. The only time this building has been open to the public was in the years between the last Apollo mission and the beginning of the Shuttle Program in the 70’s and only lasted a few years. Since the end of the shuttle program it is open once again, however this will also end once the refitting is done for the next rocket program called Orion and the launch facilities are complete for the massive Delta IV rocket. In years before only people with top-level security clearance were allowed anywhere near these buildings. Now, you cannot just wonder around willy-nilly inside even though I do love to willy-nilly. There is a cordoned off area where you have to stay but they give you enough walk around room to look and see things.
Inside there is a very interesting speaker who told us about Columbia and Challenger disaster and why they happened. He also explained the process of moving the shuttle around inside how tricky that was and this was really cool and informative. The plus is that you are allowed to take pictures which I think is a great PR move for NASA and Kennedy and strips away a bit of the mystique about the place as well as helping the normal folk to connect with what’s going on there. Realistically you cannot expect people to go into a building that’s been closed off to the public for 30 years and them not take pictures. Especially with people like me who are photo ninjas.
Being in here made me feel smaller than I ever have in my life and I nearly fell over once while looking up because I got dizzy. So much history and firsts happened in VAB and I felt surrounded and suffocated by ghosts of great men in the past….as well as Bruce Willis. Seeing this building, breathing the air and touching it was epic and is a MUST SEE, if you plan on going to KSC go soon because in just a few short years it will be closed again and who knows when it will be open again. I am thrilled to say I am one a relativity small group of people who had the luck to be inside, some never have and never will.
Launch Complex 39A and 39B
The last time I saw these they were just specks in the distance but were awesome. Seeing them up close even from ¼ mile away through a security perimeter was even more so. Knowing what happened on these launch pads, the history made was mind boggling to me. Later as we stood at a viewing area on a hill about half 3/4 of a mile away against the ocean, I could see the giant Saturn V rumbling off the launch pad and shooting toward the stars. I found out on the tour the Saturn V had the explosive power of an atom bomb something I never knew. I could also see the track of the ill-fated Challenger as it erupted of the pad and visualize it as it exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, standing there was an extremely sobering experience.
On the bus were drove close enough to see details of the structure and the blast tunnels below that before were un-view-able unless you worked at NASA or saw them on film and pictures. The tour took us through the process of putting the shuttle together at the VAB, down the giant two tracks, which the crawler used which carried the rockets and shuttles to the launch pads. The future of things to come for these launch facilities were great to hear. An interesting fact I learned while there is if you were within 1/2 mile ( i think that’s right) of a shuttle launch the vibration from the shock wave would literally shake your insides so hard you would die
Saturn V facilities and Apollo
This was my mom’s favorite part I think I found it very interesting and incredibly well put to together. The word “Impressive” does not give this exhibit proper justice when you walk into the Apollo/SaturnV Center. At the end of the tour, you are dropped off at the Saturn V complex. Outside you have no idea just how big this building is when the bus drops you off. Walking in there is a video on giant screen, which gives you a history of the Saturn program as well as the Apollo mission. The video also gives you bits of other parts of history, which were taking place at the same time these missions were going on such as the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr, Kennedys death and Woodstock. The floor and walls shake as a video is played of the Saturn V rocket launching from Kennedy. So much history happened at that time of our countries history and sometimes it all blends together and some choosing ones relevance over the other.
Once that is over you walk through a set of doors and enter a massive room. In front, you is the bottom engine end of the only remaining Saturn V rocket. This is not model of a rocket and is an actual Saturn V rocket made for the Apollo program but was not used when the program was ended early. This is another flashback to my childhood since the last time I saw this rocket it was laying on its side outdoors in 1980’s and being eaten away by the elements. It has since been fixed, cleaned, painted and is gleaming and it made me happy to finally see it in its new indoor home so this great part of the space program can be celebrated fully. The engines are very real and ungodly huge. It was during this part of the trip that my battery died on my phone and I had to resort to using my mom’s iPhone 5 for taking pics so the quality is not as good in those pics taken with hers….let’s face it iPhone’s cameras really do suck. On the far end was the service module gleaming and shiny which is normally hidden away during launch. I thought it was great to see one in this good of condition.
The Saturn V rocket is broken up into the various stages, as it would have when it separated during its rise into space. Looking at it is a technological and mechanical wonder and a nerds dream come true just to see. I cannot explain how large this was lying on cradles on its side. I found an odd feeling come over me as I stood feet away from something that huge that great men worked and braver men flew on. Standing next to the largest rocket ever made was somewhat emotional for me. Walking along and looking up at the rocket, I was amazing that this giant ship was able to even lift off the ground. It brought a new meaning to the term “go big or go home”.
Growing up I always wanted to go to the mood, I always thought it would be cool. In the same facility, hanging from the ceiling next to rocket was a lunar lander, the eagle. The same type of lander used by astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong to land on the moon’s surface on Apollo 11. The same lander that the men from Apollo 13 used as a life raft while they meandered in space. This again was not a model or replica but an actual lander that made for the Apollo program. Also hanging from the ceiling along the right side of the room were the various mission patches from the Apollo program. Yes there was a little area to get food and drinks….bla bla bla not important.
One the left side of the rocket was smaller rooms that held other displays from the Apollo program and the men who flew on the mission. Pieces of history, which could have been forgotten but thankfully, were not. These included a space suit used by the Apollo astronauts and the flight helmets the men used while doing training exercise on planes. I think it is important to note that all of the men on the Apollo missions save one and including Mercury/Redstone and Gemini were all US air force pilots. They were not scientists like those that we saw with the Shuttle missions. My mom really enjoyed this part of our trip there since this was the era she grew up in. While we walked and looked at things she told me about memories she had growing up of the missions and my grand father who was a big fan of all the astronauts. My moms said my grandpa thought of them as the greatest men he ever heard of.
When we were done here, we loaded back onto the bus, which took us back to KSC visitor’s complex.