This is part 3 of my 3 part blog about Kennedy Space Center which I visited while on my road trip down south.
Atlantis, Simulations and Memorials
One of the more worthwhile exhibits is called the Shuttle Launch Experience. Veteran Space Shuttle Commander Charlie Bolden leads you through a very well put together and funny video. In this “ride” you are strapped into a seat in a capsule with I think 8 rows of seats. It is supposed to be in the cargo bay of a shuttle and you get to feel and hear exactly what a shuttle launch was really like. The shakes, groans and rumbles are incredibly realistic. At one point, you are tilted back and are in a laying down position. With the motions, sounds, effects and little movements it was very very exhilarating and tough to explain. I do not know how they did this but you really do get the sensation that you are lifting off in a Space Shuttle since you seem to feel some sort of G-Force and pressure during the “launch” part. You feel the effects of the solid booster burns, dropping the tanks and rotating while it is going higher.
I don’t know if this was just my mind but at the point when you are supposed to be “in space” the capsule you are in is tipped forward slightly and it feels almost as if you really are weightless, I don’t know if this was intended but it wasn’t addressed by the simulation guide. This simulation is generally considered the most authentic Shuttle Launch Simulation in the world. Once in “Space” the cargo bay doors open and you see a view of earth over your head. We waited about 10 minute’s total, I do not wait in lines but I would have waited once for ½ and hour for this. It is worth the wait but old people might have issues and kids might piss themselves. Babies and small kids should be left outside since it is not safe for them to be on this since things can go flying around. This is one of those situations where it is inappropriate for little kids and I think the people working would deny them entry. The older people on our launch seemed to do fine though. I would say its ok for kids 8 and over.
The Shuttle Launch Experience is housed in the same building, which will hold Kennedy’s newest exhibit and something I am sad to be missing by about a month. This June, the Atlantis Exhibit will open. Since the ending of the shuttle program, the three remaining shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor) were sent to various parts of the country for public display. How LA got one, I will never know. Atlantis however finds it home on familiar turf at KSC. As you pull into the visitors center the massive building which will house the Atlantis is on the right, the design of the building is pure NASA and very cool. My membership card for the Commanders Club says year of Atlantis and has a picture of it on the card. Therefore, it was a great souvenir on its own.
Later when the exhibit opens visitors will walk under and past 2 solid rocket boosters and an external fuel take standing tall in the sky. All of which were used during the Shuttles years of service and are not fake…very cool that NASA is reusing these. These were under construction while I was as KSC which on its own was interesting to watch.
This exhibit is not far from the Astronaut memorial a national monument which is a solar array with the names of all the astronauts who died in the space program inscribed on a black face, which turns in the sunlight. Seeing the names of astronauts who were my heroes growing up was very cool and it was a beautifully designed memorial. This has been around since the early 90’s but it’s the first time I have seen it.
This was my personal favorite and was included in our admission price. The amount of history not just NASA history but American and technological history was epic. This place contains artifacts, pictures, videos and documents relating to the space race and NASA that you may not find anywhere else. Since I am a history fan, I found myself reading everything through glass including handwritten notes and journals from astronauts like Neil Armstrong and James Lovell among others. Pretty much anything related to NASA and the space program are represented here.
This was a museum but was much more than that it seemed and this is the actually the hardest part of this blog series to write about solely because of how awesome it was. When you walk in there is a bronze statue in the lobby of the great Allen Shepherd; the first American in space. It was a very fitting thing to see as you walk into a building calling itself the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
The museum is set up in a very sensible way and starts with exhibits and artifacts from the very beginning of manned space flight here in the USA, which is the Mercury/ Redstone program. For all exhibits they have newspapers, magazines and TV’s playing news footage from these great moments. They have the actual capsule used by Gus Grissom, news footage and other equipment as well as the suit Alan Shepherd wore on one of his Apollo 14 mission. As you walk through you come to the Gemini and Apollo sections with a plethora of one of kind pieces from both of these programs. One of the cooler items I thought was the actual patch Buzz Aldrin wore on his suit on the moon during Apollo 11 and the journal and flight log kept by James Lovell the commander of Apollo 13 among many other.
The Capstone of the Hall of Fame is the actual hall of fame itself. This room is a monument to some of the greats of space flight, it was missing a few people though and I found it disturbing. For each astronaut they have a glass backlit by a blue light with an etching of the astronauts face and their name above it. Below that are the mission patches for every mission the astronauts went on. I did not realize how many of their careers spanned a few decades of space flight. Alan Shepherd for example was on Mercury III as well as Apollo 14. Gus Grissom with a patch from Mercury IV as well as one from Gemini and his final Apollo 1 his final mission in which he died. Then John Glenn and his Mercury VI patch and his patch from a Space Shuttle Mission in the early 80’s, something I forgot about. I spent nearly 40 minutes in this room just soaking all this greatness, I felt like I was surrounded by ghosts. I never knew there was a female astronaut who was on 7 missions total that was pretty impressive.
The one name and patch that stuck with me as well as pissing me off a bit was Dick Scobee. He was the mission commander from the fateful challenger mission and was only 1 of 7 Astronauts from this mission represented in the Hall of Fame. I stood looking at the mission patch for quite some time since the Challenger explosion was one of those moments from my childhood I will never forget and in some ways changed my life. For my parents it was the Apollo 11 moon landing, for me it was Challenger.
The IMAX movie was damn sweet. We saw the one about the Hubble space telescope (HST). I knew a lot about HST and what it does going into it. I remember when it was put into space and all the issues with it shortly after and keep up with it often. My mom however, did not know much about it so this was great for her and I was able to answer a lot of question for her. The Hubble is not just a normal telescope and has since being fixed made so many discoveries I cannot mention them all. The movie since it was IMAX was of course in 3D, which in this case really added to the film as we were given the perception of gliding through stars, solar systems and other Galaxies. I won’t lie I thought this film was better in 3D than The Avengers was. At one point in the film, we went into a galaxy, which is part of the constellation known as Orion’s Belt. Through pictures taken by Hubble, we were able to see stars and solar systems being born and it sort of gave you an idea of just how big this galaxy we call the Milky Way is and how small earth is as well as our part in the universe. In the lobby there was some really great artwork made my students about space.
Things I had Issues with….
For as much as I loved my time at NASA with my mom, there were some things that I had issues with on our tour at KSC and walked around the visitor’s center. These are not all bad some would just be suggestions for improving things.
Robots Scouts– It was interesting and talked about some of the robots and satellites used in space/mars but were severely dated. It was a walk thru deal and seemed to be more geared toward kids. However, the display looks as though it was made 15-20 years ago. They showed a mockup of what a base on mars would look like and used an old keyboard straight from the mid 90’s. Let’s be honest here, I am positive NASA tech as evolved much farther than keyboards like that. I would think they would use something along the lines of tablets. I think this would a be a great exhibit but just need some modernizing. In addition, they called the Hubble a robot and it is not…at all, that annoyed me. The artwork and retro looking posters were pretty cool.
Launch sites– There are many many launch sites, which are not active anymore. Most of which were launch pads for the early days of NASA and the space program from the Mercury and Redstone eras. (Look at the pic attached). I realize most of these are rusting away and falling apart after being ignored for decades. Recently I read an article where NASA was talking about removing these old launch pads and that irritated me. These are bits…important bits of history, which should not only be preserved but opened up for visitors to see; at least a few of them. For quiet sometime, I thought it would be cool to see those and I am sure many other people would as well. The pic attached also shows the active and inactive launch site all over the cape. I know a few of the are open and can be see on the Cape Canaveral: Then and Now Tour but I think they all should be open. I really wish we could have gotten closer to the Delta IV launch site.
Missing Astronauts at the Hall of Fame-This was perhaps the biggest issue I had while we were at NASA. I found it not only sad but also embarrassing. While I was at the Hall of Fame, I noticed only 1 of the Astronauts from the Challenger disaster were in the hall. I was shocked and could not figure out why. Oddly enough, there wasn’t anyone working in the exhibit area who I could ask. I assume that was because it was the “slow” season and most kids are still in school, they usually have people around to answer questions, and offer incite…. I assumed. When we were leaving, I asked the woman who was working the counter in the front why only 2 were in there. She flubbed out an answer, which was “because you have to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and do not just get in it by being an astronaut and going into space, you have to do something important”. WTF!!!! My eyes got wide, my mom was shocked and walked out and I said, “So dying isn’t a good enough reason huh”? She calmly said “no sir it’s not, sorry, I hope that helped but thank you for coming”.
Now, I am sorry but I think dying in a shuttle explosion 60 seconds or so after launch is a damn good reason to be in the Hall of Fame. If dying on the way to space isn’t a good enough reason than what is? No disrespect to my hometown hero Roger B Chaffee who died training for Apollo 1 but he never even made it to space…not even one time but he is in the Hall of Fame. Christa McAuliffe who was a teacher, NOT a member of the military AND the first civilian ever to go into space should in fact be here as well as Ronald McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith Resnik(second US women in space),Gregory Jarvis and Michael Smith. I get it is a special thing to be in this and many are not but shouldn’t anyone who died in the process automatically earn a spot here? They are heroes right? They are elite and deserve to be here right? Seeing their name on the Astronaut Memorial at the visitor’s center was nice and very deserving but they should be included here as well. As well as Bruce Willis since he did save the world!
Foreigners – All the tours need automated translations telling people to shut the hell up when the guide is talking. On this trip it was specifically Japanese visitors. I have nothing against them personally because they are Japanese so don’t take this the wrong way. We had the misfortune of being on a bus with a group of 10 or so who would not shut up and kept talking over the driver. The driver/tour guide on the way back from the Saturn V exhibit had to pull the bus over and get loud with them so he could talk and do his job. I felt like I was in elementary school again and it was annoying to everyone else. It was rude and ridiculous and I am quite sure at least a few knew English. This is not NASA’s fault.
Shuttle Launch Experience – For as epic as this was it was missing something….like the ending. Now, I understand that it’s called the Shuttle Launch experience…emphasizing the launch part. That being said it was like learning to ride a bike then having the training wheels taken off a bike and then having the bike promptly taken away. What was missing? The re-entry and the landing duh. I think these 2 things would have made for an even better and exciting experience and I suggested it to the folks at KSC on my survey (knowing they probably won’t listen to me). Why not give people the most realistic experience possible and full shabang. NOW, this is still one of the coolest things you can do at NASA right now and is worth the wait in line.
One thing I missed that I really would have liked to see is shuttle launch. It seems I will have to settle for a rocket launch. I missed one by 3 day one this trip down so next time. There is another one in 52 days…..hmmmm