Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kennedy Space Center

We had no idea what was in store for us as we headed out through the Merritt Island wildlife preserve to The Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral; maybe some used rockets and a few moon rocks. On the drive we saw Bald Eagles, Alligators and Blue Herons in the wonderful wetland which is little disturbed except for the odd rocket blasting off!!

It is, in fact, absolutely awesome so much so that we spent two days there and upgraded our entrance fee to Commodore level which allows us unlimited entrance for a year, plus substantial discounts including for guests; significant as we hope to return in April with our grandchildren. Having lived the Kennedy Camelot history, from JFK’s nomination and ultimate election to the Presidency, it was quite nostalgic to watch the film of President Kennedy's speech in 1962 challenging NASA to land an American on the moon before the end of that decade. President Kennedy was very close to our hearts and Ireland remains very proud to have had a descendant in the White House and we remember the excitement and awe of the people of Ireland as we listened to his inaugural speech as well as his brave and bold statement…that America would land a man on the moon.
Then in July 1969 we sat our six month old baby in front of the black and white TV as we watched the moon landing and Neil Armstrong taking that “first giant step for mankind” as he set foot on the moon. We remind Jennifer to this day that she saw history being made.

History is acknowledged in stark honesty at the space center…failures (and there were many) and successes of the space program. The then Soviet Union’s successes - first spacecraft in space, first man (Uri Gagarin) in space are openly celebrated. In the age of iPod’s, iPhone’s and iPad’s it was fascinating to see how primitive the actual computers used (in the control room and onboard the spacecraft) to send man to the moon were. One can visit an actual Control Room and sit at the desks, look at the monitors and pick up the Bakelite rotary telephones. It all made us realize the true genius of the scientists, engineers and computer programmers; consider this – Slide Rules were used extensively at that time to make life and death calculations. These men and women were true pioneers, dedicated to their quest, but what a wonderful job it must have been for those great minds.
The center has two IMAX Cinemas, one showing a 30 minute movie about the International Space Station and the other a 30 minute movie on the Hubbell Telescope. Both are awe inspiring, especially when observing living conditions on the ISS and the training the astronauts have to undergo for spacewalking while repairing the Hubble Telescope or constructing the ISS. Hours upon hours are spent under water in full spacesuit in a very large, deep pool where they practice repairs or jobs that need to be done, all the while simulating all possible obstacles that may be encountered. The ISS usually has three American and three Russians scientists/engineers on board while from time to time, where a particular expertise is demanded a person from another country is brought onboard.

In the Rocket Garden there’s a great display of the many rockets that show the story of the development of rocket - as time went on they got bigger and bigger, eventually one was three times the height of the Statue of Liberty. The space capsules had to accommodate three men in about the size of the front seats of a Volkswagen Bug, the seats are angled slightly to fit the three in. There were replicas available for visitors to sit in, without all the necessary equipment - this must have been one of the most uncomfortable seating arrangements in any craft.
On a part of the tour we were driven to the launching pad area (along the way the driver pointed out the nest of a pair of Bald Eagles – as large as a Queen Bed!) and learned that it’s not smoke that rises from under the engines at the launch its steam – there’s an extremely large area of water under the launching pad to cool the heat from the engines – it also stops the world catching fire (Adele’s take on it). We saw the buildings where the Shuttles were checked and refurbished after each flight and where they were attached to the main rocket and boosters before travelling on a huge craft to the launching pad at two miles an hour.

To finish off our visit we went on a fun ride that simulates being an astronaut taking off aboard the Shuttle from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, complete with all sorts of warnings. Adele was more than a little apprehensive as we entered the shuttle and belted ourselves into our seats which tilted back for blast-off. After engine ignition everything began shake even our cheeks and one got the sense of a force pushing one backwards, then at 17,500 mph a brief experience of weightlessness. We both really enjoyed it, it was great fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment