John F Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Florida 2013 003

 

The Kennedy Space Center is one of my favorite attractions in the United States. It highlights some of the greatest technological achievements of our species and is testament to one of the most significant advances of human civilization -- mankind leaving its earthly home to travel to the moon. It was President John Kennedy's challenge to the nation to get a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth before the close of the 1960s, a goal accomplished by the landing of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon in July 1969.  I was very young during those halcyon days of space travel but remember vividly the great successes (and some heart-breaking failures) of the Space Race. The Kennedy Space Center was witness to it all and it was here that the President’s and nation’s dream became a reality.

 

Entrance to Kennedy Space Center, Florida

 

The Kennedy Space Center is run by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Every manned space mission the US sent to orbit since the 1960's was launched from this site. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle program manned space flight from the United States ended (at least for now), with the focus of NASA shifting to unmanned space probes, developing private-public partnerships (eg space tourism) and starting work on its next manned space flight program, the fascinating Orion project (scheduled to be live within a decade with rockets 3x as powerful as the Saturn V rockets).  I personally believe it was a tremendous miscalculation to terminate the Shuttle Program before a new space launch system had been developed but NASA never consulted me.

 

The Kennedy Space Center covers a massive piece of land, some 140,000 acres, much of it a nature preserve (Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore).  You'll certainly see alligators and dozens of exotic bird species on your drive here, but this is actually a place where nature takes the back seat; the main attraction of Cape Canaveral is what man accomplished here.  You get to see many old rockets and other space artifacts and memorabilia.  But to its many visitors the crown jewels of the Kennedy Space Center are the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the new Atlantis Space Shuttle exhibit.

 

Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Center. Florida

Crawler-Transporter, Kennedy Space Center. Florida

LC39A , Kennedy Space Center. Florida. Configured For Shuttle 

A visit to the Kennedy Space Center begins at its Visitor Center complex, where you can spend some time looking at the exhibits.   If the weather is good, my advice would be to immediately take the tour bus for a guided visit to more remote portions of the Space Center (included in the admission).  The driver, who provides narration while showing you around Cape Canaveral, will take you past the massive Space Vehicle Assembly building (where all of the rockets and shuttles were serviced, coupled with their launch rockets, fueled, then moved by a massive custom tractor to their pads).  And you'll be driven past launch pads A and B and LC-39, from which all space launches took place.  While currently not active, it’s still interesting to see these historic places.

 

Apollo Saturn V Center, Rocket Display

Apollo Saturn V Center, Rocket Display

 Apollo Saturn V Center, Rocket DisplayApollo Saturn V Center, Apollo 13 capsule

The bus tour ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where you’ll see a simulation of an Apollo mission launch from the perspective of Mission Control.  And then, most memorable of all, you’ll get to see one of the last three remaining Saturn V rockets, the monsters that launched man to the moon.  Saturn V is the largest and most powerful rocket ever created and sits there before and above you, suspended above the ground by large metal stands; you can walk under it and closely examine the different stages of the rocket, ending at its far end where the astronaut’s space capsule is attached.  It’s one of the most amazing things I've ever seen -- truly impressive!

 

Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Atlantis Shuttle Display

 

After returning to the visitor center, I'd next see the Atlantis Space Shuttle exhibit, which will likely take you a few hours.  I've written about this exhibit previously on this blog and which you can read more about here.  It’s a beautifully executed display and a chance to see one of the four remaining Space Shuttles.

 

Other interesting exhibits around the Kennedy Space Center visitor center worth some of your time include:

 

Rocket Garden, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Rocket Garden, Kennedy Space Center. Florida 

 

1) Outdoor Rocket Garden:  Here you can experience the very same Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts into space, or climb aboard Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules – and get an idea of the cramped quarters America's early astronauts endured.

 

Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Astronaut Memorial

 

2) The Astronaut Memorial, a shrine to those astronauts who lost their lives in Space Exploration.

 

3) IMAX theaters showing space movies, like images of and from the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station.

 

4) A chance to meet an astronaut and have lunch with him/her (extra fee for this and very popular so reserve in advance).

 

Apollo Saturn V Center, Rocket Display

 

5) Your admission to the Kennedy Space Center includes a free entrance to the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, six miles west of main complex.  I've never had the time to see this Museum, but it's on my "to do" list.  It would take a second day to visit this Hall of Fame because you the Kennedy Space Center will occupy a full day.    

 

Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Atlantis Shuttle Display

Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Atlantis Shuttle Display. Hubble telescope

  

Besides the images inserted into this blog (whose titles are visible if you scroll your mouse over the photo), the thumbnail images below contain a number of extra images you might find of interest.

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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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It seems impossible that it's over half a century since the first little grapefruit-sized satellites went up, and amazing that a program that seemed to move on constantly has become so dormant...as if personal computer development had rushed forward rapidly...and then stopped at Windows 95!

 

I wonder what this will look like to historians in the distant future...

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Thanks for the comment, PHeymont.  Yes, it did seem thinks were working at warp speed in the 1960s, slowed down after that and have mostly come to a halt now.  But there are still the great unmanned probes being launched (eg. Mars Rover), and the new Orion project promises to be quite exciting -- at least in its potential.  It might be what takes man to Mars.  I'd be happy just for a return to the moon.  See how modern technology has changed the process of getting there.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

I always thought that when rockets were fired from the launch pad, there were clouds of smoke to accompany it. I learned, on the tour, that a few seconds before launch a million gallons of water were released onto the launch pad to stop the heat of the rockets from melting the concrete base.

So it was just creating some steam !

The water serves mostly as a sound buffer (those huge rockets are really loud!).  But the massive flooding of water actually does dissipate some of the heat as well.

 

I was really fascinated  by this place, GarryRF!

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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