Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are synonymous with America’s manned spaceflight program. It was here in 1961 that NASA launched the first American into space, Alan Shepard, as part of project Mercury. Later would follow the Gemini and Apollo programs that ultimately put a man on the moon and, more recently, the Space Shuttle program. The Kennedy Space Center, about a two-hour drive from our marina, has a fabulous visitor’s center that details the full history of NASA’s space program with excellent displays and plenty of real artifacts. We purchased mult-day tickets and spent two jam-packed days exploring the center, and could easily have spent a third.

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Kennedy Space Center

We were pretty excited to be visiting Kennedy Space Center, and became even more excited as we approached and through the front window of the car could see the external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Space person

A photo op with a space person before the gates to open. We can’t wait to get inside.
Atlantis exhibit

Our first stop was the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit that opened in 2013. Outside the exhibit is a towering 184-ft full-scale replica of the two solid-rocker boosters and fuel tank used to launch Atlantis into orbit. This is the display we could see as we approached the area.
Atlantis story

The exhibit begins with a movie describing the origins and history of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

When the movie was over, the screen lifted and revealed the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis suspended as if flying directly toward us. Wow!

Seeing the actual Atlantis was amazing. The payload doors are open, and a replica of the Canadarm extends over visitors as they exit the theater.
Launch experience

We also rode the Shuttle Launch Experience, an amusement-park type ride that re-enacts a real shuttle launch.

Among the many exhibits and displays is a sobering memorial to the lost Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Included in the memorial are recovered pieces from the shuttles: on the left is a large section from the left side of Challenger and on the right is Columbia‘s cockpit frame.
Orbit Cafe

We spent most of the morning at the Atlantis display, then had lunch at the Orbit Cafe.
Mining Robots

The NASA Robotic Mining Competition was taking place the week we were there. Forty-five U.S. University teams were competing in the 7th annual event. Today was a practice day and we spent some time watching the robots work in the demonstration sandbox.
Rocket garden

The Rocket Garden celebrates NASA’s rocket program from early unmanned launches through to the Apollo missions.
Mercury capsule

Jennifer barely fitting inside this replica Mercury single-person capsule. She usually makes things look big. If something looks small with her in the photo, it’s really small.
Gemini capsule

This replica Gemini two-person capsule is a little roomier than the Mercury capsule.
Saturn 1B

This Saturn 1B rocket was prepared for the Skylab missions, but never used, and is the only remaining flight-ready specimen of the Saturn series of heavy-lift systems.
Service arm

This is the actual service arm that Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin walked in July 16, 1969 to reach their command module 30 stories above the launch pad atop a Saturn V rocket. Once inside the command module, the next steps Armstrong and Aldrin took were on the moon.
Firing Room Four

We took a guided tour that afternoon around the Kennedy Space Center complex with a stop at the Launch Control Center where over 150 Apollo and Space Shuttle missions were launched. This is looking across Firing Room Four where the last 21 shuttle missions were launched.

Looking northeast from Firing Room Four down the Crawlerway to the launch pads just barely visible in the distance. Saturn 1B and Saturn V rockets, and later the Space Shuttles, went through final preparations at the Vehicle Assembly Building, adjacent to the Launch Control Center, and then transported along the Crawlerway to the launch pad on 5.5-million-pound crawler-transporters.
Belt shoe

On display at the Launch Control Center was a single crawler-transporter tread belt shoe that weighs 2,100 pounds. Each crawler has 456 such shoes.
Apollo 8 launch

The guided tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where we first watched a movie on the origins of America’s drive to put a man on the moon, including a snippet from Kennedy’s speech where he so famously committed the country “to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” After the movie, we moved to Firing Room Theater for a re-enactment of the Apollo 8 launch using the original firing room consoles.
Saturn V

The Firing Room Theater exits directly under the boosters of a real and complete Saturn V rocket. Amazing! The 363-ft rocket is the largest ever made and dominates the Apollo/Saturn V Center. At the bottom center of this photo is a statue of Snoopy from the “Peanuts” comic strip. Snoopy was the official mascot of the Apollo space program—a photo by the statue showed Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford, en route to the launch pad, patting the nose of a giant stuffed Snoopy.
Command module

Alan Shepard’s Apollo 14 command module, Kitty Hawk, was among the many Apollo/Saturn V memorabilia on display. The command module looked like it had taken a fair bit of abuse during the heat of atmospheric re-entry.

We had a great meal in Cape Canaveral at Rusty’s Seafood and Oyster bar. We normally prefer to eat outside, and Rusty’s has a large patio, but a torrential thunderstorm started just before we arrived.

We had purchased a multi-day pass to spend two days at Kennedy Space Center and overnighted in Port Canaveral. We started the day with our first McDonald’s breakfast in years. The menu sure had changed—we’d never seen a McGriddle before. But fortunately they still served Jennifer’s favourite: a sausage McMuffin with one of those tasty hash browns.

We watched two IMAX 3-D films this morning, A Beautiful Planet and Journey to Space. The footage from A Beautiful Planet, taken from the International Space Station, was spectacular. This is a shot at night where the lit-up cities show the population centers and the . You generally can’t see the borders between countries of course, but the line between South Korea and North Korea (not visible in the picture) was obvious. South Korea is brightly lit, while poverty-stricken North Korea is almost completely dark, save for a smattering of light near the capitol Pyongyang.
Mining Robots

The first day of competition for the 2016 NASA Mining Robot Competition was underway this morning. Teams must meet a number of requirements, including size, weight and remote radio control, and score points for categories such as the amount of sand they moved and autonomous operation, plus items external to the competition such as a slide presentation and engineering paper. The sand used to simulate the Martian environment contains a small amount of respirable silica and is an extreme skin irritant, so teams must be fully protected and wear breathing apparatus. We were rooting for Texas A&M, pictured, who’d we’d spent some time with yesterday during practice. The “Aggies” placed a respectable 16th in a field of 45. University of Alabama earned top honors operating in fully autonomous mode to the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama”: (1:12). At the start of the video, the screen shows the Alabama robot at the top left with the team monitoring its progress from a remote location at the bottom left. Another school’s robot and team are on the right.

James making a friend over lunch.

We took a second guided bus tour of the Kennedy Space Center today, this one an “Explore Tour” with several stops where we could get off the bus and take pictures. Our first top was at the Banana River causeway with a panoramic view to the various launch centers strung along the Florida coast. This is a close-up of Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), from where the United Launch Alliance will soon launch a Delta IV Heavy rocket.
Saturn Causeway

Looking northeast along the Crawlerway, called Saturn Causeway, toward the launch pads. The Launch Control Center we visited yesterday is close by in the opposite direction. The Crawlerway is two lanes, each 40ft wide with a 50ft median between them. The lanes are surfaced with Tennessee River Rock for its anti-spark properties. Below the river rock is a layer of asphalt and a 7ft stone bed.

One of the two 5.5-million-pound crawler-transporters used to transport Saturn rockets and the Space Shuttle to the launch pad. The vehicle is 144 ft long and 131 ft wide, with a height adjustable between 20 to 26 ft. It is powered by two 2,050 kW (2,750 hp) V16 ALCO 251C diesel engines and has a maximum speed of 1mph loaded and 2mph unloaded. When completed in 1965 they were the largest self-powered vehicle in the world.
Pad 39A

Looking northeast to Launch Pad 39A. Apollos 4 and 6, and all manned Apollo launches commencing with Apollo 8 launched from here, except for Apollo 10. 82 Space Shuttle missions launched from pad 39A as well. The company SpaceX currently leases the pad from NASA and has modified it to support Falcon Heavy launches.
Pad 39B

The base of Launch Pad 39B, seen from a viewing stop along the tour. Launches from here include Apollo 10, Skylab 1 through 3, the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, and 53 Space Shuttles missions between 1986 and 2006. NASA plans to use the pad for their Space Launch System (SLS) that replaces the Space Shuttle.
Fire control panels

These fire control panels at Launch Complex 39 were used to control the direction of the rocket blast during Shuttle launches. The faces are lined with a refractory concrete called Fondu Fyre.
Vehicle Assembly Building

The last disembarkment on our tour was at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) next to the Launch Control Center (just barely visible at the right of the photo). The massive Saturn V, with an Apollo command module and lunar lander on top, were assembled here. The Space Shuttle was also assembled in this buildling. Both were then transported by crawler along the crawlerway to the launch pad. The building is 526ft tall, 716ft long and 518ft wide, covers 8 acres (3 ha), and encloses 129,428,000 cubic feet of space. It remains the largest single-story building in the world, and is the sixth largest with respect to usable space. The American flag painted on the building is 209ft high and 100ft wide. To give you an idea of the scale, we’re standing on a life-sized duplicate of a portion of the flag: each stripe is 9 feet wide and each star is 6ft across.

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