So a couple weeks ago when we were in Florida…
After watching the most excellent launch of STS-130, we all drove back to our hotel in Orlando and took nice long naps. My parents and brother headed back to Charlotte that afternoon, but Jose and I stuck around for one more night, which gave us time to head over to the KSC Visitor’s Center.
Unfortunately for JSC, the KSC Visitor’s Center really runs circles around Space Center Houston. It feels more modern, more welcoming, and much larger right from the start. You walk through the main gate and are met with this huge NASA meatball, so of course we had to take a photo. (The “meatball” is NASA’s nickname for the agency logo. Even that article I just linked to doesn’t explain why, other than to say that it’s round. Like a meatball. Shrug.)
Next I took a picture of Jose in front of this Orion mockup. Of course Orion is the vehicle that was just cancelled. Another shrug.
We walked past this shuttle mockup on our way to the Space Shuttle Launch Experience. This is a fairly new attraction, and is a ride that gives you a feeling of what it might be like to launch on the shuttle, complete with shaking, smoke, and the roar of engines. It was actually very well done, and I was really impressed. The ride presented a lot of solid technical information, but in a way that made it accessible and understandable to the general public (which, after all, is the point of a visitor’s center). They had lots of video interviews with former astronauts describing the entire launch process, and I was very amused to see that the astronaut who did the bulk of the narrating for the ride was Charlie Bolden. Who is now the NASA Administrator!
After the ride, we walked around the Rocket Garden, which included the gantry that the Apollo 11 astronauts walked across on their way into the capsule!
Jose stopped to admire this F-1 engine. There were five of these babies on the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon. Seeing Jose stand next to it really shows how big they were!
We also hopped in a Gemini capsule mockup, which gave me a newfound respect for the early astronauts. Let’s just say I would NOT be first in line to spend two weeks in one of those. Talk about cramped…
Next we walked over to the early space exploration area. One of my favorite things there was the flown Gemini 9 capsule, which was down on the ground so that you could walk all the way around. I particularly love seeing the heat shields on these old vehicles, and imagining all the craziness that went on during the heat of reentry.
After our trip to the visitor’s center, we used our badges to drive into KSC. The sun was setting so we had to hurry, but we made a quick stop at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This is where they attach the orbiter to the external tank and solid rocket boosters before flight. Then it rolls from here down the 3-mile road to the launch pad. This picture really doesn’t convey how immense the VAB really is. It’s the fourth-largest building in the WORLD by volume. Each of the stars in the flag painted on the side is 6 feet wide. Yes. It’s big.
We drove out to Launch Pad 39A, the site from which Endeavour departed so spectacularly only 14 hours earlier. We had to stop at the gate, but it was still cool.
The sun was setting rapidly, but we also made a quick stop at the press site across the street from the VAB. If you’ve ever watched a launch on TV, you probably recognize this view of the big clock and flagpole. It was counting up. 14 hours, 25 minutes, and 15 seconds had passed since STS-130’s launch!
We also drove past the Shuttle Landing Facility (aka the big runway), but it was almost completely dark by the time we got there, so there was little to see.
We hit the road back to our hotel in Orlando, and the next day we started the two day drive home. The only incident was that I left my toiletry bag in our hotel in Mobile, Alabama. It’s been more than 2 weeks, and I’ve yet to get it returned. I don’t care so much about the bag itself and the shampoo and crap in it, but my glasses were in there! I’m hoping it turns up this week, because I really don’t want to have to buy a new pair of glasses. My eyes suck, and thus my glasses are not cheap. They say they have it, and each time I’ve called they say “oh, I’m sorry, we’ll go mail it today.” But I’ve heard that 3 times now.
All in all, it was a great trip. Going to see the launch was 110% worthwhile, and although I’m not planning to undertake another drive like that anytime soon, I’m so glad we did it.