MAVEN was on its way to Mars. With that behind us, my brother Pat and I went to the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center for some R&R. This was my first trip back in over fifteen years. The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is one of those places that every US citizen should visit at least once in their lifetime. In addition, anyone who has an interest in space should make the pilgrimage to this source of knowledge on space exploration. When you walk through the gate, the first thing you see is the “rocket garden”. This collection of full-sized rockets gives new meaning to the words “The Right Stuff”. The Mercury and Gemini missions which put the first US men into space are quite small compared to the launch vehicles of today. With limited technology compared to today, these men squeezed into capsules the size of a medium-sized dinner table, which were placed on top of ballistic missiles. Were they brave or just plain nuts? A ‘new’ feature of the “Garden”, at least for me, was the swing arm from the Apollo launch pad. This was the real walkway that Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin used to enter the Command Module atop the Saturn V rocket that would take them to the Moon. That short walk along the steel walkway Made the hair stand up on my arms. At the end of the walkway was one of the practice capsules they used to prepare for the mission. Three men in a capsule the size of a large dinning room table. There were no padded seats and the harnesses were simple web straps. Once again, brave or nuts? These guys were mostly test pilots so they had a large amount of adrenaline junkie in them. But still… The Saturn V that sent them to the moon was larger than anything previous built by the U.S. One engine of the Saturn V provided as much thrust as all eight engines of its little brother the Saturn 1B. And, there were five of those engines. Check out the picture.
We decided to catch a couple of movies at the IMAX theatres. The first was on the history of the International Space Station (ISS). Watching how it came together and how many nations worked in tandem to make it happen was amazing. Countries that once wanted nothing more than to eradicate each other using missiles, were able to build modules that fit together perfectly and functioned as promised. The principals were the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. European Space agency partners include: Belgium, Denmark – DNSC, France – CNES, Germany – DLR, Italy – ASI, Netherlands, Norway – NSC, Spain – INTA, Sweden – SNSB, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The science that is coming out of the ISS is helping the world. I found the medical research especially interesting. The most moving portion of the film for me was a quote from on of the astronauts. While on the screen, we were looking at a view of Earth with the continents clearly visible, The astronauts explained the following: “Astronauts are given a unique gift. We can see the world as a whole. A world without lines or labels. we are truly one people, sharing this beautiful planet, together.” With this type of cooperation, what are the possibilities?
The second film presented the Hubble Telescope. It took several Shuttle trips to finally get it working properly. But the results are nothing short of overwhelming. The film took us on a trip through space using pictures from Hubble and creating 3D images. As Leonardo DiCaprio explains, “Billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars. Could it be possible that other Earth-like planets exist?” The percentage are certainly there. The problem lies in where are they and how do we get there? We are talking about planets, billions of light years away. That’s why it’s called the universe.
The last exhibit we saw was the newest addition to the KSC visitor center. The space shuttle Atlantis. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Atlantis was so close you could almost touch it. You could easily see the streaks across the heat tiles from the fiction of re-entry. It was hard to control my imagination while standing this close to “Real History”. There were so many OMG moments during our visit that by the time came to leave, the trip back to the motel was very quiet indeed.
My next post will be my last on this topic for a while. However, I will wrap up my experiences on this brief journey and pose some questions about the space program and our future. .