T Minus 10 hours 12 minutes –
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is organized into Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. From the dawn of space exploration to current and ongoing missions. I’m in the park just as the gates open and opt to skip ahead in time.
The one thing I really want to do is the Shuttle Launch Experience. Veteran NASA astronauts call the simulation the next best thing to flying aboard the space shuttle.
To ensure I beat the crowds, I dart across the park quickly looking through the Rocket Garden heading over to the Atlantis Discovery Center.
Atlantis – A ship like no other
I’m number 4 in line to what turns out to be a presentation in the theater. The reenactment details the birth of the Space Shuttle. The short film, is educational but has a bit of political correctness I find a little off putting. We exit that hall into a more surround type theater. Here a theatrical story of the shuttle along with interviews of previous shuttle commanders captures my attention. I was blown away when the starry screen gives way to the actual shuttle behind it.
I’m so immersed in the granduer of the shuttle and all of it’s complexity. I forgot my mission was to beat the crowd to the launch simulator. Back on task, I’m about overrun by kids maneuvering for the best seat on the simulator. I hate that I’ve been schooled by a bunch of screaming pre-teens. Where are their parents? What about respect for their elder that was there before them? Might I digress. The attraction, however, lives up to my expectations, the nine minute simulation is a thrill. There is no “best” seat that I can tell.
To the moon, Alice
I backtrack in time and board a bus to tour of the grounds in route to the Apollo / Saturn 5 Center. This center is a tribute and historical retrospective of the Apollo manned space missions and America’s Race to the Moon. The holding area TV’s are running clips of historical & Americana events from the 60’s while music from that time period playing. While the images do display some of the war protests and racial strife of the time, I feel of sense of patriotism and American Pride swelling as I enter the Firing room. This room is the original Apollo mission control room. The successful launch of Apollo 8 is recreated here and I feel myself cheering as the rockets launch and we catch the ruskies in the space race.
In a time before extreme political divisiveness and fake news, it’s refreshing to watch vintage footage of a nation gripped and vested in the success of the program. A newscaster, Walter Cronkite, presenting the facts without bias and a president with a mission and a country rallying behind him. I may be a bit naive and maybe those same problems existed back then, but if they did, I was able to forget about them for a few hours.
This mission concludes in the Lunar Theater where we relive the final moments of Apollo 11 landing on the moon and the infamous “Houston, Tranquility base… the Eagle has Landed.” Unexpected 3D elements and astronaut interviews ensure an engaging experience and capture my imagination.
Launch Status Check – Go No Go
Overall, just the sheer enormity of the rockets, shuttles, transports, launch pads and buildings is incomprehensible. The skill and dedication of the engineers is beyond measure. Rocket scientist’s certainly earn their place in American folklore as the best and brightest. I can’t even image the preparation, skill, trust and bravery it takes to strap oneself into one of these monsters. The astronauts that do are more than worthy of our admiration.
There is a lot to discover here. I don’t spend a great deal of time on the many landing and docking simulators throughout. There are numerous photo op opportunities and gift shops through out. The 3D IMAX movies are phenomenal. I catch A Beautiful Planet. The 3D views from the International Space Station are breathtaking. The center is gearing up for our mission to Mars, in such a couple of new experiences are under construction.
T Minus 1 Hour 22 minutes
I coordinate todays visit so that I could watch an actual night launch of an Atlas 5 rocket. The launch is scheduled for 7:52pm. The buses begin boarding at 5:15 for the Banana Creek launch viewing site some 5 miles away. Estimates range from 3,000-6,000 people that will be at the site. Unfortunately, all of these people have to get there by the centers transport buses. Despite being there early, I’m way back in the line that now winds around the park. My tensions mount as the temperature drops into the low 40’s. After standing and waiting for over an hour, I’m finally on board the bus for the viewing site.
I have a folding chair and proceed to find a patch of grass to setup camp. Trying to mount my new camera
on the tripod is problematic as I’m wearing gloves. My hands are already numbing and I’m reluctant to take them off. Fumbling around for the cup of coffee I purchased, the top comes off and I douse myself in my version of rocket fuel. The gloves are soaked as well as my layers of shirts and lap.
I retreat back into the Saturn building to warm up and confirm camera settings. I take a lap around the complex again seeing displays that I didn’t really notice earlier in the day. Again, I touch the moon rock on display; I tell myself it will bring me good luck. It’s about :30 to launch. I decide to try the hand dryers in the bathroom to dry my gloves and get one last blast of warmth before returning to my chilly camp outside.
Houston, We Have a Problem
I exit the bathroom and am immediately the salmon swimming up stream. Uh oh, I had a sneaking suspicion something was amiss. I heard no announcements and the crowd was unusually quiet as I weave my way back out the doors. The viewing area is completely vacated expect for my lone chair, tri-pod and empty coffee cup.
I see an official breaking down the announcing stand and they confirm my fears; the mission is scrubbed. It now dawns on me, this puts me dead last in the line back out to the buses. I’m cold, wet and now beyond disappointed.
As I finish this blog entry the day after my Space Center visit, I’m watching the online video of the rescheduled launch that I missed. Certainly disappointed I didn’t see the launch from my original vantage point, the overall experience is humbling.