I went to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (wiki) at Cape Canaveral two days ago (3/15/15).
The experience started off strong with a tour through the Rocket Garden. On display are designs for the early American rocket program, starting with the Redstone Rocket and Mercury Capsule which boosted Alan Shepard to an altitude of 116 miles (total duration 15 min) and into the record books as America’s first man in space.
Before I get too far, I want to point out one thing about the complex that bothered me.
The whole place, the exhibits, the food courts, the bus terminal, the gift shops, the noisy tour guides – they’re all heavily influenced by big brother Disney next door in Orlando. Some of the exhibits are sensationalized with soundtracks and lighting that is in line with Disney’s presentation. I feel like a crotchety old man, giving a similar critique as I did with the WWII museum in New Orleans, but for me personally, I prefer a museum presentation instead of a theme park.
*Blegh* I hate complaining. It’s always easy and usually fruitless. Wait. One more easy fruitless thing – I prefer 2D movies over 3D. The 3D style has a less sharp image, and the glasses you have to wear sit far away from the eye and frame the screen which limits peripheral vision.
After the Rocket Garden I saw a 3D IMAX film about the future of NASA’s manned missions, and they showed a 6 wheeled vehicle that would theoretically be used on Mars missions. It has supplies and capacity for two people for two weeks with a drivable range on the order of 100 miles.
It’s called the Space Exploration Vehicle, SEV, and I’ve never been so captured by a machine and its function.
I will be asking my self as often as possible before every decision I make, “Will this make me more prepared and more likely to pilot SEV.” I am optimistically thinking that my time in my Element will simulate the SEV at a basic level.. (*very optimistically)
After the IMAX, I went to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.
This was news to me, but only 6 shuttles were ever built. Enterprise was used as a test vehicle and never orbited. Challenger was lost during launch in 1986. Columbia was lost during re-entry in 2003. Discovery delivered the Hubble Telescope to orbit and now resides in Virginia. Endeavor was built to replace Challenger and is now on display in Los Angeles. And Atlantis has made permanent berth here at Kennedy Space Center, hanging from the ceiling with cargo doors swung wide open.
Again, just like with the USS Alabama a week ago, when you see things up close they have texture and personality. There are nicks in the front windows from micro-astroids. Charred streaks trail from the corners of the heat shield tiles. The white parts around the cockpit are actually thermal blankets and they create a woven layer of material – not a smooth painted surface like it looks on TV.
I met an aerospace engineer who was laid off from NASA in 2012 and now works as a curator. We talked shop over the shuttles main rocket engine. After I told him I was considering aerospace as a future career, the conversation moved to discussing the dedication the industry demands and the strains it impresses on relationships with family and friends. He verbally tipped his cap to SpaceX when I mentioned that I’d been to their manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, CA.
His respect was sharply juxtaposed with my tour bus guide’s opinion that Mr. Elon Musk (SpaceX CEO) is in over his head, and that private companies will only ever play in the sandbox of low earth orbit, leaving any extra planetary endeavor to the national space programs. Later, he apologized for biting my head off, but he reiterated his personal fact that what I suggested, that SpaceX had their eye on Mars, was ‘impossible’.”
I went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, west across the causeway away from Cape Canaveral, and asked if I could trade flags. After a phone call, a little waiting, some explaining, a few more phone calls, and a pinch more waiting, I got the green light to make the swap! Big thanks to Dawn who heard out my travel plans and made the necessary phone calls.
I’ve got Georgia on my mind.