NASA: Kennedy Space Center
“Space: the final frontier.” Ok, so this isn’t an episode of Star Trek, but it is still about dreams of lunar landscapes and Martian colonies, of boldly going where no man has gone before.
NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The stuff of every little girl’s astronaut dreams. Oh, not every girl? Ok. Well then. Err…shall we get on with touring Kennedy Space Center?
Just past the entrance, we’re greeted by a small fleet of ships. They haven’t actually flown, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive.
What would a space center be without a collection of space suits? Toto, we’re most definitely not on a movie set anymore.
In building after building, we find history lessons and replicas…
But why study miniature models when we can ogle at the real, life-sized hardware?
Above: See that transporter (that looks like a platform)? It requires 70 personnel to operate, and weighs over 9 million tons. See those wheels? Each wheel alone has 58 tracks and weighs 2,000 pounds. You bet it gets excellent mileage: an efficient 32 feet per gallon and a top speed of one mile an hour.
Size is a common theme here. The Saturn 5, the largest rocket ever flown, sits 353 feet long in its own hangar, awaiting daily admiration. Remember that first step on the moon? That was on this baby.
Another historical beauty on display is the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
If you’ll pick your jaw up off the floor (I’ve wiped up my drool), let’s check out the simulations, virtualizations, and some very large toys.
Don’t look down! Maneuvering around a narrow shuttle corridor is exciting – made more thrilling when the corridor turns into a clear fiberglass tube suspended nearly at ceiling level.
Ooh, what else is hanging at this elevation…. Is that the Hubble? I mean, it’s not the real Hubble Space Telescope because that’s still in orbit, but this one’s pretty convincing.
Whenever you think you’ve rounded out an area, you discover another nook or cranny with more interactive screens, control panels, or shuttle models. You’re walked through brief histories before you’re led into wide open spaces of various awe-inspiring exhibits; it helps you better appreciate what you’re looking at, in respect to technological advancement and human accomplishment. There’s a view to appreciate as well; the fantastic panoramas in outer space cause the Overview Effect among astronauts, who then come back home as advocates of educating others about global climate change.
Speaking of the impact of global warming: In the not too distant future, we’ll fly farther than ever in an attempt to discover the habitability of the Red Planet, Mars.
Perhaps we’ll get there with the help of Orion, slated for future missions into deep space after 2018.
Fun fact: The Kennedy Space Center, or KSC for short, also serves as a nature preserve. There’s a 10-foot eagles’ nest (bigger than a king-sized bed!) near the assembly building. But what does go on in those many buildings closed off to the public? Well, in addition to housing spacecraft construction, they might look a little like this.
This is Caroline from Launch Control Center; all systems are go for launch! After shuttle crews return home, we’re allowed a glimpse into their experiences with access to gems like moon rocks and de-commissioned capsules (like that below, from the Apollo 14 mission).
Of course, pushing boundaries isn’t without its dangers. Amidst the triumphs and glories, we remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
There are emotional elements to the experience here at KSC – excitement and inspiration in accomplishment, but also somberness in the lives lost out of dedication to the space program. NASA tastefully incorporates memoriam with historical memorabilia. Between the remnants, the relics, and the trophies, the utilization of space, visual media, and interactivity is well-executed in this vast complex of history, technology, and science. It’s so impressive, it makes me want to work for NASA. In fact, I’m scheduled to give a talk in a few minutes – not. Dear NASA, pick me, pick me!
Walking out into the warm Florida sunshine, I mull over NASA’s vision to “reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.” I may not be a part of a space crew, but I certainly understand the significance of their explorations.