As a true spacefan a visit to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a must go eventually somewhere in your life. I was able to combine a visit to the KSC with my first half marathon at the Spacecoast Marathon in Cocoa Beach.
I stayed at the La Quinta Inn Cocoa Beach, once owned by the Original Mercury 7 astronauts.
I had all day for my visit. And still I couldn’t see and do everything. Beforehand you have to decide what you absolutely want to see and what sights/parts are a bonus. I was there before the doors were open. The doors open at 9 AM. Before the doors open they play the national anthem. Everybody turned to the American flight and sang along. It gave me goosebumps.
The entrance is already impressive.
On the dark grey wall is a part of the famous speech of president J.F. Kennedy:
For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.
At the entrance is also the old countdown clock. It has been at KSC since the Apollo era. It retired in December 2014.
So much to see:
The Astronaut Hall of Fame is integrated in the new exhibition Heroes and Legends. This opened on 11 November 2016. It is impressive. The exhibition focuses on the early space missions.
This is the Gemini 9A capsule (by T. Stafford and E. Cernan in 1966) and an original Mercury space suit.
From this exhibition you walk straight into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.
The second exhibition was the most famous one, Atlantis. My first space shuttle and also the last one that flew (in 2011). This exhibition is huge.
You can easily see it has flown in space numerous times. Near the exhaust you see the damage that was made during the flight.
You may also find the astrovan of the space shuttle program and the spaceshuttle tires of STS-135, the last space shuttle flight.
On a wall between the Heroes and Legends exhibition and the Atlantis exhibition there is a mural of the ISS with all the flags of the partners. Real international cooperation.
Near the mural there is a mockup of the new Orion capsule. Still being tested and hopefully in 2018 the first manned test. This capsule will be used for future Mars missions.
I didn’t want to miss the Astronaut talk. This time John-David Bartoe was there. Bio: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/PS/bartoe.html
His talk, like many other astronaut talks, was very entertaining. He talked about his mission (STS-51F) but also about the ISS and the increasing number of female astronauts (yeah).
Next up was the Journey to Mars exhibition with my favorite rover (Opportunity or Spirit) and its big brother Curiosity.
I love this view: a T-38 behind the Atlantis exhibition. The T-38 is used as a trainer for astronauts and as a chase plane.
After a quick lunch and a visit to the Astronaut Memorial (Space Mirror Memorial) for the fallen astronauts during the American space program I went with a bus tour (the explore tour). Our guide was a young student who knew a lot about the most recent developments. First we went to the lookout point where you could see five launch pads, 39A and 39B, 41, 40 and 37B. Here you can see launch pads 41 and 40.
On launch pad 37B you could see the Delta IV rocket sheduled to launch on 7 December. The Air Force’s WGS 8 communications satellite was put into orbit on that day. Nice to be able to see it.
We also stopped at the lookout point for launchpads 39A and B. There were used for the Apollo and the space shuttle program as you can see below. This is launch pad 39A, which is leased by SpaceX for 20 years. It is modified for future SpaceX launches, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy rockets. In this photo you can still see the rotating support structure for the Space Shuttle. It will be removed for the SpaceX launches. It looked as if there was still a lot of work which had to be done to modify the launch pad.
This is launch pad 39B. Launch pad 39B has been modified by NASA for future Space Launch System (SLS) launches.
The water tank is a part of the Sound Suppression Water System (SSWS) which was added to protect the Space Shuttle and its payload from effects of the intense sound wave pressure generated by its engines.
This mobile launcher has been modified with this launch tower.The launcher is designed to support the assembly, testing, check out and servicing of the rocket, as well as transfer it to the pad and provide the platform from which it will launch (from the NASA website). It’s much easier to launch from every launch pad this way so saving costs.
This is a crawler used to transport the space shuttles from the VAB to the launch pad. The maximum speed was 1.6 km/hour (1 mph) so taking a couple of hours (average 5) to reach the launch pad )total distance was 5.6 km).
This is the Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB. It’s huge. The space shuttle fitted easily in this building. Now it’s modified for the new SLS.
This is the space shuttle gantry. Sadly it was badly damaged during hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
We were dropped at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. First you enter the firing room and you see the Apollo 8 launch. The first thing you see as you enter the huge exhibition hall is the Saturn V rocket used to go to the moon. It’s huge and very impressive. They have done a great job. The rocket’s first stage is a test stage and the second and third stages are from SA-514, which would have been used for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission.
This is the astrovan of the Apollo program.
This is the official mascot of the Apollo program, Snoopy.
This is the spacesuit of Alan Shepard covered in moon dust!
Apllo 14 Crew module showing the fierce reentry in Earth’s atmosphere.
Practical and other info:
- One day is not enough to see and do everything.
- Kennedy Space Center is easiest reachable by car. It took me only 20 minutes to get there from Cocoa Beach. You need to pay for parking ($ 10).
- The Explore Tour was worth the extra money. More info (from a guide) and 3 stops where you have enough time to look around.