Sunday, November 8, 2015

Kennedy Space Center

Diana and I are very fortunate that we have friends from all over the world and seem to make more all the time. It can make coordinating Saturday-night pintxos gatherings tough but it sure does make traveling fun. We laugh out loud every time someone tells us that we should come visit them because, inevitably, we end up darkening their doorstep. So, take that as a warning if you ever offer.

After my family left Disney World to go back to Philadelphia, Diana and I went to stay with a friend of hers from growing up in Colombia. We saw the friend last time we were in Bogota just as she was getting ready to move to the United States with her new husband. She casually mentioned, probably without much thought, that we should come stay with her if we're ever in central Florida...

Ha! Guess whose lovely backyard view this is!

Staying with Diana's friend was especially fun for me because I got to watch Diana's take on suburban-American life with a family who's is not my own. Everything from the big-to-Diana house, the pick-up in the driveway, to having to drive every time we left the house (it took probably almost five minutes just to drive out of the massive development). We even went one night for, surprise, water ice!

Their house provided a great base to check out two relatively nearby places. The first is the topic of this story, the Kennedy Space Center:

I really can't remember if I've ever been to Kennedy before. I think I may have gone the last time I was at Disney World years ago but I'm still not sure. Anyway, it doesn't matter because it was all new to me.

The Kennedy Space Center's Rocket Garden:

We were both very impressed with the Center. We had only planned on spending a couple of hours there but basically ran out of time after about five. First off, it's really big, with multiple museum-style buildings and launch facilities spread out over probably thousands of coastal central-Florida acres.

Kennedy's old Launch Control Center where the missions were managed until the craft left the launch pad at which time control transferred to Houston:

It's all pretty impressive when you think about it. The amount of work and coordination involved in, for example, getting people to the moon and back. I know how hard it can be to get teams I work with to agree on processes to do their jobs much less have some guy survive in a tin can for weeks or months at a time. After all, in this case, it may not be brain surgery but it's definitely rocket science!

Like I said, we could have easily spent more time at Kennedy. There are multiple options and tours to choose from. We stayed at the main visitor center for a couple of hours before taking a bus tour, which goes past things like the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building below, out to the Apollo/Saturn V Center:

Oh, and a pro tip, sit on the right side of the tour bus, which we didn't do. The route is such that most of the things you'll see are on that side.

The scale of everything on the tour is hard to comprehend. The Mobile Launcher Platform below is a good example. This giant Sand-Crawler-like platform carried the Space Shuttle from the Vehicle Assembly Building out to the launch platform. If you look towards the bottom right of the platform, just above and to the right of the tank tread, you'll see the driver's booth!

It's funny, but there's space-launch-related stuff laying everywhere you go on the bus tour. If you look at the photo above again, you'll see some examples just behind the fence. I'd imagine everything related to the space program has got to cost a fortune and to see it spread around makes me laugh. Not very 5S NASA!

The bus tour also goes by the SpaceX building and launch pad. SpaceX, if you're not familiar, is the Google of the space industry where companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are considered old school. It was started by the Iron-Man-like Elon Musk who also started some other unknown companies like PayPal and Tesla. Yeah, I'd imagine it'd be an amazing place to play work.

Over at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the scale of what they're sending up to space is astonishing. If you think of traveling in an airplane as "flying through the air at 550 miles per hour in a hollow metal tube", going to space in one of these things must be like sitting on top of the world's largest bottle rocket!

The one thing we saw that really makes me think I've been to the Kennedy Space Center before is a display where you are able to touch a rock that came from the moon during one of the Apollo Missions. Hmm... Who knows, right?

I think for both of us the highlight of the visit was the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit. The four surviving shuttles are now on display around the country and Kennedy has one of them. I remember watching on the internet the day they flew the Endeavor around California and the very cool images of it winding its way through the streets of Los Angeles. I couldn't wait to finally get to see one in person. (By the way, you really should check out those videos!)

Space Shuttle external fuel tank and booster rockets, which are actually replicas, outside the Atlantis Exhibit building:

The exhibit starts with two videos each in its own theater. As the second video ends, the wall along the left side appears to light up with an image of a Shuttle with the Earth behind. It's only when a dark-out curtain rises, which you can see below, that you realize you're looking at the actual shuttle on display in the museum. Whoever came up with this one deserves a bonus!

The Shuttle itself is both bigger and smaller than I expected. Smaller in the sense that, like when I first saw the pyramids in Egypt, it could never match the size I had in my mind. But bigger than you think is possible to send up into space. Think something bigger than a boxcar!

The Atlantis is far enough away where its just out of arm's reach but close enough where you can see that every single heat-shield tile is individually numbered and that Shuttle's skin isn't (as I expected) smooth but rather like it's covered with fabric, which it might be.

Getting to see a Space Shuttle up close was definitely an experience I won't forget. The size, history, and the work it represents is truly awe inspiring. I can't recommend enough going to see one when you get the chance.

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