Friday, July 15, 2011

Touring Kennedy Space Center - Part I

As if viewing a Space Shuttle launch in person wasn't awesome enough, launch tickets also include a second day's admission into Kennedy Space Center. Gina and I relaxed on Saturday and Sunday, visiting her great aunt and uncle, a winery, and getting some much-needed rest to recover from the all-nighter that preceded the launch. I figured the crowds would have calmed down plenty after a couple days, so we headed back out to Cape Canaveral on Monday to visit KSC.

NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building

Each stripe on the flag is as wide as a standard freeway lane

When built, this was the largest building in the world by volume

If you appreciate the history of our space program, it's hard not to be fascinated by most everything KSC has to offer. We arrived around lunchtime and hopped on a tour bus (a free tour is part of admission) to the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry. I'm actually going to include those photos next time; I took so many that I think it's best to break this into two posts. We then hopped back on the bus and spent a couple hours in the Apollo / Saturn V Center. They have an actual Saturn V mounted horizontally inside - honestly, I shouldn't have to say anything more than that. It's awesome.

I will elaborate slightly to remind you that - 44 years after it first flew - the Saturn V is still the tallest, heaviest, most powerful rocket ever launched by mankind. I've seen plenty of missiles and rockets in person before (many in the Missile & Space Gallery at the USAF Museum) but nothing compares to a Saturn V. It's just an incredible piece of engineering and machinery. I was also excited to see the other Apollo-era vehicles including a real Lunar Module and a Command/Service Module. The whole race to the moon is just fascinating to me and I never tire of seeing the remnants and reading up on the history.

Entering the Apollo / Saturn V Center

The actual launch control room from the Apollo era

The Saturn V is, quite simply, a massive thing of beauty

Patches from all the Apollo missions hang next to the Saturn V

First Stage

Second Stage

Third Stage

Command Module and Launch Escape System

Apollo Command/Service Module

Apollo Command/Service Module

Apollo Lunar Module

Lunar Module simulator

The infamous Astrovan

Vehicle Assembly Building as seen from the Apollo / Saturn V Center

Launch Pad 39-A as seen from the Apollo / Saturn V Center

We spent a couple more hours back on the main grounds of KSC after returning from the bus tour. Gina and I went on the Shuttle Launch Experience, a ride that simulates a Shuttle launch. To be perfectly honest, it was kind of underwhelming. Basically, you're strapped in, the thing rotates so you're sitting vertically, and then it vibrates like crazy for about two minutes. It was neat and all, but let's just say I'm glad it was included in the price of admission. They also have a full-size mockup of a Shuttle that we walked through; the payload bay was bigger than I would have expected.

The Constellation Sphere, 9 tons of granite suspended by water

Part of the new Orion vehicle that's still in development

The building that houses the Shuttle Launch Experience

Inside the Shuttle Launch Experience briefing room

Explorer, a full-size Shuttle mockup

Payload bay of the Explorer mockup

It was a good place to hide from the rain!

Space Mirror Memorial

Thousands of signatures and messages wishing Atlantis' crew good luck

Inside the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Memorial for the Challenger and Columbia crews at the Astronaut HoF

After a fun day at the Space Center, we finished up with about an hour at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Had I known just how much was inside, I would have absolutely scheduled more time there. They had so many neat items that have flown in space or were part of the space program and everything in there was extremely interesting to read about. Come to find out they even have a centrifuge that you can get a ride in! Not that I probably would've jumped at that opportunity, but still... you don't find those available to the general public very often - if ever!


  1. Great pictures!! That is an awesome tour.

    It's been many years since I've been on the tour, but I hope to see the Shuttle displays some day.

    I guess I'm showing my age but I remember the Gemini missions and all the apollo missions. I remember watching Armstrong take the first step on the moon.

  2. You have no idea how much I wish I could've been around to see a Saturn V lift off!

    That and seeing a SR-71 fly past in full burner...