We have both regretted that we never made it to a shuttle launch, Lord knows we really wanted to. But upon our arrival in the Orlando area, one of the first things we did was learn how far away the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) was from our park. About 50 miles – that’ll work! At least we could do the next best thing, which was to check out the space center and the new space shuttle Atlantis display set up just a few months ago after its final mission. Even though we were able to see the space shuttle Discovery in Washington, DC recently, we never get tired of seeing, in person, these fantastic man-made machines that have done so many amazing things.
The KSC is huge, 140,000 acres to be exact. It has many launch pads and control centers located throughout the complex. We took one of the more extensive tours of those pads, and the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). We also saw the huge crawler-transporter vehicles used to move the assemblies to the pads, and at the end of the tour we were dropped off at the building which houses a complete Apollo/Saturn V rocket with all of the lunar and command module components included.
We learned that NASA is currently building a new Space Launch System (SLS) that includes the launch tower on the stand with the new Orion rocket. What this means is that they will be able to mount the vehicle and the tower on the launch stand inside the VAB. That way, they can do all of the systems testing before moving it outside and shorten the time that it sits on the pad from 3 weeks to only one.
The Vehicle Assembly Building stands 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide. It covers eight acres and encloses a volume of 129,428,000 cubic feet. It takes 45 minutes to open one of the building’s 456-foot-high bay doors.
The next generation spacecraft, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is part of NASA’s new plan to explore beyond low earth orbit and into deep space. We first heard of this project when we toured the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas early this year. The Orion’s first flight test is scheduled in September 2014.
At the end of our tour, we were dropped off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. It contained a spectacular display, even more impressive than the Saturn V display we saw at the Johnson Space Center several months ago. All the Apollo missions with their crews had unique symbols displayed as well. We went to a “launch countdown experience” that included the actual consoles and computers from the control center used for Apollo missions. It was extremely well done. Seeing these things after growing up and witnessing them during our lifetimes made it a very exciting day.
Finally, we saw the fabulous Atlantis orbiter display, and we were totally amazed! It was displayed in such a way that we could walk under, around and above it, or as they say “on-orbit configuration.” They really did this one right.
This is a must-do excursion if you are in the area and if you grew up with the Apollo missions in the 60’s. Be sure to take a tour that includes the Vehicle Assembly Building. It isn’t cheap, but it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us and well worth the price of admission.
Lastly, Steve (who was outside writing this post) heard a noise and was surprised to see this guest on Christmas eve helping himself to the bird feeder…