Road Trip 3 - Kennedy Space Center

At the entrance to Kennedy Space Center

NOTE: This spring and summer were very busy, as well as very eventful for me. I got way behind with posting on the Dog Blog. I am going to try to catch up, and as I do I will post events in chronological order. Some of them were a while ago but I will write what I remember.

The Rush concert got out late, but we were lucky. We got out of the arena quickly, got to our car, and got out of the parking garage and on to the freeway quickly. I was worried that for a big event like that, we would be stuck in traffic for an hour or more. Still, it was after eleven by the time we were on the interstate heading north out of Tampa. Just like the day before, we drove for about an hour to get out of the Tampa area. Then we stopped and found a motel. This time there was no late dinner at Denny's. We just crashed.

The next day we didn't really have any plans other than to head north for Charleston. Mickey suggested that we might check out Kennedy Space Center, since it was on the way, more or less. I checked on the web and indeed, if we went straight east through Orlando, we would be able to go there. Since I am a space buff that was all I needed and we had a plan.

Scale mockups of famous rockets from the space program

As we headed east we passed under I75, the highway we had taken from Tampa. There must have been an accident or something because traffic heading north was backed up and completely stopped. That was what we would have been taking if Mickey hadn't suggested an alternative. As always, it's better to be lucky than good.

It was about a two hour drive to Kennedy Space Center. When we passed Orlando, we stopped for gas. Just then we got hit by a torrential rain shower. It reminded me of when I lived in Singapore. Even though we were well under the cover over the gas pumps, we were getting wet just from windblown spray. All of a sudden I wondered if our tour of Kennedy Space Center, a lot of which would be outside, was such a good idea. But like most tropical rain showers, this one stopped after about half an hour. Soon the sun was out and it was a beautiful Florida spring day by the time we reached our destination.

There was a huge parking lot. Apparently they get big crowds in season. But it was a Monday in May, and not very busy. We parked close to the gate and went up and bought our tickets.

I barely fit in a Mercury capsule

The first thing inside the gate was mockups of a number of rockets from the history of NASA. There was a Mercury Redstone, the first rocket to carry an American into space. There was the Atlas Agena, which launched many planetary missions. There was a Titan II, which launched the Gemini spacecraft into earth orbit. My dad worked on the inertial guidance system for the miltary version of the Titan II. He said that it could hit within 50 feet of any target on earth. And there was a massive Saturn Ib, used to launch the Apollo spacecraft into earth orbit on early test flights.

There were also mockups of the spacecraft used by NASA. By far the overriding impression was that they were really small. Not small, but REALLY SMALL. I could barely climb into the Mercury capsule. The Apollo command module was also incredibly tiny, especially when you consider that three men lived in it for an entire week to fly to the moon and back. It's not surprising that a lot of the astronauts selected by NASA were small men, so that they could fit in the tiny spacecraft. They also had to get along with each other really well.

Launch Pad 39A - where the space shuttles were launched

We went through several exhibit halls. There were lots of incredible things to see. There was a space suit worn by an Apollo astronaut on the moon, still covered with moon dust from the lunar regolith. There was a Gemini spacecraft that had flown in earth orbit. There were several samples of rocks that had been brought back from the moon. Pretty much everything there was mind blowing.

We had to visit the gift shop. I found a cool tshirt for Sandy that had dog astronauts on it. And I was able to find a good tshirt for myself, of course.

Then it was time to board the bus tour. It took us around the cape, going past various launch pads used in the space program. The one used for shuttle launches, Launch Pad 39A, was especially interesting. Watching Youtube vidoes of the shuttle launches later it was easy to recognize that we had been at the actual spot where humans flew into space. As an engineer, I am truely impressed by the shuttle launches. Those guys knew what they were doing. And for all the terrible things that people do, watching a shuttle launch still makes me really proud of our species. Since we went to the concert last night, it is appropriate to queue Rush for one of my favorite songs, Countdown.

A rock from the surface of the moon - really

The bus stopped at the Vertical Assembly Building, where the Apollo Saturn V rockets and space shuttles were assembled. It is one of the largest buildings on earth by volume, although I was disappointed to see that it was beat by the distribution warehouse for Target.

The mission control center for the Apollo missions, when it was decomissioned, had been moved to a display area in the VAB. We went in and watched a movie which simulated the lunar missions. It was a truely emotional experience. It is amazing to think how many people have been born since the last lunar mission in 1972. As xkcd points out, some day soon there may be no living humans who have been to another world. It's not obvious to me what we have been doing in the past 43 years that was more important than exploring space.

At the end of the tour we went through a final exhibit building. It had a mockup of the Hubble space telescope, along with other exhibits. But the main attraction was the retired space shuttle Atlantis, veteran of thirty three missions to space and the last space shuttle to fly.

Finally the tour was over. I had seen so many things that were so incredible, that I felt like my brain was just numb. It truely was amazing. I hadn't felt that way since I had lived in England in the mid-1980's and visited the British Museum. I was just really glad that Mickey had thought of coming here.

The retired space shuttle Atlantis

When we finally left Kennedy Space Center late in the afternoon, we still had a long way to go home. We drove up along the coast because Mickey wanted to visit Daytona Beach. I'm not a NASCAR fan but Mickey wanted to at least see the track. We also though it would be a good place to have dinner where we would have a nice view of the ocean.

Well, we were wrong. We drove along the main drag in Daytona Beach but we didn't see anyplace that looked like we could have dinner with nice ocean views. We tried to find someplace for quite a while but eventually gave up. The main drag in Daytona Beach reminded me a lot of Virgina Beach, where I had been last fall with Sandy. High rise hotels by the ocean, restaurants and other shops across the street, and just a little bit run down. Finally we gave up and just drove to the track. I have to admit that it was impressive. It is a Very Big Track. We found a place right across the street from the track to have dinner. It was good, but nothing special.

Hey Mickey - nice tshirt

Now it was time to drive home. We had over three hundred miles to go to get back to Charleston. The drive was uneventful, and we had our Rush albums to listen to. But it did take quite a while. Mickey and I had a lot of time to talk about a lot of things, so it was time well spent.

Eventually we reached Summerville and Mickey took me to the motel. It was after midnight so the place was locked up, but I could talk to the desk clerk through the window and was able to get a room. It was a little weird when a homeless guy came up to me and wanted money but he turned out to be harmless. Mickey went home and I crashed in my room. Mickey was going to pick me up tomorrow for some excursions in the Charleton area. Next day I found out that Mickey had gone home, and even though it was late, had watched "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage" on Netflix. Me, I just went to sleep. It had been a long day, but a really good day.