The orange external tank of the space shuttle jutting out of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) dominates the Cape Canaveral skyline. Billowing into the air, the shuttle and solid rocket boosters seemingly warn those arriving that they are entering a whole new world.
Almost an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando, KSC is located in the East Central Florida, a short drive from Daytona Beach and Miami. A bar coded ticket (USD 50 for adult and USD 40 for child) which can be purchased online or on site is the key to enter KSC. If you love astronomy and/or are fascinated by the outer space then KSC is the place for you.
As you enter, a hull-shaped waterfall complementing the massive and distinctive NASA logo will welcome you. On the left, six gigantic rocket models seemingly stand guard at the Rocket Garden. If not for the plethora of KSC signs, you would think you have entered a sci-fi Hollywood movie set. The staff are friendly and very helpful.
We proceeded immediately to the IMAX theatre hoping to watch some interesting shows but was told that we just missed the previous show. The next one was not up until the next 45 minutes. Not wanting to miss anything we decided to join the bus tour instead.
We drove by the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and the launching pad used for the Apollo 8 shuttle, the first manned mission to the moon and back. We were also shown the operations center, the astronauts’ accommodation, the massive crawler that was used to carry Apollo 8 as well as the helipad. But the whole experience was just the icing on the cake. To top it all off, we were asked to disembark at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where our real journey into space began.
We were told to walk through a massive (by this time I was already thinking everything here is massive) door and found ourselves staring at an interactive ceiling depicting the historic launch of Apollo 8. The walls in front of us parted and we found ourselves in the actual Firing Room used to launch the shuttle. We walked through another door and then voila, above our heads, hanging in the air was the 363-foot-long Saturn V moon rocket, the largest rocket ever made. It was so big I almost strained my neck looking up. It was the same lunar rocket that took 27 courageous American astronauts to the moon and back. The rocket may no longer be functional but the sheer size of it was jaw-dropping. To think that it was something historic made it even more remarkable. Yet again, this was just the beginning of the beginning of our journey out of this world, into space.
After gaping at the impressive and monolithic displays, we decided to visit Atlantis, the massive shuttle that we saw dominating the Cape Canaveral skyline earlier. The Atlantis’s full scale replica outside the building, like Saturn V, was also humongous. Leaning against its base reminded me of how small I was and how big our great God is, the Creator of the universe which dwarfs any rocket flung into its vast and infinite recesses.
Once again we walked into a room the walls and ceiling of which turned into an interactive display narrating NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program. And then the wall in front of us opened, with only a screen left seemingly projecting a massive rocket. But then the screen vanished and there before us, dangling at 43.21 degrees, with the payload doors open, was the historic Atlantis Space Shuttle itself.
We couldn’t believe our eyes. We couldn’t believe we were seeing Atlantis itself and at an angle that only astronauts up in the air would have seen. We were filled with awe. It was a real treat. At least 60 interactive displays were showcased, reflecting the grandeur and scale of America’s manned space flight programs in the past 30 years.
And what’s a better way of concluding our trip than trying the space shuttle launch simulator? Yup, we did it. For at least five minutes, we could almost feel what it was like to be up there, out of this world we know and actually stare back at the majestic planet Earth, a privilege that only astronauts usually enjoy. The simulator experience is considered the most realistic in the world and is definitely a must-try. To learn more about this out of this world experience, please visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com. No visit to Florida is deemed complete without a sneak peek into the center.
For sure other NASA offices are as impressive as the one in Cape Canaveral. But what makes this Florida facility even more remarkable is how technology managed to blend with nature. Unbeknownst to many, KSC is also a National Wildlife Refuge. Cognizant of their responsibility to the environment, KSC takes every effort to preserve and protect the wildlife around Merritt Island with which KSC shares borders. Alligators, sharks, manatees, sea turtles, eagles and other wildlife thrive in this eco-friendly yet high technology environment. A true example of sustainability at work. Another reason to support and visit this amazing facility.