Sunday, December 4th – lay day at Kennedy Space Center

Today Cutter Loose remains on her mooring in Titusville while we visit the Kennedy Space Center.  We begin the morning with a viewing of a 3D IMAX film that depicts life aboard the International Space Station. 

Vehicle Assembly Building

Next we participated in a tour of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building.  This building is 525 feet in height and is equipped with giant 135 ton overhead cranes suspended from the ceiling.  Here, the space shuttle is mounted vertically on a mobile launcher platform where it is mated to external fuel tanks.  When the assembly is complete, a crawler/transporter delivers the shuttle to the launch pad.  After 135 missions, the space shuttle was retired in July, 2011.  Space shuttle Endeavor is currently stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building awaiting shipment to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Retired Shuttle Endeavor in storage

Launch Complex 39A

Following the path of the crawler/transporter, a tour bus shuttles us from the assembly building to a viewing area near the launch pads.  Seconds before liftoff, the launch pad is flooded with 350,000 gallons of water to counteract the noise of the engines as they roar to life.  As depicted by video, the noise, flames and steam during liftoff create an inferno on the launch pad.  It is fascinating to imagine this scene during an actual launch.

Saturn V moon rocket

Next it is on to the Apollo/Saturn V Center to learn about NASA’s lunar explorations.  A massive 363 foot Saturn V rocket is displayed horizontally in this building.  The original command center is part of the lunar theater where film clips depict critical moments during the initial lunar landing on July 20, 1969.  The film memorializes Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface as the fulfillment of President Kennedy’s cold war challenge and a defining moment in history.

Massive Stage I engine exhaust on Saturn V moon rocket

Back at the Visitor’s Center, we queue up to enter the launch simulator.  After strapping on our seat belts, the simulator tilts the cabin to a reclining position facing the sky.  During the launch sequence, the vibration, increased g forces and explosive separation of the booster rockets are designed to create the feeling of being lifted into orbit.  This 5 minute experience is a Disneyesque attraction.

Late in the afternoon, we rest our legs at another 3D IMAX film.  This film focuses on the Hubble space telescope.  In this story, astronauts are depicted as highly trained repairmen, replacing cameras, circuit boards and other critical components of the telescope during space walks. 

Rover Curiosity, currently en route to Mars

Our final stop is a display of Curiosity, the newest Mars rover.  Curiosity was launched aboard an Atlas rocket on November 26, 2011 when we were strolling the beach at Cumberland Island, GA.  Curiosity will land on Mars in August of 2012.  The vehicle will spend 23 months analyzing soil and rocks in an effort to identify potential sites for future landings and to determine whether life could exist on this planet.

It has been a full day at the Kennedy Space Center.  The tours and exhibits are fascinating. It is well worth the time and effort to visit this facility.

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