After the Atlantis exhibition we went about the park and did a few of the other attractions which frankly I had to visit Things to Do at Kennedy Space Center to review, none of them left the impact of the Atlantis exhibit. In no particular order we did all of the adult items listed. The Astronaut encounter reinforced the “Right Stuff” perspective of what these guys are like with a little bit more of a personal touch. The IMAX and the shuttle launch simulators were frankly not very memorable, although the idea of shaking the delicate space shuttle that harshly at multiple mach speeds does convey the engineering analogy of (and I paraphrase) “Bolting and egg shell to a bullet”.
Here we get to the real disappointment that is the result of current state of funding and interest in manned space exploration, Journey to Mars and the Orion Project. Below are two images of the main components of the current manned space system. Look familiar? They should.
On the right is a rehashed Apollo capsule and on the left is the space shuttle fuel tank and solid rocket booster system, reconfigured for a capsule. NASA presents these with pride, which frankly feels a bit forced, claiming that this efficiently reuses what has gone before. What I see is doing the best you can with what you have and not having much. Oddly it reminds me of something I saw just recently in the keys an old railroad bridge that had been repurposed as a automobile bridge.
This is a shot from the new highway 1 bridge. If you look carfully you can seen underneath the highway deck and only slightly obscured by the highway deck supports are the old railroad bridge trestles. Going over the top of the old bridge let them use the old structure but create a wider deck. It is an amazing cludge of a bridge. When I post more from our Florida Keys stay I’ll have more on this bridge. But getting back to the Orion Project. For me it is interesting but only as an inventive reuse of an existing infrastructure much like this bridge. Resourceful, perhaps, inspiring, no so much.
The balance of our visit from the memorable perspective was the bus tour. Most of the actual space center is off limits to the public and the regular bus tour (and some of the add on tours that were all booked) are the only way to get close to these off limit parts. The included bus tour is pretty good (hint: get on the right hand side for the ride out) . The tour drives pass the Vertical Assembly Building. It was closed so we couldn’t see what was going on inside. Even from the bus the scale of the thing escapes you.
Further down the road we passed the SpaceX facility and you can see an old shuttle launch platform in the background. NASA plans to reuse the shuttle launch platforms, removing the large rotating section that accommodated the shuttle. We missed the historic return of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster (Falcon 9 lands at Cape Canaveral) by 9 days. When we got back we cross referenced our planned location and planned launches but no reasonable opportunities to see a launch are in our future.
We also passed one of several crawler transporters that move vehicles to launch pads. It looks a lot more like a factory building that a vehicle and again the scale of it escapes you. I had read about all of this stuff years ago when it was being used for Apollo missions and love seeing it. Even the crawler roadway is pretty amazing, although I had read about the basic engineering of the crawlerway I was not aware that rocks are not only round and very hard but have a low potential to spark when crushed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawlerway).
The bus tour is more than just a tour, it has a destination, the Apollo/Saturn V center. Kennedy is a launch facility and they are the final terrestrial destination for much of the hardware NASA plans to launch into space. The Apollo/Saturn V center has actual hardware that was planned to be launched into space like the gigantic Saturn V. You encounter business end of the Saturn V entering the center.
It is hard to conceive of 7.5 million pounds of force. Maybe you can think of a s 2 mile high stack of cars balanced on these five cones. Now realize that all of that force has to be contained by these 5 engines, and transferred into the body of the rocket without crushing the whole thing like a cheap aluminum soft drink can. It’s pretty damn impressive just from the sheer scale of the thing let alone getting down into the details of how to generate and control all of that.
We didn’t take many shots inside the Saturn V center. It just din’t feel like you could really capture much of what was there. We of course did have to get a shot of the NASA RV. I certainly hope Airstream donated this little buggy considering how much press it got. I don’t know if the Astrovan was derived from a retail platform (this Astrovan page doesn’t reference any) or if it was unique to NASA but I’m pretty sure it added to the cache of the name “Airstream”.
They also have what I consider one of the most amazing compromises made during the space race, the Gemini Titan. This was designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile but NASA also used it for Gemini launches. This is a very dangerous launch vehicle which used Hydrazine base as a propellant, a very toxic unstable chemical. These were apparently desperate times for the boy tasked with getting a man into orbit if they were willing to use these to do it.
We really shouldn’t have skipped to rocket garden on our way in because on the way out it was dark and raining and we had very little time to walk around. I had read about these rockets, built some plastic models, and a few launchable models too. Like much of the Kennedy Space Center hardware these are for the most part real vehicles intended for launch. I would have liked to ogled them just a bit more. Pam was probably glad it was closing time and we could not spend two hours there. The last thing I remember seeing on the way out was a mockup Gemini capsule that you could climb into. It was more a sculpture that a mockup but I think the proportions are right. Even without a door we both could feel the claustrophobia of being inside of that thing. It shows you just how much of the “Right Stuff” these men had to have to get into that thing and become “Spam in a Can”.
Other than the sites, visiting the Space Center gave Pam and I an opportunity and inspiration to reminisced about our time in Orlando. We recalled our attempts to see the first Shuttle night launch in 1983, when I think everyone in Florida tried to drive to Cape Canaveral. We only made it about halfway before traffic just came to a stand still. We were maybe 25 miles from the launch site. I’m sure it was solid cars all the way to the cape. Close to launch time everybody just got out of their cars on the highway and watched. No sound and it wasn’t even that bright but we did get to see it go up. We also recalled where we were when the Challenger exploded in 1986. I was in a hallway of our office space at Martin Marietta watching through a big window. Pam was watching from her PruCare office. The contrails were clear and it was quite evident that something was going very wrong.
The final installment from Manatee Key will be how we closed out 2015 and started 2016 touring the bird sanctuary on Merritt island.