11.26.2007

Florida stories: 4, 3, 2, 1......


Wow. Kennedy Space Center. Wow.

We've lived in Florida more than two years and hadn't been to visit this incredible place. I guess that's always the way. The things that tourists come to see, the residents never go to see. We don't like touristy kinds of things, so that was part of it. But we're both big fans of extreme technology, so we really had to visit it before we book out of Florida. (You might have noticed a few disparaging remarks about Florida in the blog. Don't get me started. I could rant for days.)


This is the tourist Kim visiting the Kennedy Space Center. We stayed away from the super touristy things, like the IMAX theatre. We wanted to see the history of the space program, the old rocket ships, stuff like that.


We were hoping we'd get to go into the Vehicle Assembly Building. It's a truly amazing building. It's 23 stories high and covers 8 acres. This is where the orbiter gets mated to the massive fuel tank (plus the two booster rockets). All four pieces are the shuttle, not just the one piece that looks like a plane. But, no. There might have been a time when ordinary visitors were allowed in there, but not now. I think there's a scene in Apollo 13 where tourists are in that building.


There are launches coming up. That's very exciting and we would really really really like to see one. Maybe we'll make the two hour drive and take our chances on getting a spot from which to watch. This is the orbiter Atlantis (the white part that looks like a plane). It's sitting on the pad waiting. The launch is scheduled for December 6th. This will be the Atlantis' eighth visit to the International Space Station. The mission is called STS-122 and you can find out about it and the crew here. This photo is from the NASA site, we did NOT get that close.


As I said, we didn't get very close to the launch pad, but this shows a bit of the layout. Way over there is the shuttle on launch pad 39A. See the lighter square in the bottom left of the photo? That's to call attention to the crawlerway. What incredible technology. Looks like a gravel road, right? Well, that 'road' is 7' deep. It has to support the weight of the crawler-transporter plus the shuttle.


This is another unbelievable invention. This is the crawler-transporter. It weighs 6 million pounds. Yup, 6 million. And the shuttle on top of it weighs another 4.5 million pounds. Do the math. The crawlerway has to stay put while this behemoth rolls from the VAB to the launch pad. It takes about 8 hours. This is also one of NASA's photos.


It's always been a bit hard for me to understand that when NASA throws something up into space, there are two very different places where it's happening. There's all the stuff that happens to get the shuttle put together, taken out to the pad and then actually launched into space. That's the part that Kennedy Space Center is all about. Then there's Mission Control, as in "Houston, we have a problem." So there's this huge crowd of people in Florida and this other huge crowd in Texas and somehow (you can look it up on the NASA site, I've given you the links) they get the rocket or shuttle or mission or whatever it is up and back. Amazing. This is a re-creation, using the original consoles, of the control room at Kennedy Space Center that was used for the Apollo missions.


Here's tourist Kim again, happy and excited to be standing under the massive engines of the Saturn V rocket, the same rocket that was used in the Apollo missions.



Rocket engine. Umm. What can I say? It's really huge and incredibly powerful and more than that you'll have to investigate on your own.


We looked around the International Space Station Processing Facility. There actually were things in this place waiting to go out to the Space Station. Remarkable. This is the famous Canada Arm. Meet the Canadian who manages the Canada Space Station Program. He knows a lot about the Arm.


There were work and habitat modules that you could walk through. Very cool. You have to be a total organization freak to even think about spending time in one of those things. And you obviously better not be claustrophobic. This is a wardroom. That means bedroom on a ship. The zipper bag is the bed. Gnarly.


Here's more of the equipment awaiting transport to the ISS. JAXA is Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. So the deal is, countries that have stuff that needs to go to the ISS bring that stuff here and then it gets scheduled and goes up. This is like visiting another planet. Know what I mean? So alien. So not everyday.


This is the Rocket Garden. It was fun standing next to real rocket ships. This is no attraction by the highway on your way across the country. No sirree. This is the real deal. And extremely awe inspiring.


By the end of the day, tourist Kim had really seen enough and read enough little explanation signs. A cup of coffee was needed before the long drive home. It was a lovely day.