Kennedy Space Centre
Trip Start Aug 15, 2008
90Trip End Aug 14, 2009
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I dragged Barbara on another scientific trip to the NASA Kennedy Space Centre near Titusville. When we arrived we discovered there was a shuttle launch on the Friday.
They were sending 7 astronauts up in the shuttle "Endeavour" to the International Space Station (ISS) to do some repairs, install bigger accommodation modules & new toilets.
The Space Centre has all the exhibits one would expect, bits of moon rock, the actual modules that went to the Moon (and back of course) & astronaut's space suits (Jim Lovell's suit from Apollo 13 is still at the cleaners).
They have preserved the Apollo Mission Launch Control Centre as it was for the Moon Shots.
The instruments look so antiquated, but then Apollo 17, the last of the manned Moon Missions, did lift off in December 1972, that is 36 years ago.
Next to the exhibition Hall is a selection of the actual rockets from earlier space programs, Mercury, Gemini & Apollo rockets standing up like a bed of asparagus.
Outside they have a 9-ton "Constellation Sphere" that floats on a ring of water - so smoothly engineered that a child can rotate it (that's if grown-ups let them).
Our tour around the launch pads took us right up to Launch Complex (LC) 39B & to within a mile of LC 39A with Endeavour perched on it. We could see the huge orange External Tank (ET) & the 2 Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) but the Shuttle itself was shrouded by the Rotating Service Structure (RSS). The External Tank (ET) holds 500,000 gallons of fuel which is burnt in 8.5 minutes (which exceeds the ECC fuel efficiency regulations)
We went right past the Crawler Transporter (CT), a huge tracked vehicle that takes the Shuttle, sitting on its Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP), at 0.8 mph on a gravel track (as wide as an 8 lane highway) from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad. This humongous VAB is 38 stories high & the American Flag painted on the side is the size of a football pitch.
We were also taken to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), a 15,000m x 300m landing strip that the Shuttle has to glide onto, after exiting Low Earth Orbit (LEO) & re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.
Explaination of a Shuttle Mission in Simple Terms
The Shuttle is taken from the VAB on its MLP by the CT to the LC where it is connected to the RSS. At launch, controlled from the LCC, the SRBs & the ET fed rockets, blast it at 17,500 MPH into LEO where it docks with the ISS where the crew perform EVAs before it re-enters & lands at the SLF - simple eh.
The tour bus dropped us off at the Saturn Center where they have the King of all rockets, a full size, 363-foot Saturn V, the rocket that propelled man to the Moon - it's king enormous !
On the tour of the launch pad we noticed a fence around it, about 300ft from it. We were told that if you were inside this fence at a launch you would die !
The sound level at 180 db would burst your eardrums, so you wouldn't be able to hear yourself scream as your internal organs explode from the shock wave.
Everyone, except the poor Shuttle crew, sensibly get 3.5 miles away back to the Launch Control Centre (LCC) before the launch.
We saw many rare birds, the endangered Bald Eagle, Turkey Vultures & the American Crane, as well as some 15 ft alligators - Cape Canaveral is a nature conservation area.
The nice guys at NASA set off pyrotechnics before the launch to frighten away any local creatures.
Before you get all upset about NASA destroying nature, NASA is very conscientious about preservation & anyway, if the Space Centre wasn't there, Cape Canaveral would be covered in concrete & hotels.
Friday 14 November - Shuttle Endeavour Launch day
Titusville is across the bay from Cape Canaveral & we were told the carpark of the "Smokehouse" Restaurant & Bar had the best view. It was a night launch (7:55) but we were told the best spots start to fill up in the afternoon, so we drove along the shore after lunch to reconnoiter. The Smokehouse was opening it's carpark gates at 3:00 (selling spaces at $10) - by 2:00 there was a queue stretching back along the highway - so we joined it. We parked at 2:30 so had a few hours to while away.
Luckily the bar was open !
We perched on a bar stool & drank beer for over 5 hours (at happy hour prices) chatting to some very interesting, educated Americans & putting the world to rights.
One discussion we had with a GP, was why drugs in the USA are so much more expensive than those in the UK. She said that was because the US drug companies spend more on TV advertising than on research!
I can believe that - on TV every night they advertise loads of branded drugs. By law they have to state any side effects, so most of the slot is taken up with all the things that could go wrong.
My favourite Advert is for a Viagra-like product where they warn "if your erection lasts for more than 4 hours, consult your doctor" (or perhaps a circus).
The launch was spectacular (yes we did see it), there was a full moon low in the sky but this was blotted out by the ball of fire that rose slowly from the pad. This brilliant light lit up the sky for several minutes before fading into the distance. The crowd, in true americam style, whooped & clapped the whole time.
It was well worth seeing.
After the Shuttle lift-off, thousands of people tried to leave Titusville at once - all roads were completely clogged for several hours. We joined the queues at 11:00 to make our way to Disney World, Orlando.