Cape Canaveral Space Centre is just outside Orlando on the east coast of Florida. Our research for this trip indicated that we could visit the space centre and have lunch with an astronaut. An opportunity not to be missed.
We drove to Maingate Resort and waited patiently for the shuttle (bus not the space shuttle) to pick us up. By the way, the American love affair with guns has no limits. Everywhere there are signs to visit “Machine Gun America” to shoot real machine guns with real bullets. As we waited for the shuttle I spotted this billboard.
The driver of the shuttle was from Porto Rico and opened the conversation asking us to name the first Porto Rican astronaut. Of course, we could not and that is because there has not been one other than those travelling to clean the windows of the space craft. This led to a discussion about the Disney influence in town and he stated that the Disney company owns 60,000 acres in Orlando and has built resorts and fun parks which has changed the town from a small unimportant township in the 70’s to a bustling metropolis in the 21st century. We were to hear more of the history on the bus trip to the Cape.
We stopped at a shopping centre where we off loaded onto a double decker bus to travel to the space centre which is due east of Orlando across the typical swamps and forests that define Florida. Flat and very green with the typical soils being sandy.
As the Kennedy Space Centre Visitors Centre loomed into sight we could see the Saturn V rocket with its solid fuel boosters standing high over the centre. The bus parked and we walked through the entrance into the shuttle building to see the decommissioned “Atlantis” displayed as it might have been seen delivering to the ISS (International Space Station). Behind the shuttle a huge screen displayed other out of this world images seen from Atlantis. We could see up close the booster rocket used for the shuttle, the shuttle cockpit, a reproduction of the “Hubble“ telescope. We were also able to inspect the sleeping quarters for an astronaut and other daily used facilities. We found it hard to pull ourselves away from this display but lunch with an astronaut required us at the dining room by 11.45 am so we pulled away to return later for the simulated shuttle launch.
Lunch with an astronaut was not quite what I had expected. Sure, we had an astronaut John-David Bartoe talk to us, but it was very impersonal and the buffet not that flash. On the positive side we were in a small group (the dining room was only 1/3 full) and we did get a group photo. John – David was not familiar with Wollowiczs as an astronaut (the character out of “the Big Bang Theory”) as I got a growling scowl when asking the question. Wile waiting for lunch room doors to open we took a stroll through the rocket park – old rockets assembled in a park.
After lunch we took the bus to the launching pads 37, 39, 40 and 41. The everglades continue around Cape Canaveral and provide some of the security for the installation as the canals are home to alligators. One of the launch pads – 37 I think was the launching pad for the shuttle expeditions, so we had a video on the bus of the history of the space programme followed by a visit to the shed where they assembled the Saturn 5 rockets (the worlds tallest single storey building). Inside was a Saturn 5 rocket (without its solid fuel boosters) and some of the history of each mission by some of the shuttles focused on the moon landings. Also there we models of the landing craft and a lunar rock you can touch. We then continued the bus trip to each of the other launch platforms each being used by different commercial entities – Boeing and Elon Musk’s company SpacEx – vying for the commercial rights to fly to Mars, I think. Anyway a Falcon 9 rocket was launched from pad 40 on 11/5/2018 carrying cargo to the ISS (International Space Station), I think.
On the way to and from the centre both bus drivers were at pain to talk about the bald eagle nest that has been revisited by the same eagle pair for the last 30 years. We thought this was great until we visited Winter Park (dealt with later). Anyway, here are the photos of the eagles nest.
The trip was good and worthwhile which made us want to return to the simulator for a simulated launch of a shuttle but it meant we missed a video presentation on the new telescope to replace the Hubble telescope. Unfortuately, everyone was disappointed by the simulator as it was “dumbed down” to replicate a 2 g launch as opposed to the actual 5 to 6 g launch experienced by the shuttle crew. A visit to the gift shops and the ice cream shop and we were done. Really enjoyable and informative but I am sure there is a lot more too it than we saw.