Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Space Geek Disneyland or We Had Lunch Under a LM


When I was a wee lad I was an unabashed space geek. I was that perfect age, being born in 1955, that when the space race with those good-for-nothing, blood drinking, ‘Merica hating Commies heated up I grabbed a seat in the front row for all of the fireworks, as long as those fireworks didn't include a full ballistic missile exchange. I remember being excused from the regular boring first grade curriculum along with a buddy of mine named Skip Grossman, so we could sit at our own special little table in the school hallway with a globe and a transistor radio listening to a Mercury mission and following along where it was on the globe. We spun that baby around a bunch of times and enjoyed it thoroughly. And my enthusiasm never waned during Gemini or Apollo. In fact my geekdom only accelerated. I was glued to the TV (We had a color set.) for every mission that was broadcast. Even today one of my favorite DVD sets is of the wonderful 1999 HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon” produced by Tom Hanks. We have watched it about one-hundred times.

Titusville, Florida is smack dab in the middle of the Space Coast, a section of central coastal Florida that lived and breathed the space program. As we sit here we are directly across from the Kennedy Space Center. And as we were going to be stuck here for a few days Lisa almost immediately went online to get us some tickets to the space center’s visitor center. What an awesome idea.

We boarded the marina’s shuttle bus at 9:00 am to ferry us over to the space center. The official visitor center is a large modern complex with plenty of flashing lights, wistful skyward fountains and sculptures; a bunch of rockets on display and lots of loud speakers playing recordings of mission control and orbiter communications and the explosive sounds of rocket launches. And to punch up the affect the speaker systems had some badass subwoofers maximizing the low rumbles so that we vibrated, even before we actually entered the gates. Oh goody!

The front gate. Quite beautiful...and LOUD!
Upon entering the complex the first thing we encountered was a fountain memorial to John Kennedy with an inscription of his famous speech galvanizing the nation to not only get into the space race but to win at all costs over the aforementioned red menace. (In retrospect the Russians never had a chance. Example: Their most popular cars were three cylinder Zils or Trabants. We had top fuel dragsters that ran on something akin to nitro glycerin. We rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles, they rode yak. Think about it.)

Our attention was first drawn over to the rocket garden which displayed an assortment of some of NASA’s earlier rockets: Aegean, Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas (an intercontinental missile with a tiny space capsule on top), Gemini-Atlas II, a Saturn 1B, and a few others). After the rocket garden we visited some of the other exhibits, all first class, informative and entertaining. Then we went to the bus station and boarded one of the Kennedy Space Complex buses to be ferried to the Vehicle Assembly Building and the Saturn V rocket exhibition.
I think you buy seeds to grow these things at Home Depot.

Saturn 1B
Lisa in front of the actual gantry access for Apollo 11.
An actual white room relic and an Apollo capsule
Great. First she wanted a jet fighter in Pensacola. Now she wants a moon buggy.
Space suit. Factoid: Most of the astronauts were only about 5' 6-9".

 Bird -"Can I have a chip please."
Me - "NO!"
Bird - "Jerk!"
It was very obvious to us that one of the core messages that NASA was trying to convey is along the lines of “You may think we’re dead, but we’re not. We are just in kind of a pause mode while we crank things up for our next phase, the SLS program.” SLS is the next generation of BBBIIIGGG heavy lift rockets that will carry astronaut crews, hardware and the state of Kentucky into Earth orbit. NASA is in a state of transition, not dormancy, and they want everyone to know it. We’re down with that. They were also pushing the benefits of their cooperation with corporate space providers such as SpaceX, Boeing and others as a beneficial and viable step in our nation’s exploration (and exploitation) of near-earth space. As NASA has already announced they are not going back to the Moon (Been there, done that, got the tee shirt), and other than a Mars mission sometime down the road, it appears low and high Earth orbits are NASA’s stomping grounds.

The bus first took us for a cruise around the massive Vehicle Assembly Building which I have noted in previous blog posts as being so massive it can literally be seen for days on the ICW. And it is even more massive close up. And there were other iconic things to see in that area. One of the more interesting spots was a smallish lagoon near the flight center where all of the media booth structures are. This was where media icons like Walter Cronkite and Jules Bergman would sit and peer out over the three plus miles to the launch pads where America would pop its biggest guns. I can remember them clearly when the big Saturn V rocket would thunder to life. It was something like, “HOOOOLEEEEE CRAAAAAP!” said very shakily.
VAB "Very Awesome Building"
The bus then swung us around and over to the Saturn V building. Now, if you are a space geek too you’ll appreciate this. Inside this modern museum is an actual unused Saturn V rocket laid on end surrounded by a slew of other exhibits such as an actual, again unused, Apollo spacecraft, moon buggy and, as mentioned, a left over Lunar Module, which was conveniently located directly over our heads at the table we had chosen to have our lunch. (See title) There was also a great exhibit of artifacts such as actual space suits, lunar rocks, awards and other valuable tchotchkes. There was also the actual Apollo 14 space capsule. All in all a fascinating collection of space stuff that absolutely rocked. We also spent a few minutes outside the building on its east side where there are grandstands facing out over another lagoon with the VAB to the right and Launch Pad 39a straight ahead. 39a was the principal launch site for the Shuttle Program.  (BTW, my parents brought our sons, Bryan and Kevin, to Florida for a space launch and my dad was somehow able to worm their ways onto the actual space center grounds. Phil Grob struck again. Very cool…except I wasn’t with them.)
Simulation of a launch from Launch Control. Start the subwoofers!

The business end of a Saturn V rocket. Still the most powerful rocket ever built.

The Saturn V exhibition
Front page of the St. Louis Globe Democrat (now defunct). I have a copy of this paper at home stuffed safely away.

An actual LM that ended up not being used. We ate lunch directly underneath it.

An actual leftover Command/Service Module


Launch pad 39a

The exhibit from the other end

The Apollo 14 capsule

A moon rock

a used space suit
Back on the bus we returned to the visitor center and immediately went to a new exhibit called The Shuttle Launch Experience. They say it is not so much a ride but a simulator. Fourty-four people are put into a mockup of the Shuttle and experience what it is like to be on board for a launch. I think they perform a bit of slight-of-hand misdirection to preset your mind as to what to expect about degree of incline and decline (They didn’t really tilt us on our backs and fronts a full 90 degrees, did they? I think not.) but they sure as hell shake the daylights out of you. It lasted only a few minutes but it was fun. It turns out the vibration is caused by a subwoofer in the seat of the chairs called…and I’m not making this up…a “buttkicker”. It was like one of those low-rider cars with a massive sound system except you’re sitting on the speakers. NASA says it’s not a ride. It is.

The Shuttle Launch Experience is attached to a brand spanking new exhibit all about the Shuttle program which will feature the shuttle Atlantis. It is due to open in June of this year. Point of information - So far the entire exhibit centered on America’s moon program, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, a bit about the future (SLS and corporate partners) but not so much about the Shuttle program. This new addition is all about that. Deservedly so. Remember, there were 135 shuttle missions. That is amazing.
Here's a lousy part time job...pose as an astronaut while tourists take your picture.
We also met people from several different countries including New Zealand, Germany, Russia, eastern Europe, France, Italy, the middle east, India, Pakistan, Holland and some place called America.

So if you’re in Titusville, Cocoa Beach or Melbourne and have a day to kill and $50 per person to spend a trip to the Kennedy Space Complex is certainly worth the time and expense. The facilities are first rate and they seem to have a very good mix of the past and the future as well as science and whimsy. It was a great day.

Oh, and we got a call from our technician. It looks like the starter is going to be a few days at least. Hmmmm.


Mike T said...

I grew up on Merritt Island in the sixties.

Before a Saturn 5 launch my mom would go around the house and take her plate collections and paintings down off the walls since the vibrations were so intense that they would fall down, and we lived 20 miles from the pad.

We were once stopped at the light at 520 and A1A when Alan Shepard pulled up next to us in one of the famous Jim Rathman dealership Corvettes. He was on our right so I got to say to him “Thank you Mr Shepard.” He nodded and said “thanks” This 14 yo was in heaven for days.

My Grandad, designed and built the network of Nasa cameras up and down A1A that are still in use today - cameras updated since then of course.

Palm Coast FL.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Darrell's sister, Phyllis...I'll chime in and comment on this one. When I was in college at Washington Univ in St. Louis as an Earth & Planetary Sciences major I worked as a research asst on the original Viking Mission to Mars imaging team. A gang of us camped our way down to Kennedy space center in a VW camper van (hey, it was the mid-seventies, we were soooo cool) and planted ourselves at the Titusville KOA campground. The professor we worked for got us VIP passes for the Viking blastoff sharing the causeway viewing site area with all sorts of scientific luminaries of the time...we were humbled by their mere presence. There was media all around interviewing everybody...it was quite a day. And then there was the blastoff, and yes the ground rumbled along the causeway as the rocket headed for space...remember it like it was yesterday instead of almost 38 years ago. So cool, and yes I'm a space junkie just like my brother!