America’s Kennedy Space Center seems to “get it” when considering the legacy of our great nation and the incredible manned mission of NASA.
And when seeing the tributes to the fallen astronauts of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, well if you’re not emotionally moved, shame on you.
I spent a day at the famed U.S. Space Port, my fourth visit but first in nearly two decades. And I was completely blown away.
The education level was outstanding, the displays were amazing and the theatrical techniques were at times jaw-dropping.
And when I saw the busloads of school kids and throngs of adults from all over the world scurrying around the Space Center, I felt reassured that our great nation is back on track in a new Space Race.
Kennedy Space Center is definitely a vacation stop for those enjoying Florida any time of the year.
Around the Space Center there is construction everywhere because of a new NASA era where cooperation with private industry is beginning to peak.
Massive buildings are going up to house rockets being built by SpaceX, Blue Horizon and Orbital ATK. And the regular NASA staff has a new spring in their step as America gets closer to launching its super rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the human-crewed Orion spaceship—hopefully within the next three years.
Kennedy Space Center offers a unique way to educate the masses before turning them loose on the extensive exhibits. You will see a short movie or 3-D video before witnessing artifacts of brave astronauts and enthusiastic rocket engineers.
The public awareness of our spacey world is highlighted in the must-see attractions of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Shuttle orbiter Atlantis and the Saturn V building.
And each NASA attraction provides an ingenious escape route—through a gift shop!
The prices are reasonable for many things (3 custom Tees, or NASA hat and long sleeve shirt for $27) and maybe unreasonable for others ($300 for a cheesy Gemini spaceship model or $1,200 for a Buzz Aldrin on the Moon autographed Apollo 11 poster).
But the price of admission is not too bad: $50 adults; $40 for kids 3-11 (with military and senior citizen discounts) and $10 parking. That includes the bus ride to the Saturn V building where the mighty Moon rocket lies on its side and you can touch a Moon rock.
It is at the Saturn V building that the Apollo 14 Command Module resides in a room with three more rocks from the Moon. At this beautiful exhibit there is a history of space suits, including the one worn on the Moon by Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard.
But the newest display at KSC is a dramatic tribute to the three lost astronauts in a launch pad fire during a dress rehearsal in January 1967. Personal memorabilia of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are displayed behind rear projection screen images of their lives and careers.
But the big reveal is the three sections of the actual spaceship hatch that doomed the spacemen. Once a spark ignited the pure oxygen environment inside the capsule, the astronauts tried in vain to quickly open the hatch, a 10-minute process. Next to this display, is the new hatch built as a result of the tragedy, easily opened in around a minute.
NASA rallied around the tragedy of Apollo 1 to land on the Moon just 30 months later, fulfilling the challenge of President John F. Kennedy. This is the first time the infamous hatch has been displayed, tastefully in an exhibit that includes the red gantry access arm that all Apollo astronauts walked across too their spaceship.
The highlight of KSC is no doubt the Shuttle orbiter Atlantis, brought home for the world to see after its 33rd successful mission. Those spaceflights included seven dockings with the Russian MIR space station, as well as 12 construction mission to the International Space Station.
As if the dramatic unveiling of the spaceship after a video of its history isn’t enough, a full-scale replica of the Hubble Space Telescope is nearby, as well as orbiter cockpit mock ups and an exciting Shuttle Launch Experience simulation.
But what blew me away was the classy and reverent hall wing that celebrates the lost astronauts of the Challenger launch explosion in 1986 and Columbia reentry destruction in 2003.
On each side of the hall are display cases containing personal artifacts and photos of the 14 dead spacefliers. The effort is made to reveal a bit about their personal lives.
And then you turn the corner…
The room is dark and bathed in blue as you see two huge display walls. To the left is a six-foot piece of Challenger’s fuselage with American flag; to the right are the metal frames from the front windows of Columbia.
Dramatic. Serene. Gripping. Emotional. Those were my feelings as I stared at the spaceship remains and remembered the events of those sad days, each to never be forgotten. Kudos to the NASA archives team who created this impactful exhibit. For me, it was worth the whole price of admission.
But NASA’s legacy is a happy one. And KSC is definitely a happy place!
There is a giant IMAX Theater; historical films are shown hourly; an interactive Mars Exploration center has the latest imagery from rovers Opportunity and Curiosity; you can eat lunch with an astronaut; or enjoy your own meal under the historical monuments of the rocket garden.
Yes, America is blasting its way back into space, with both the government and private industry gearing for exiting times ahead. Be a part of it and plan a visit to Kennedy Space Center…you won’t regret a moment.