Over Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to attend Space Camp at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I flew into Orlando and cashed in a crisp 20 for a bucket of quarters to feed the appetite of the local toll highways.
My first day I visited family in Central Florida, and thankfully avoided being struck by lightening or swept off the road in torrential rains, as you can see from this frightful photo. Soon after I was en route to Merritt Island on Florida’s “Space Coast,” and to the Kennedy Space Center – my first time back since being seven years old.
First – attending Space Camp, (or the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as most call it,) is $38 dollars. This may sound expensive, but remember you’re at Space Camp, so no reason not to splurge. That’s cheaper than many other area attractions, and the entire experience is well worth it. I spent six hours there and still didn’t see the impressive array of history. In my neck of the woods going skiing for the day is north of $65 at places, so $38 doesn’t seem too bad.
First stop after the metal detectors, then badged and photographed. If you’re lucky you’ll meet a real astronaut in a real space suit. I didn’t know white cotton gloves were worn in space!
Since the Kennedy Space Center sites are spread throughout Merritt Island coach buses are provided, which loop around the various sites. It’s best to jump on these first upon arriving, since visiting to all three sites, plus hopping on and off the buses takes about two to three hours. We waited about 20 minutes to re-board after seeing the first site, (the launch pad viewing gantry,) but the crowds are dispersed after the second stop and we had no further lines to board.
First stop: A viewing gantry midpoint between the mammoth vehicle assembly building and shuttle launch pads 39A and B. From here, (bring your binoculars,) you can see the launch pads, and if you visit on the right day you’ll see a shuttle atop the pads. On my visit I saw the shuttle transporter vehicle sitting near the fork on the road to the two launch pads. In the middle of the three level gantry hangs a shuttle launch engine.
Also along this route the bus passes closed to the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, and while there’s no access the drivers and videos give the standard facts and numbers.
Stop two: The Apollo/Saturn 5 Center. This is housed in the actual control room building where the launch was processed, and the room still contains the rows of metal 60s style consoles and desks. Having grown up in the shuttle era, and seeing the shuttle launch countless times, I found this preserved room to be an amazing piece of living history and the most education of all – a real step back in time. Adjacent to the launch room is an enormous building with a real rocket suspended from the ceiling, and many artifacts from the launches including space suits and equipment from that decade. I didn’t realize that the Saturn rockets were almost twice the size of one space shuttle. Included in each stop is a cafe, and the obligatory gift shops which give new meaning to the term “space junk.” (I doubt I’m the first person to make that joke.)
During the bus rides short videos are shown noting the significance of the area, and the drivers point out various buildings and landmarks. Merritt Island is also a wildlife preserve, and is one of Florida’s biggest protected spaces. En route to the third stop, The International Space Station building, our driver pointed out some large turtles, a bald eagle’s nest, (news to me,) and an alligator lounging about in a creek.
The International Space Station area is housed around the actual floor where components for the space station are built, delivered, or constructed. The building, like most buildings in the complex, are surprising dull and utilitarian appearing on the outside, masking the brilliant minds and craftsmanship on the inside. Being a holiday there wasn’t any activity at the ISS building, but impressive to overlook nonetheless.
Shuttle Launch Experience,” a theme park style motion ride simulating a shuttle launch. The wait was 30 minutes, (on this slower day,) and the ride was a big disappointment. I enjoyed everything my pretend “Space Camp” experience had to offer, but this was nothing more than a herky jerky motion ride. The videos preceding the ride showed astronauts praising the likeness of the “Shuttle Launch Experience.” I would never accuse a real astronaut of false claims, but in this case the truth is definitely stretched. Then again I’ve never ridden the shuttle, and the other 25 riders seemed to have loved it, so perhaps I’m just to critical. My advice – skip this and see the IMAX movie instead.
Next post: More on Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach.