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Day 132 - Cape Canaveral - Space Center

We stopped at a couple more beaches, then visited Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral

semi-overcast 75 °F

Reluctantly, I pulled myself away from the lovely Long Point County Park and the plethora of exotic birds there. Mom and I had collected quite a bit of books and stuff during our trip to the Key's and since, so really needed to find a Post Office. Our RV is too small to store stuff on such a long trip, so from time to time we just box everything up that we've collected and mail it home. We finally located a PO off the main road in Melbourne and got rid of several pounds of stuff (and $$ to send it) when Mom met Ruth. She is also turning 80 in February and was thrilled to meet Mom and learn about our trip. Instead of getting upset about her age, she's decided to embrace it and is adopting the catch phrase for this year of "80 in 08" - pretty cool.


I figured Cape Canaveral wasn't very far up the road, so I could afford a little time to stop at a couple of beaches (not realizing that I needed more time at the Kennedy Space Center then I left myself of course). At least Brevard County has lots of beaches set aside for public use. We passed a lot of city or county parks along the beaches with plenty of parking (and no nasty RV's Keep Out notes). Most have short boardwalks to get over the sand dunes to the beach (without damaging the dunes). On one of these, we must have seen about a dozen of these little lizards just out sunning themselves. They were only about 3 inches long, so my guess is that they were juveniles.


Several beaches were lined with fishermen. Apparantly, there was a really good run of fish yesterday, so today a lot of folks brought out there poles hoping to clean up. Of course, the fishing wasn't quite as good today. The picture I uploaded doesn't show the fishing, but it is a good view of the beaches looked up here. There are lots of breaking waves, but it is a fairly steep beach, so they break fairly close in.


A little further (Cocoa Beach I think), we found a different sort of wildlife - surfers. The waves were forming a little farther out so this was probably a better beach for surfing (not being a surfer myself, I'm speculating a bit). However, these guys weren't much for surfers either - we watched for quite a while, but this is the closest I could get to any of them standing up on a board. They were very good at sitting on boards in the surf however.


Finally we got to Kennedy Space Center. There is a very large visitors center. Mom had banged her toe in the RV and it was quite black and blue, so I got a wheel chair for her - although she probably needed it anyway, this place was a little too big for her to walk around in even with her walker. Unfortunately, I accidentially left the camera set to 'movie', so when we asked some tourists to take our picture at the entrance - it took a movie. I captured a still frame from it to post, but the quality is poor - but it's one of those 'You Were There' shots, so I had to post it (sorry)


The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex used to be run by NASA. I haven't visited it previously so can only provide conjecture, but my guess is that it was less flashy but had more meat? Another visitor told us that it used to be much better. A couple of years ago, management of the visitors center was turned over to a private company, who has definitely given it the look and feel of a theme park. I don't mind that so much, but it seemed 'dummed down' too much for my taste. For example, there were plenty of gift shops with lots of brick-a-brack, but only short little tourist overviews. If you want to learn about space travel, NASA, or anything above a 5th grade level, you won't find it here. The same thing is true with the informative signs and plaques around the complex - just summary level information that is designed to be easy to read and absorb, nothing too complicated.

OK now that I got that off my shoulder (there is no pleasing some people), let me tell you about what we did see. First, even if you don't like theme parks, you should probably leave yourself more than 1/2 day as we did - this is a very large complex and there is quite a bit to see. We started with a bus trip around the space center. There were informative videos on the bus and the bus drivers pointed out things along the way. Unfortunately, the bus didn't slow down at all, so it was difficult or impossible to take pictures, but I will tell you this: We saw manatee's, an armadillo, an osprey, a bald eagle, alligators and of course heron and egrets. Yes - there were three manatee's in a pond along the drive. The bus tour was of the space complex - but Cape Canaveral is also home to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and NASA works closely with the NWR to protect the wildlife on their facility. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any shots of the wildlife, the bus just blew by them too fast. But we did see manatees!

The first big complex we drove by is where the Shuttle Orbiter is prepped for missions, then assembled for relaunch with it's external fuel tanks in something called a Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This is one of the larger buildings in the world, but is hard to grasp as such because it just stands there kind of by itself. For point of reference, each star on the US Flag is six feet across. There is also some hurricane damage visible on the side of the building.


Another way to refer to the VAB is as the largest single story building in the world. The shuttle is in it's normal, horizontal position when it returns from space and is cleaned up and preped for the next mission. The VAB has giagantic cranes inside that raise it to the vertical position to connect with the fuel tanks. Then leading from the VAB to the launch site is an 8 mile long 'crawlway'. It kind of looks like a light tan highway in these shots, the tan is because it's made of gravel/rock (I doubt if any other surface could manage the weight it has to carry).


The space shuttle/fuel tank assembly is moved from the VAB to the launch site using a giant crawler. There are two of these, the only ones in the world of course. They can move at 1 mph empty, or 1/2 mph fully loaded.


Fortunately for us there was a shuttle sitting on one of the launch pads. It was scheduled to go up this week but the launch has been postponed until February. A lot of people had come to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch, so were disappointed when it was delayed. From what I could tell, this is a fairly frequent occurance these days as NASA tries to eliminate risk from what is an inherently risky venture. Don't get me wrong, if you can prevent another Challenger disaster I think you should, but there is also a cost to avoiding risk too much. Anyway, it was kind of exciting to be able to see a shuttle actually sitting on the pad waiting to be launched.


BTW - at least the revamped visitors complex is very ADA assessable. Many facilities had multiple stories and every one of them had elevators, so Mom didn't have to skip any activities unless she wanted to.

At the overlook between the VAB and the launch sites, they had one of the shuttle main engines on display. It had been retired after 15 shuttle missions (and 63 test firings), a very complex device. (Mom is in the picture, I didn't do a very good job adjusting for the light, so it's pretty dark on that side).


The bus next took us to the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit. First they took us all into a room where they had set up the actual Apollo launch control center, but modified it to run as part of a simulation of a Saturn V launch. It was actually quite good (after all my complaining). The external shots of the engines firing are all on three giant display screens above the control room and the video was quite impressive. This picture is dark, because the control room is dark while a launch is going on - I took one of the room with a flash after the simulation was complete and it just looks dead, so I like this (dark one) better...


We went from the launch control room into a giant building that houses a complete Saturn V rocket, including the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and Apollo spacecraft.


There are a few exhibits around the room, not many, but a few. Here is a picture of an Apollo space suit and one of Mom touching a moon rock.


After the Apollo exhibit, we got back on the bus to the main visitors center. They have a new ride called the "Shuttle Launch Experience". It is basically an amusement park ride, but based on the space shuttle launch and used a lot of astronaut input to make it as realistic as possible. Camera's and backpacks have to be locked up before the ride so I can't share an pictures except the outside of the building. But the ride shakes and rotates and makes if feel a little like G-forces and of course with a lot of noise and video. It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was a lot of fun. (Mom opted out of this one, but she was able to watch it from the observation room).


In the main part of the visitors comples is a full scale replica of a space shuttle you can walk through and also some of it's external tanks. There were also other exhibits, but by this time the visitors complex was getting ready to close so we had to end our visit here (with a brief stop at the gift shop).


After this, we didn't have enough time left to visit the NWR so drove up the highway and found an RV park. I plan to take Mom to church in the morning, so we'll see - Saturday could be a fairly short blog day again.


Miles Driven - 79
Camped at Holiday Village (RV Campground) in Mims, FL

Posted by jl98584 08:38 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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I had no idea there was this much at Canaveral. When we went to Merritt Island NWR 4 years ago, we could see the launch pads in the distance, but we never went any closer. But it's a pity you didn't get to the NWR--you would have loved it, with lots of birds big enough to photograph relatively easily, even some Roseate Spoonbills.

In TX, have Robert take you to the Houston NASA site. It's been several years since we went, but at least then it was much more informative than what you describe.

by msj

sounds like you had a "spacey" day! sorry it was dummed down, but interesting anyway, it seems. It has warmed up here, maybe in the low 50's? but supposes to snow or something maybe monday? it said something on the radio about it this morning. it has been snowing a lot in the cascades, I heard 20 inches at crystal mountain last night on a base of 91 inches. no skiing on rocks this year!

by drque

Actually, same thing happened at JSC several years ago. NASA visitor center was replaced by "Space Center Houston" which I don't like as much, but school kids do, so it is usually crawling with screaming kids running from one "ride" or hands-on exhibit to another. Still, it does have some good features, including the tours of the JSC control room, training facilities and labs.

by TexasRTJ

Yes, I'm sorry we missed the NWR (just got as far as the Manatee's, would have loved to see the Roseate Spoonbills however). Kennedy Space Center was mixed, not all bad at all, but I'd have preferred a bit more perhaps. I'll leave it up to Robert's judgement as to what he'd like us to see in Houston - I'm kind of curious what he'll recommend!

by jl98584

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