Space Tour Part Two: Kennedy Space Center

After our visit to the home of the first rockets, we planned a trip to see where the rockets are launched!

Kennedy Space Center entrance

Kennedy Space Center is the home of manned space exploration and you immediately get the sense of how history is continuing to happen in Cape Canaveral. Just turning into the main parking area you get a panoramic view that includes an enormous blue building that houses Jeff Besos’ Blue Origin. Elon Musk’s SpaceX also continues to send manned and unmanned rockets into orbit with regularity from the historic Launch Pad 39A. Unfortunately, our visit did not coincide with a current rocket launch, but living in Florida, we’ve gotten to see a few spectacular launches from our back yard over the years. You can view rocket launches all along Florida’s Atlantic Coast with the right weather conditions and trajectory. Night time launches are particularly spectacular.

SpaceX launch
Not a comet – This is an evening SpaceX – Starlink launch, as viewed from our back yard.
Planning Ahead During COVID:

Kennedy Space Center has cleverly named their Health & Safety Protocols “Trusted Space.” Ticket reservations are required in advance, so plan ahead to purchase your ticket. All visitors are temperature checked upon entry and anyone two or older must wear a mask. Only the main complex (no bus tours) is open during limited hours, but it is still worth the visit with less crowds around. Plus the center is running a special right now: buy one day and receive a FREE return visit in 2021. A great deal if you a planning a second visit later on.

Our first stop was the Rocket Garden. We wanted to see it during the cool of the morning because wearing a mask in the heat of the day can be a lot. Check out the full detail of each rocket on NASA’s Payload blog.

Without the bus tours of the launch facilities, and no access to the Apollo era exhibit, only the main Visitors Center is open to the public. In a way, its a great opportunity to really explore the Visitors Center to its fullest. After the Rocket Garden, we took in the the NASA mission briefing in the Universe Theatre. There was an informative video presentation about Artemis and SLS (the Space Launch System), the planned lunar gateway, the ongoing plans for the exploration of Mars, and other missions. It was very informative and manages to entertain. Curiously absent was any information about SpaceX or Blue Origin’s partnerships with NASA. SpaceX is currently fulfilling a cargo contract for NASA to the International Space Station and at the time of our visit had just gotten certification for manned flight of the Crew Dragon. SpaceX will start launching astronauts on their Crew Dragon in November marking America’s return to manned spaceflight from U.S. soil.

After the briefing we headed off to Journey to Mars. There you will be treated to replicas and displays of the past exploration of the red planet, including the the rovers sent to the planet. Sojourner, Spirit & Opportunity, and Curiosity have all paved the way giving us insight and setting up our latest mission. The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. There are also some simulators and even a couple of models of Artemis and the SLS. Some of the other buildings and exhibits are undergoing updates and remodeling, but there is plenty to explore.

The building not miss on your visit is the Space Shuttle Atlantis Zone. The entrance to this area is enough to bring a grown man to tears (true story). Get up close with Space Shuttle Atlantis and the history and inner workings of the space shuttle program. Worth the wait is the Shuttle Launch Experience ride. It is a hands on experience of how a shuttle launches into orbit.

Its a strange and interesting time in manned space exploration. With the space shuttle program in mothballs and Artemis & the SLS a prototype without a successful launch test, we could be renting time on Russian Rockets. SpaceX however, has Dragon and Crew Dragon, and are rapidly developing Starship. Blue Origin is creeping steadily to completion on the New Shepherd Program, and will soon debut the New Glenn Launch System. There is more competition and more development than we have had since the space race of the 1970’s. The International Space Station has been invaluable for developing our understanding of humans in space, but it is only a low earth orbit observation post. We are going back to the Moon. There are plans for a gateway orbiting the moon that will help us leap to Mars. The red planet is calling and you can learn about it all on Florida’s Space coast.

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