December 11, 2017

Touring the KSC: It’s a Space Coast Weekend!

The Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC…(All photos by Author)

Only now, the story can be told; a true tale of our recent invite to tour the Kennedy Space Center! I know, as long time readers of this astro-forum you are probably saying that we’ve been over these hallowed grounds of space-dom many times before, what with our initial tour of the KSC back in 2008 our NASATweetup adventures at the launch of STS-132 and space shuttle Atlantis and our tips for launch-spotting off of the Space Coast. You might even say that the KSC-Cape is our Mecca, our Graceland to which we always return… and this invite to join the Central Florida TBEX Chapter this past weekend did not disappoint, and we got to see a few new sights and gain some valuable info, to boot…

The ever-photogenic Rocket Garden.

The day dawned crisp and clear as we met host Andrea Farmer (@AndreaFarmer on Twitter) for our day of fun and space travel in front of the rocket garden. Andrea and all at NASA and the KSC visitor center did a top notch job; they’ve definitely got more than just space travel down to a science. We hit some of the familiar perennial sites and caught the ever-impressive Hubble 3D IMAX movie that we had previously reviewed upon its debut. But some new additions are evident amongst old sights. An impressive mural of the International Space Station now adorns the entrance, accurate enough for teaching how assembly had progressed over the past decade (dude, I think I see the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer!)

An outstanding and truly International Space Station mural.

A mock up of the Orion/MPCV/name-to-be-determined capsule is now at the entrance, a sort of “Apollo on steroids” for the future. About the size of a large camper van, be sure to pause and imagine yourself sharing such a space with 3 fellow astronauts for a 21 day extended mission to an Earth-Crossing asteroid.

But not all is science fact at the KSC…yet. An all new Star Trek: The Exhibition now adorns the site, for all who have ever wanted to sit in the Captain’s chair or view an extensive phaser collection up close.

SPOCK…

The Star Trek exhibit is very tastefully done, and considering that Old School Trek and NASA are some of my very earliest memories, (I probably said “Beam me up” before “Mom” or “Dad”) the exhibit serves as a sort of clearing house of our early childhood.

We also got to experience another event that has been long running at the KSC; lunch with an astronaut. The astronaut was Scott Parazynski (@spotscott) a veteran of five (two away from the record!) space shuttle missions (STS-66, -86, -95, -100, -120). A flight surgeon, scuba diver, and accomplished rock climber, Parazynski is also the only astronaut to have summited Everest, accomplishing the equally impressive feat in 2009.  (Cool factoid: just over 4,000 individuals have summited Everest to date; +500 have been in space, still a more select club by an 8-to-1 ratio!) Parazynski answered questions ranging from the traditional “How do you ‘go’ in space?” to topical issues on a journey to Mars and the future of NASA.

Astronaut, Mountaineer, Flight Surgeon & all around Great Guy Scott Parzynski.

But it was good to see some old faves as well. I couldn’t resist the teachable moment by the “astro-marble,” the large spinning planisphere depicting constellations in the sky. Probably only meriting a glance or two by passersby on the way to the shuttle buses, we can’t seem to resist its draw as we point our Sirius, Vega, and the like… what a cool spot this would be for a star party! (Anybody at NASA, take note!)

Always the focus of our attention, the “Astro-Marble…”

We wove in and out of the general tours, taking in the familiar Apollo experience and driving past such icons as the transport crawler and the massive Vehicle Assembly Building. A fortuitous parting of the tourist crowds also afforded us a glimpse of the famous astro-van;

An unobstructed view of the venerable Astro-Van…

We also got to tour some areas not generally accessible on the main tour, such as the shuttle landing runway, launch pad 39A and the United State Air Force launch viewing platform. Trust me, I’ve been down to retraction during a shuttle tweetup, and we never got into those areas!

Bloggers on the loose!

…And what’s new and up and coming at KSC? Well, we couldn’t help but notice a Skylab mockup unlabeled but ready to go at the back end of the Apollo theatre museum. Also, the orbiter Atlantis will eventually be on display at the KSC; plans are to start ground-breaking in 2012 and have a display featuring the shuttle in flight with its payload bay doors open starting in 2013. Certainly, the fly outs of Endeavour to Los Angeles and Discovery to Washington D.C. within the next year aboard their respective 747 transport aircraft will be memorable events.

And don’t forget, NASA is still in the space business! In addition to a permanent manned presence aboard the ISS, several thrilling unmanned missions are underway throughout the solar system, including GRAIL, Juno, and New Horizons, just to name a few… and Mars Curiosity is due to launch on Black Friday out of Cape Canaveral, complete with a freshly announced NASATweetup… we may just make the pilgrimage for this one. Hey, can you put redundant organs on Craigslist? Got a kidney I’m not using…

And the Astroguyz speculation persists that the KSC visitor’s center will have “something big” to add to their repertoire soon… a tour of the VAB? Expanded tour coverage of facilities? Spins around the block in the shuttle(s)? Whatever the case, do checkout the goings on of our nation’s space program and allot yourself at least a full day to explore the KSC; we’ve been there several times and still have yet to see it all!

A Skylab display; the next new/old thing?

All in all, it was a memorable weekend… a quick shout out to all Central Florida TBEXers, Kirby and Bev Collins of Places Around Florida (thanks for the hospitality and the 4Gb free thumb drive(s)!, The Hampton Inn at Cocoa Beach, Milliken’s Reef for putting up with our boisterous behavior and the guy who consistently skewered our order at Burger King (hey, at least he was consistent, if not NASA material!)…and KSC for the cool swag bag… hopefully, we’ll be crossing our next two Space Coast goals off of our bucket list soon; a tour of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station museum and attendance of the Mars Curiosity launch!

Rockets!!! The business end of a Saturn V.

 

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