"" Writer's Wanderings: Kennedy Space Center - The Shuttle and Beyond

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kennedy Space Center - The Shuttle and Beyond

Our visit to the Kennedy Space Center was a few months too early to see the space shuttle Atlantis which has its own special exhibit being prepared. A huge building right at the corner of the street where you turn into the space center is expected to be opened in August of 2013.

The Space Shuttle program known officially as the Space Transportation System operated from 1981 to 2011. The shuttle has the distinction of being the only winged manned spacecraft that not only achieved orbit but also was the lander and was the only reusable space vehicle to make multiple flights into orbit.

Walkway to shuttle at launch
When the vision for space included a space station, the shuttle idea became the key to its building and supply. Basically it was said to be a flying truck.

After watching so many landings in the sea with the earlier programs, it was exciting to see the shuttle actually land on an airstrip. Just as exciting was seeing the shuttle piggybacked on a 747 to be transported from a California landing strip to the Florida space facility.

The program lasted so long that the media rarely mentioned the launches, connections with the space shuttle and the landings. Of course they were right there for the Challenger and Columbia disasters where we unfortunately lost several astronauts and scientists and a teacher. As cable and satellite TV grew more popular, NASA came up with its own channel and true enthusiasts like my son and his son could watch every launch and every mission.

Vehicle Assembly Building
A few years ago our Florida son, Rob, was able to obtain tickets for us to go see a launch. Several members of the family went as we were at that time visiting Orlando. Unfortunately I was very ill with bronchitis and couldn't make the trip. Everyone came back with wonderful stories of their experience and I'm so glad they got to see the shuttle launched as the program was soon to be shut down.

Launch pad #39
As you tour Kennedy Space Center, the bus takes you by the Vehicle Assembly Building where the shuttle was prepared for launch. It was rolled out of the building in a vertical position thus many of those upper "garage doors" needed to be open as well. It would make its way down a gravel path to launch pad #39 where it was set in place and readied for take off.

While we couldn't see the Atlantis, up the road from Kennedy just outside the Astronauts Hall of Fame (included in your general admission ticket) is the Inspiration, a mock up of the real space shuttles. It was quite impressive and a good tease for what will be the real thing when the Atlantis exhibit opens.

Today the space station is supplied by private industry and other countries launching space vehicles. NASA is now gearing up for further adventures however. Exploring other planets and deep space is now a joint venture with some commercial companies.

We walked through a display that explained the use of robots to explore planets and outer space. The Hubble is sending back amazing pictures and the Mars rover is sending back vital information to help us learn if man can survive on Mars--all in preparation for some spectacular adventures, but a travel adventure I'll pass on for now.

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