It must be at least every other little boy’s dream to visit the only space centre there is on earth, at least the only one properly accessible to the public. When the opportunity arose on our last visit to Florida in November, we (or at least Ørjan) were giddy like a schoolboy at the prospect of seeing live all the rockets and stuff at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Since December 1968 Kennedy Space Centre has been the primary launch centre of human space flight. Operations like Mercury (first human space flight programme), Gemini (second human space flight programme) and Apollo (humans to the moon programme, with Apollo 11 taking the first 2 humans to the surface of the moon in 1969), the Skylab project and the Space Shuttle Programs were all launched by NASA from Kennedy Space Centre. The amount of awesome rocket launches into space from this facility is truly mind boggling. In modern times the new moon and beyond project of Artemis (check out our view of the launch the day before) is located at the centre, plus the new Space X and other commercial operators use the 48 launch pads scattered around the enormous area that is Cape Canaveral on Merritt Island. In addition to all the space stuff, and due to the island’s relative remoteness and isolation, it is also a big sanctuary for birds and other animals.
It was a big occasion, especially for Ørjan, space has always fascinated him, and seeing rocket launches on documentaries, moon landings, space shuttle launches and other historical programmes on TV, it was an excited boy that visited the day after witnessing the Artemis 1 launch from the same location.
The parking lot was huge, and empty, we visited in off season, and we cannot imagine all the cars and people on a high season day. It was like visiting a bar on Sunday morning, not many people, and we had the place more or less to ourselves. The parking cost 10 dollars, and the entrance fee was around 80 dollars per person, with add-ons if you wish, like meeting an astronaut and other immersion experiences. We chose the “normal” ticket. Entering the complex you have the rocket garden on your left, models of all the different rockets used during the space programmes during the years.
Lots of different buildings and restaurants in a big square, not many were open when we visited. The first thing we headed to was the bus service to the Saturn rocket complex. There are probably very long lines here in high season, and it must be getting very hot, but the buses seemed to run quite often even when we were almost alone. The bus trip takes you along and around the huge and iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, by volume one of the biggest in the world, it is where rockets and shuttles are assembled before transported on huge crawlers to their launch site. It has a big American flag in the side, each star on the flag is big enough to park a bus on it. Fascinating!
Arriving at the Saturn complex, we were guided into a big hall with an awesome video with grand music, showing the history of the place. After this, we were guided into a new room with a replica of the launch centre that launched Apollo 11 to the moon. It was a great spectacle, original recordings of the pre lift off sequences, and ending in a crescendo of the world’s most powerful vehicle ever taking off from the launch pad. And at the end, tadaaa! The door opened to the huge hall that keeps Saturn 5 rocket replica.
It is hard to describe the awesomeness of entering at the business end of a Saturn 5 rocket. The 5 engines looming like gigantic megaphones of doom overhead. Just thinking about the pure power of the F1 rocket engine is an almost futile task. The power of the fuel pump alone is about the same as a 747 jumbo jet with all 4 engines on full power! It is the most powerful single combustion chambre rocket engine ever built. On full tilt those 5 engines gobbled up 20 tonnes (40 000 pounds) of fuel per second!
Walking along the whole rocket we were struck by the scale of it all, the numbers are just silly. The first stage alone carries around 2 million litres (around half a million gallons) of kerosene and liquid oxygen. Stage 2 carries almost 1,3 million litres (around 340 000 gallons) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The third stage carries around 320 000 litres (86 000 gallons) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. All this fuel is used in around 11 minutes until the craft has attained enough speed to reach earth orbit, and then the third stage is fired again to send the Apollo spacecraft out of earth orbit towards the moon. It’s a 2-3 minutes’ walk to reach the top of the spacecraft, and there it is, the tiny pod that contained the three astronauts going to the moon, plus the moon lander. It is like a gallon bottle of fuel to push a Nickle into space.
There are great exhibits all around the hall and in smaller rooms adjoining the grand room with the Saturn 5. Original pods that landed in the sea after missions, space suits, space rocks and of course a space gift shop. It was truly awesome, and for Ørjan, this was almost enough, and he could have gone home a happy man.
We did, of course explore some more, after having a bus to ourselves we were driven back to the main centre where we walked to the space shuttle complex. Outside the complex are replicas of the solid rocket boosters used on the space shuttles, easily recognisable by the orange paint. Inside there was a circular concourse and after entering a grand hall, a nice video and music presentation of the space shuttle missions. The cool part was at the end when the whole end wall came up and revealed the Atlantis space shuttle, no replica, this was the real deal with marks and burns after being shot to space and re-entering back to earth. Again, there were lots of cool interactive displays, engines, space memorabilia and a very touching memorial to the astronauts lost on the Challenger and Columbia accidents.
We are sure that we could have used a full day, even two days on exploring more of the space centre. We used only a morning from 9am to lunch, and we are sure that we would have had to use much more time if the crowds had been bigger. We chose to see what the highlights to us were, the awesomeness of the Saturn 5 and the moon landing, and the space shuttle. Kennedy Space Centre is a kid’s dream, no matter how old that kid is, space is still the final frontier.