Last week we went on a vacation to Florida. As part of our visit, we got to visit the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral. The KSC is part of NASA and it holds some really amazing things. It is also where NASA rockets launch from. We were there to learn about rockets, space, and the Earth.
We took the KSC Bus Tour where we saw a mock-up of the rocket that Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, flew. The Blast Deflector was tiny compared to the ones we have now. Along the tour we saw alligators, manatees, wild boars, a bald eagles nest, and tons of birds.
We passed by the VAB or the Vehicle Assembly Building. It was HUGE. It is the tallest single-story building in the world. The 12 ft. doors that humans use looked like mouse holes to us compared to the doors that they moved rockets through. They are the tallest doors in the world and they take 45 minutes to open. They assemble all of the main parts of large rockets in the high bays inside.
We got to drive near Launch Pads 39A and 39B. They are the largest launch pads on Space Coast, the coast where all of the launch pads are. 39A is where SpaceX is launching their rockets from. 39B is where NASA will launch the Space Launch System (SLS) in the future.
The way that NASA transports the rockets from the VAB to the Launch Pad is by using a vehicle called a Crawler, and a Mobile Launch Platform (MLP). The rocket stands upright on the MLP which is raised above the ground. The Crawler will drive underneath the MLP and pick up the entire launch platform and rocket. The Crawler can carry over 24,000,000 lbs. which will enable it to carry very heavy rockets like the SLS. The Crawler Way, the path that the Crawler travels on, is 7 feet deep into the ground. It is filled with 5 different types of rocks to support the Crawler’s weight and its cargo. One of the types of rocks is from Tennessee and it is the only rock that will not make a spark from the crawlers treads. It takes the Crawler 4-5 hours to go from the VAB to the Launch Pads at a speed around 1 mph.
We visited the Apollo/Saturn V Center where we got to see the different stages of the rocket in all in one place. It’s the tallest rocket in the whole world. The Space Shuttle has about the same amount of thrust, but it is a much smaller rocket. We couldn’t believe how such a big thing could get up into space. The command module, where the astronauts were, was tiny in comparison with the rest of the rocket. We learned that you have to be going really fast to be able to break the earth’s gravity and go into orbit. They have to jettison the boosters because they are too heavy to carry once they run out of fuel.
One of the main exhibits in the Visitor Center was the Atlantis Exhibit. We saw the actual Space Shuttle called Atlantis. Atlantis was the next to last out of the five Space Shuttles built, and it flew the last mission. It was so cool to see it; some of the tiles had streaks on them because of the heat. Some of the other exhibits told us about the Hubble Telescope. NASA is developing another telescope called the James Webb Telescope that will be studying the birth of galaxies. Because of how long it takes light to travel, we can see things that happened billions of years ago if they were very far away. The telescope will also look for exoplanets and signs of life or water. The James Webb Telescope will be launched by another space organization, which is really cool.
We watched an IMAX movie called A Beautiful Planet. It was filmed in the International Space Station or the ISS. It taught about how to care for our planet and it showed beautiful views of the Earth from the ISS.
The next day, we got to have a private tour of KSC. Our tour guide was Mr. Malcolm Glenn. He was really nice to us and he was very energetic. He knew so much about NASA and taught us lots of interesting things.
He took us to see the VAB up close. Our necks hurt after a while looking up. The VAB has an American flag painted on it that is 21 stories tall. That was pretty cool.
We got to see a hangar filled with cool jets and helicopters! The planes belonged to a company called Starfighters. Apparently you can go up to 80,000 ft. in them. We thought that was really cool. We didn’t know that NASA had Huey helicopters either.
A full size mock-up of a Space Shuttle was built and was previously in the Astronaut Hall of Fame at KSC. Now the Hall of Fame is closed and being relocated closer to the visitor center. The mock-up, named Inspiration, is now sitting on the KSC property. We went to see it and it was very funny to see a full size Space Shuttle sitting in the middle of grass and bushes.
We also got to go to the Launch Control Center (LCC). We were super excited to go into one of the Firing Rooms! We sat down and looked through some of the procedures for a launch. We got to see the Launch Director’s Chair and see all of the different binders and procedures for each launch. Each Firing Room has a plaque for every mission that was controlled from that particular Firing Room.
On one of the walls of the LCC they had artwork that was done by the astronauts children for each launch. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have one of your parents be an astronaut and have them go into space. You would be so worried during the launch. We thought it was really cool that those kids could be a part of the mission and be remembered by everyone who walked by that hallway.
The most amazing part of the whole trip was getting to see a rocket launch. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V MUOS-5. It was launching the MUOS-5 satellite into orbit. The MUOS system is for the U.S. Navy. It was really amazing to watch the rocket launch. We went to an area that was quite close to the rocket so we got a very good view. When the rocket took off it left this huge plume of smoke and it was amazing to watch it shoot up into the sky. It was so fast that the rocket was out of our view in less than a minute. There was a delay in us hearing the sound that the rocket made because it took some time for the sound waves to reach us. Even so, it was extremely loud. It felt like a small earthquake was happening underneath us and there was a rumbling in our chests. It was a truly amazing experience and we will never forget how awe-inspiring that was.
Thank you Mr. Malcolm Glenn for being our special escort that day and sharing all your knowledge and experience about NASA with us. It was an unforgettable experience!