The Kennedy Space Center: Reaching for the Stars

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Last year Michael & I celebrated our 10th Anniversary. We decided to take a trip, just the two of us. A chance to enjoy each other’s company, without the hustle and bustle of work/kids/school and our everyday lives. We weren’t able to get away until the winter so we spent the whole year planning the perfect escape, deciding on a Caribbean cruise sailing out of Port Canaveral Florida.

With the kids off to Grandma’s (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.) we were ready for an adventure.

We received help with our planning by reading online reviews. We learned about the must see places and picked up insider tips to make the most out of our time and money. Over the next week I will be blogging about our travels. It’s my way of giving back to that community of travelers.

So lets shake up the winter cold with some Caribbean memories.  Brrrr, it’s cold out there!

Up, up and away!

Our adventures started in the wee hours of the morning in Vancouver, BC. We had 3 connecting flights and a long day of travel ahead. The flights were smooth, and we enjoyed an excellent lunch in Minneapolis with a stop in at Twinburger for a Jucy Lucy. It was delicious!

We arrived in Orlando just past midnight, stuffed our bags in our Budget rental car and made our way to a nearby airport Best Western. It wasn’t anything special. Just a place to rest our heads.

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On the road again

In the morning we loaded the car and began the hours drive to Cape Canaveral for a day at the Kennedy Space Station. On the way, I fidgeted with the tuner trying to find some good driving music while watching the scenery roll by. I kept my eyes out for roadside alligators or Dexter while Michael was tasked with navigating the hair pin turns and treacherous roads.

…O’kay, so it’s actually a straight shot from Orlando to Cape Canaveral. There’s nowhere to get lost to. We saw no crazed alligators or vengeance filled serial killers, just a lots and lots of palm trees… and tolls. Can’t forget the tolls.

It was really quite lovely.

As we approached Merritt Island the lush greenery and trees densified. It was beautiful! Merritt Island hosts not only the Kennedy Space Center but also a National Wildlife Refuge. 220 square miles of wetlands & protected habitat. Home and nesting ground for more than 500 species including: Manatee, Sea Turtles, birds and of course alligators.

I knew they were there! Even if I didn’t see any of it myself.

From NASA’s website:

“No discussion of wildlife at Kennedy is complete without mentioning alligators! While the interactions between man and alligator are few, the biggest problem is during Shuttle landings. Prior to each Kennedy Shuttle landing, it is the task of a special crew to clear the runway of all debris, including any alligators that might be sunning themselves on the runway surface.”

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Houston we have landed

Finally we had arrived. Really, there was no chance of getting lost. The big orange shuttle booster rockets were kinda hard to miss. (Fun fact: the orange of the boosters was the colour of the undercoating. They stopped painting them white because the paint was just too heavy. Weighing in at about 500lbs just for paint!) Michael stopped to take some important work calls before we headed in to the complex. Yipee! Watremark_DSC_3329Watremark_DSC_3336Watremark_DSC_3357

Heroes & Icons

We traveled during the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. There was quite a touching scene at the entry fountain. The speakers were playing old news casts about the assassination with many gathered at the fountain to take pictures and pay tribute. John F. Kennedy was a leader that inspired, for that we are ever grateful. Watremark_DSC_3347Michael & I have a deep admiration for the Space Program. This trip to NASA was especially thrilling after following the adventures of Chris Hadfield last year. While he served as Commander of the International Space Station the Canadian Astronaut launched a social media campaign that was out of this world. My kids call it epic. I call it brilliant. With You-tube videos aimed to inspire tomorrow’s astronauts, Commander Hadfield reignited a love affair our nation has with all things Space.

He’s like a science rock star.

You can see why every Canadian kid wants to be an Astronaut. Even a few adult kids. Watremark_DSC_3370Watremark_DSC_3360

One small step for man

We spent the morning talking eagerly about the beginnings of space travel and marveling at how far we’ve come. We wandered through displays of early rockets and crew capsules. We were awed at the tight confines and the scorched reinforced glass windows that separated man from space. Such ambition, such enthusiasm, such nerves of steel! There was a lot to see. We were glad we made an early start to our day and could spend time wandering the exhibits early on, before the crowds came in.  Watremark_DSC_3382Watremark_DSC_3389Watremark_DSC_3414Watremark_DSC_3418Watremark_DSC_3423Watremark_NASA

The Rocket Gardens

We wandered through the main complex, visiting all of the exhibits and displays. One area that impressed on us greatly was the Rocket Gardens. On display Mercury-Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets filled the gardens and skies with their presence. Like absurdly beautiful statues. This garden had it’s own quirky personality. The tall sleek forms in stark contrast with the abundant natural beauty, glistening in the Florida sun. Watremark_DSC_3812Watremark_Rocket GardensWatremark_DSC_3538

Lunch with an Astronaut

We booked our tickets for NASA online in advance, and when we did so we spotted the option to have lunch with an Astronaut. It was reasonable, costing only $25 above general gate admission. It included a buffet lunch, and a Q & A with an Astronaut. We didn’t need any convincing. We were in!

We feasted on an ample lunch and enjoyed at least one glass of tang each. Just for the pure nostalgia of it. We were joined for lunch by Bob Springer retired Astronaut. It was a real pleasure meeting Bob. He shared stories from his flight missions and answered questions about the rigorous recruitment process he went through to become an Astronaut.

From his bio:

“STS-29 Discovery (March 13 to March 18, 1989) was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  During 80 orbits of the Earth on this highly successful 5-day mission, the crew deployed a tracking and data relay satellite and performed numerous secondary experiments, including a space station heat pipe radiator experiment, two student experiments, a protein crystal growth experiment and a chromosome and plant cell division experiment.  In addition, the crew took more than 4,000 photographs of the Earth using several types of cameras, including the IMAX 70mm movie camera.  Mission duration was 119 hours and concluded with a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. STS-38 Atlantis (November 15 to November 20, 1990) was launched at night from Kennedy Space Center.  During the 5-day mission, the crew conducted Department of Defense operations.  After 80 orbits of the Earth, in the first shuttle recovery in Florida since 1985, Space Shuttle Atlantis and her crew landed back at Kennedy Space Center.  In completing his second mission, Springer logged more than 237 hours in space.”

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To know her, is to love her

After lunch we headed to the newest feature at the Kennedy Space Center; Atlantis. This was a massive project which opened in the summer of 2013. The Atlantis shuttle experience combined a breathtaking I-max type movie with an exhibit featuring Atlantis herself. Hung in a modern multi level building purpose built to house this magnificent ship, along with a host of interactive displays and rides. There was a lot to take in. After travelling over 125,935,769 miles in space, here she was. The magnificence of space travel right there in front of us. It was inspiring.

“That is the most graceful, beautiful vehicle we’ve ever had to fly in space.” – Astronaut Rex Walheim

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Visiting NASA was a stimulating and enjoyable way to spend our pre cruise day on the Space Coast. A beautiful blend of nature, science and technology. If I was to have one criticism it would be about the plants. While their gardens were beautiful, well planted and cared for. The same couldn’t be said in their displays. In an exhibit featuring robotics and automated grow systems they used fake plants in the interactive display. Boy, I wasn’t interested in watching machines self regulate & water fake plants. Yet, I was stuck doing just that.Watremark_DSC_3605It struck me as rather odd that the people who put systems like this into the International Space Center couldn’t keep plants growing here in a climate controlled room, on Earth, in Florida, in an ideal climate.

It felt like a fail.

That wasn’t the only place we ran into the fake stuff. An entire exhibit on the nature conservation efforts on Merritt Island was filled with fake grasses and plastic plants. It was a little depressing. We didn’t stay in these areas long. Retreating instead to the hot Florida sun where the plants were happy, flourishing under their gardeners dedicated care.Watremark_DSC_3606Watremark_NASA GardensWatremark_DSC_3342

Refueling

Our day at the Kennedy Space Center was a day well spent. We recharged our imaginations and filled our minds. We didn’t see all there was to take in. The place is simply too large for it all to be done in one day. While wholly fulfilling, the day left us wanting more. A return visit with the kids is high on my vacation wish list.   We will return.

Watremark_DSC_3798Up next: Cocoa Beach, Florida.

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