This morning, we had a scheduled departure time of 8:00, and we left the house at 8:15. It was generally agreed that this was acceptable, considering it was Day 12 of our trip.
We drove out to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at Cape Canaveral. This is only about 60 miles from where we are staying. We arrived around 10:30, and after we made our way through security (I would call it tighter than airport security), we found out there was going to be a satellite launch at KSC this morning. This put us all in a great mood, and we couldn’t believe our great luck.
The launch window for the satellite (it was a spy satellite) was from 10:00 to 12:00. When we arrived, the launch was scheduled for 11:17, and it was announced over the PA that the launch was pushed back to 11:44. We figured we could live with that, but then as that time approached, the launch was scrubbed altogether. What a disappointment.
The KSC has a very nice, and generously-sized, visitor center. There was some debate in our group about the justification to charge a healthy admission fee to visit a government facility. This is definitely not the norm. But as we found out, you got a lot for your money, not to mention that the parking and strollers were free.
The centerpiece of a visit to KSC would be their Bus Tour. The bus drivers are great tour guides, and explain what you are seeing, as they drive you to two different sites at the Space Center. The buses were great, and had multiple televisions, which broadcast a show about KSC. Our first visit was to a building which had lots of great props and relics of the Apollo flights. There was a full size Saturn rocket laying lengthwise in this building. This is a huge rocket. If I remember correctly, it is about 340 feet long. It was the keystone to our manned flights to the moon. We spent A LOT of time at this tour stop, and we finally had to tear ourselves away, even thought we left quite a bit behind without seeing it.
On the way to this first stop, we drove past the MASSIVE Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the building where they prepare the Space Shuttles for launch. The inside of this building is cavernous, to the extent that it has a special ventilation system in place, otherwise clouds could form within the building, and there could even be rain. That’s a BIG building!
The next step was at a building which deals with the International Space Station. You are allowed to look into their Clean Room, and we could see several large pieces of the Space Station that are set to be launched into space during the next Shuttle flight.
On the drive back to the Visitors Center, the driver pointed out an eagle’s nest in a roadside tree. This nest was approximately 40 years old, and it is estimated that it would weight about 700 pounds. It looked big enough to hold a pterodactyl.
Also on the way back, the driver pointed out that we were very near the world’s largest runway, which the Shuttle uses, on those occasions that it lands at KSC. The KSC runway checks in at 15,000 feet (approximately 3 miles). This also caused some debate in our group, as it is believed that the runway in Burns Flat, Oklahoma, is 5 miles long. The KSC runway is also 300 feet wide, so perhaps they are taking into account the full dimensions of the runway when they claim the one at KSC is the biggest.
Upon our return to the Visitors Center, everybody but PK and Marissa rode a space shuttle simulation called “The Space Shuttle Experience”. As they pointed out, this is not a Thrill Ride, but a Simulation. However, the loading procedure, the pre-ride show, and the ride itself, were definitely of the same quality that you would find down the road at Walt Disney World. This Space Shuttle Experience only opened two weeks ago, at a cost of 60 million dollars. It was said that the first 24 people to ride the simulator were actually people who have ridden in the Space Shuttle. They all claimed it is just like the real thing, except the simulator was louder than they remember. (It was pointed out that when the Space Shuttle is going faster than the speed of sound, you don’t have a lot of problems with loud noises.)
We also watched an IMAX movie about NASA’s trips to the moon. KK & PK (and Marissa) also watched a second IMAX movie about the space station, which they said was much better than the moon movie.
KSC also has “The World’s Largest Space Gift Shop”. I know this because it was painted right onto the side of the gift shop. There were numerous other exhibits, but the Visitors Center closes at 6:00 p.m., and we couldn’t nearly get to everything they offered. A person could easily spend two days there, and I would certainly recommend that over just a one day visit.
Since we were close to Cocoa Beach, we decided to drive the 20 miles or so South, and eat dinner at the beach. We hauled our ice chest out to the cocoa-colored sand, and had a nice swim in the Atlantic Ocean on our last night in Florida. The weather was very pleasant all day (high in the low 80s), and for the first time since we arrived in Orlando, it did not rain today. Those rains are so predictable in the late afternoon or early evening. It literally did rain every day for the past week, about that time.
One bit of excitement we ran into at the beach was that somebody caught a 9 foot lemon shark. They had him pulled up on the beach, and there was quite the crowd around him. It was a beautiful creature, and I suspect this might have been the first shark this fellow ever caught. Kind of reminds me of the saying about what is the dog going to do with the car once he catches it.
After dinner and a swim, we set out in search of the Ron Jon Surf Shop. Erin’s Dad & brother had visited Cocoa Beach & Ron Jon earlier in the week. They advised us that Ron Jon is open 24 hours a day, so we knew they’d be open. I am sure that this place started out as a hole in the wall place selling surfboards and bikinis, but they now operate out of a two-story, 52,000 square foot facility. It was quite impressive. You can buy pretty much anything with the words “Ron Jon” stamped on it. Think “Eskimo Joes”, but with a surfing theme.
After that, it was a quick stop at a local ice cream parlor for dessert, and then back on the highway to get to Orlando.
Tomorrow we begin our two day drive back to Oklahoma.