NASA: Space Shuttle Atlantis

If you have not visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in the last several years, there has been a big addition to the complex.  The Space Shuttle Atlantis was added to the list of attractions a few years ago.  They did an excellent job in designing  a unique building around the shuttle.  When you enter the building, you will view two short movies about the history of the shuttle program, before the curtain rises and you walk right into the nose of the Atlantis.  For many, it can be an emotional experience.

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What surprised us, was learning NASA started to work on the shuttle program back in 1969, during the Apollo program. Their goal was to develop a reusable spacecraft.  After 12 years, space shuttle Columbia was launched on April 12, 1981.  A total of five shuttles were built.  Two of them, Challenger and Columbia, were tragically lost in 1986 and 2003, respectively.   The Atlantis building contains a nice memorial to the astronauts that made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Atlantis was first launched in 1985, and flew its final mission July 8 -21, 2011.  In its 26 years of service, Atlantis made 33 missions with 207 astronauts, and flew a total of 126 million miles.  The shuttle is displayed with its cargo bay doors open, and the control arm out.

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The main purpose of the shuttle was to build the International Space Station (15 countries have worked together on this project), and launch and repair the Hubble Telescope.  The Atlantis building contains many interactive displays, were you can learn about the many experiments the astronauts undertook in space.  You can spend several hours just going through all the displays.  So many things that we take for granted today are a result of the space program.

This is what the bathroom looks like for the astronauts.

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The building also has a model of the Hubble Telescope, which was named after American astronomer Edwin P Hubble.  It was launched April 24, 1990, and is about the size of a school bus.  It is about 354 miles from Earth.

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In 2018, NASA will be launching a new telescope, James Webb Space Telescope, named after the NASA administrator who was a major part of the Apollo program.  It will be about the size of a tennis court, with a 21 foot mirror, and will eventually be 930,000 miles from Earth.  This is a 1/125th scale model of the telescope.


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The building also contains the Shuttle Launch Experience, which is launch simulation, included in your admission, along with many other simulators where you can land a shuttle, dock the shuttle and use the robotic arm.  Dan’s brother Gary and his wife Julia were down visiting in Florida and we spent a day at the Visitor’s Center.  We all tried to land the shuttle.  Julia was the only one of us that successfully landed the shuttle.  The rest of us crashed!

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We have made several visits to the Center before we left Florida.  Our annual pass does not expire until February of 2018, so we do plan on going back when we are back in Florida.  We still have several movies left to see, and they always seem to be adding in more exhibits.  They have some added tours that can be taken for an additional fee, and we would like to do those as well.  So next year I will have a few more posts on the Center.

We would highly recommend a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex.

Quote for the Day:  “The dream is alive.” – John Young, after landing the first Space Shuttle STS-1 at Edwards Air Force Base April 14, 1981.


NASA: Apollo Saturn V

After writing about the future of NASA, it’s time to visit the Apollo Saturn V building, located at the Kennedy Space Center.  When President John F. Kennedy stated on May 25, 1961, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth” NASA was faced with the task of developing a rocket that could achieve this mission.  The Saturn V rocket was developed and used successfully from 1968 to 1972.  The only way to see this rocket, is to take the complimentary bus tour to the building where an original, unused rocket is on display.   It is an impressive sight, and the building has been remodeled with some new displays.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic accident to Apollo 1, and they have added a nice memorial to the three astronauts that lost their lives in the fire.

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After watching a brief video, and then a simulated countdown of an Apollo launch, with all the original launch command room equipment, you walk right smack into the five F-1 engines located on the first stage of the rocket.  Using a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel, it could reach a speed of 6,000 miles per hour in three minutes.


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A side view of stage one.

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They have a small-scale model of the entire rocket, and spacecraft.  At 363 feet, it is difficult to photograph the original!

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The second stage of the rocket on display.

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The third stage will take the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit.

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The Apollo spacecraft on top of the rocket consists of three components:  the Lunar Module, Service Module and Command Module.  The Launch Escape System (below right)  is attached to the command module.   The photograph below displays an unused command module (with heat-reflective silver coating)  attached to a service module below the rocket.

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The building contains the command module from Apollo 14, which shows how scarred the spacecraft gets from re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.


Apollo 14 command module


Apollo 15 was set to carry this Lunar Module to the Moon.  However, NASA decided to also send up a Lunar Rover, so the module was redesigned, and this one was never flown in space.  It is a crazy looking thing, that seems to be wrapped in gold-colored aluminum foil.  The bottom half (with the “foil”) remains on the surface of the moon, and the astronauts return to the command module in the top half.

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A Lunar Rover, built from spare parts, is on display in the building.

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Along with a spacesuit from Gene Cernan.


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There are many additional displays and a few movies to view in the Apollo Saturn V Building.  With the bus tour, and stop at the building, you can easily spend 2 – 3 hours viewing the exhibits.  It is definitely a “must see” on your visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex.  Next up: the Space Shuttle.

Quote for the day:  “We hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program.” – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Commander Apollo One.




NASA: To Mars and Beyond

We have made several visits to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, just south of Titusville, Florida.  There are plenty of things to see and do, and a few exhibits are under construction, so we will have more to explore next year when we return to Florida.  The visitors complex is separate from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).   The visitors center is operated by an outside firm, and does not receive any government funding.  I will break up my blog into several posts, starting with the future of space exploration.

NASA continues to operate at the space center.  Some people are surprised by this, and think the space program was cancelled due to budget cuts from Congress several years ago.  They are no longer flying the Space Shuttle, as it had completed its two main missions:  build the International Space Station, and launch and repair the Hubble Telescope.  NASA has partnered with private companies such as SpaceX and Boeing to continue servicing the Space Station and sending satellites into orbit.  Both of the private companies are planning on sending manned trips to the Space Station.  Currently the United States has to pay Russia to send our astronauts up there.

NASA is focused on the next generation of space travel and exploration.  They are working on the most powerful rocket ever built, Space Launch System (SLS) and a new space craft, Orion, which will go to Mars.  The first launch, called Exploration Mission – 1, is tentatively scheduled for 2018.

There is a bus trip that takes you around KSC, as part of the admission to the Visitors Center.  The most famous building, visible for miles, is the 526 feet tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).  This building was constructed in the 1960s and was used for both the Apollo and Shuttle programs. It is now being modified for use to assemble Orion and SLS.

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Vehicle Assembly Building front view

This view below shows the side where the rocket exits the building and moves down the gravel road to the launch pad.  The building on the left is the launch control center.  Once the space craft and rocket booster has been assembled in the VAB, it will be moved down to the launch pad on a giant mover vehicle.

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vehicle mover

Construction is underway on the launch tower for the SLS.  This tower will eventually be moved to the launch pad.

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NASA will be using launch pad 39B, which was used for both the Apollo and Shuttle programs.  They are currently demolishing the old launch facility, and building a new tower to be placed on the launch pad.  This is the current view of pad 39B.  The towers that you see are lightning rods.

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SpaceX has obtained a 20 year lease to use launch pad 39A.  They recently launched Dragon-9 which carried supplies on a trip to the Space Station.  It was the first time this pad has been used in years. The white tower on the right in the picture below is what they use for their rocket launch pad.  The tower on the left is what remains from the shuttle program.

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The bus tour is very informative, both for the history and the future of the space program.  For an additional charge, there are several more in-depth tours that you can take.  We plan on doing this next year when we return, to see what has developed with Orion.  NASA has a model of the 364 feet spacecraft and rocket on the tower.  The spacecraft would be at the top of the model, just above the NASA logo.

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Below is what the Orion spacecraft will look like.  The base is 16 feet in diameter.  It can carry 4 – 6 astronauts.

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Orion model

NASA currently has 3 rovers on Mars.  They have models of all three on display in their newest exhibit, Journey to Mars. The smallest, Sojourner, landed in July of 1997, and broadcast images until September 1997.

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Sojourner Rover

In January of 2004, two rovers landed on opposite sides of Mars.  The Spirit mission ended March 2010, but Opportunity continues to roam around.

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Spirit/Opportunity Rovers

The larger Curiosity Rover is about the size of an ATV, and it landed in August of 2012.  It will break down and “digest” rock samples and send back data on what it “ate”.

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Curiosity Rover

It will be exciting to follow along on NASA’s progress in the Journey to Mars.  Right now they estimate sending humans to Mars in the 2030’s.  Stay tuned for additional posts on the center.

Quote of the Day:  “Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar examined, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked and even blasted.  Still to come:  Mars being stepped on.” – Buzz Aldrin, from his 2013 book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.