Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Kennedy Space Center

Yes, I know that Center is an incorrect spelling, but that's what it's called so that is how you spell it.

Regardless of correct spellings, there's a story to tell. Before I went on my anti-religion rant, and before I got all steamed up about being called 'Steve', I was telling you about my recent trip to Florida. Sadly for you I hadn't quite finished. Humour me.

The first thing to say is that Kennedy Space Center is not as easy to get to as the theme parks. It's almost two hours drive away from where we were staying and it is spread across three sites, none of which are within walking distance of each other. To get the full experience you have to take the bus tour, upon which you will be shown space travel-related DVD's and spoon-fed information about the USA's space programme by knowledgeable but worryingly distracted bus drivers. Our man somehow took a wrong turn by some important-looking launch-pads, and then spent the time it took to get back on track delighting in his mistake.

First port of call on the bus tour is the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Here's where you will find out more information than you can possibly digest about the numerous Apollo missions of the 1960's and 70's. Of course this includes the historical moon landings by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and that other bloke (Michael Collins), but it also covers the doomed Apollo 13 mission documented in the film with Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise. Interestingly, the background information on Apollo 13 is tucked away behind a dining area which makes it incredibly difficult to get to, as if it's failure is something that NASA would rather you didn't go into. I made a point of squeezing through the crowds to read the information anyway. All in the interests of balance, you understand.

Impressively, the enormous rocket used in one of those early missions is the centre-piece of the display. It stretches across the entire room and is an awe-inspiring, slightly intimidating presence.

Positivity is very important at KSC. As is paranoia. Listen to their tour guides and you will find out that the US space travel programme is all about exploration, discovery and the progression of the human race. By contrast, the Russian expeditions are the result of a sinister plan to attack from above. It still irks the Americans to note that the former Soviet Union managed to put a man into space before they did. To emphasise the point we were in a bar on International Drive a couple of days later, and were talking about our visit to the singer. He expressed his concern about what the Russians 'were doing up there', before lamenting President Obama's plan to get rid of Space Shuttles because of the expense.

Maybe even Barack doesn't believe that Armstrong ever walked on the moon.

Nevertheless, the moon landings are celebrated richly here, with an impressive video and stage presentation about the mission. I never realised that the crew came so close to being fried alive, but then I recall an episode of The Simpsons in which one scene was accompanied by the caption 'Dramatisation - May Not Have Happened'. I don't suppose we'll ever know, but your writer is a natural sceptic.

The International Space Station is truly underwhelming, so we will head back to the Visitors Centre at this point. We saw an excellent 3-D IMAX presentation about space travel and walking on the moon (narrated by the ubiquitous Hanks. It was very entertaining, and I only regret that we didn't have time to see the other film in which the Hanks role goes to Leonardo Di Caprio. I don't know what happened to Sinise, though I'm sure I heard his voice at Mission: Space at Epcot. Emma's mum and dad visited the launch simulator at KSC but their view was that it was nothing like as good as the aforementioned Sinise vehicle at Epcot, which I can assure you makes you feel quite ill and turns your brain to mush. By all means experience it, just don't eat before you do.

We were fortunate enough to visit on a day when a rocket launch was planned. Twice it was postponed because there was half a cloud in an otherwise brilliant blue sky, but eventually we witnessed the launching of an actual space rocket. There was nobody in it, but watching it shoot skywards and disappear out of the atmosphere was still quite an experience. Our singer friend grumpily informed us that the rocket is part of a series of tests to see if those rockets can be manned, and thus replace the pricey shuttles. Those darn Russians............

There was just time for a quick look around a shuttle, which from the outside looked magnificent but from the inside was a bit of a disappointment. There's a platform inside so the viewing area is around the size of my front drive. To distract you from this they have exhibited a model of an astronaut complete with authentic space-suit and shuttle control pad.

Before we left the coach for the final time the driver gave me what he claimed was an exclusive, commemorative NASA coin. I don't mean to be ungrateful, but it looked like one of those chocolate coins my mum used to put on the Christmas tree with the chocolate Santas. I'm afraid I have no idea where it is but if I find it I'll have to remember not to try to eat it.

Strictly speaking KSC is a two-dayer at least. There are numerous simulators and exhibitions we didn't get to see because of time contstraints. The tour itself takes three and a half hours, and that is before you factor in rocket launches and chocolate money. Yet I'd recommend a visit to anyone, if only so you can see for yourself just how paranoid NASA and the American public can be.

1 comment:

leemeister_2k1 said...

Lmao, I got one of those 'Exclusive!' coins Ste, 10 years ago.

And i can't believe you got to see an actual rocket-launch! I officially hate you! (almost)