The Kennedy Space Center is three things: an active working spaceport, a visitor center and a wildlife refuge – a very unique combination.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge contains over 1,000 species of plants, 117 species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds, and 31 mammal species, of which 21 species are listed as endangered by the state of Florida or by the US federal government. 140,000 acres are part of the land management. They promote dunes to prevent hurricanes from encroaching on the launch buildings. There are bald eagle nests as large as a king size bed. We saw several alligators in the water in the ditches. I guess they were here first.
The Kennedy Space Center is like Disney world for space enthusiasts … and if you weren’t one before, you are sure to leave as one. It takes two days to feel like you have seen much of it.
Heroes and Legends
Rocket Garden is filled with real rockets that were made by the US military and used as weapons. NASA turned those weapons into research rockets. They did not fly into space.
US Astronaut Hall of Fame: We had no idea that there have been so many astronauts. Who do you ask to sit on the top of a stick of dynamite? They thought of many different types of people such as daredevils like Evil Knievel. They settled on the US military. Out of 110 applications, seven were accepted. They were known as the Mercury 7.
The objective of the Mercury space program was to launch a man into Earth orbit, return him safely to the Earth, and evaluate his capabilities in space.
In 1957 there was a lot of political tension in the world. Each nation was trying to prove that they were the most technologically advanced. Russia launched a satellite. It was very disturbing because Americans could hear beeps. What were the Russians doing?? Was it surveillance? The Russian space program took place in what they called Star City, and they were very secretive. This move accelerated our space efforts and we put up a satellite. USA testing was done in the open for the world to see. In 1958 we broke through the atmosphere.
The launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, started a Cold War technological and ideological competition with the United States known as the Space Race.
We wanted to be the first to put a man in space but Russia has that honor. Americans were shocked. Alan Sheppard became the first American and the second man in space on May 5, 1961, when he piloted the Mercury spacecraft on a 300-mile, 15-minute suborbital flight.
Splashdown became known as the most expensive trip to the Bahamas!! Splashdown occurred with an impact comparable to landing a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier. A recovery helicopter flew both the astronaut and spacecraft to the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain, the same ship that my father was on when he returned from WWII. Both memorable voyages!!
The first food eaten in space was applesauce by John Glenn. We didn’t know if humans could swallow and digest in space. That seems funny now but we didn’t know. I think all of us drank Tang back then, the drink of astronauts.
Kennedy gave a speech in Texas on September 12, 1962 saying, …”We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” This speech surprised NASA because this was the first that they had heard about the goal.
Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. Cigars are handed out as well as an American flag at the end of a successful mission. Mission Control credited the backroom mission control (I didn’t know about the backroom.) for coming up with the plan to bring the Apollo 13 home. Mission control just communicated the information.
The Gemini space program brought in nine new astronauts. This new class that would send two astronauts at a time into space was named Gemini, a twin. Ed White was the first American to walk in space. Jim Lovell and Frank Borman spent 14 days in close quarters. (So much for getting out of your vehicle to walk around.) They became lifelong friends. The biggest issue was dealing with waste products. They learned a lot about the needs of humans in space for long periods of time. For example, radiation exposure for an astronaut in space for a day is equivalent to one year on earth.
Race to the Moon
Bus Tour: We went on a tour of the restricted area. Within that area was the Apollo exhibit, the launch pad, and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is the restricted area seen on television. It has the largest doors in the world. The flag on the building is 21 stories high. The Roman Coliseum and its parking could fit on top. It is 3½ Eiffel Towers high. It was originally built for the Apollo Space Program and Space Shuttle. Now it is used to assemble Artemis.
In 1967 we were three years away from the goal of landing a man on the moon. NASA really worked hard to realize the goal and wanted to honor the assassinated Kennedy’s dream. However, on January 27, 1967 during training, a spark in the oxygen rich capsule caused a fire which resulted in the deaths of White, Grisson, and Chaffee. NASA closed things down for two years to check and recheck safety. As one of the results, on the tip of the space craft is a torpedo looking item that is used as an abort launch system and discarded shortly after takeoff.
Ad Astra Per Astra
Ad Astra Per Astra means “To the Stars With Difficulties”. This is also the state motto of Kansas. There was much bloodshed to the path to becoming a state, determining whether Kansas would be a free state or slave state. Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.
The lunar lander folded up into cone shape and reunited with the main capsule when they were returning. A lunar rover was assembled on the lunar surface. It was used to collect rocks.
There are three rovers still on the moon. Think of it as a used car lot. They still work but just need a fresh battery.
We went into the Lunar Theatre to watch the landing on the moon that occurred on July 20, 1969. The mission control room has been preserved for the museum.
In 1972 the pocket calculator was invented which is two years after last Apollo mission. There is 100x more processing power in that handheld calculator than what was used to land on the moon. They went to the moon using a pencil, slide rule and brains. WOW!!!