As you can see, Stanley was suited up and ready to go into space by the time we got to the Kennedy Space Center. The KSC is located east of Orlando, FL, near Cocoa Beach. In the 1960s, when the space program was underway, the site was chosen because there was not much population around it. The wilderness area made it safer to test the rocket launches in case something were to go wrong. And in the beginning it did go wrong. Several rockets blew up, some even before they got off the launch pad. But eventually, scientists and engineers and some truly brave test pilots soon to be called astronauts were deep into a program that would take us to the moon and beyond.
At the KSC you can do lots of things. Since we only had one day, we chose to take the bus that makes a loop around the area and stops at a viewing point for the famous Launch Pad 39A from which the space shuttles were launched. We saw the bus that took the astronauts out to the launch pad and left them while everyone else hustled away. You have to be a couple of miles away to view the launch safely.
The route took us past the Vehicle Assembly Building where the space shuttles were prepared for launch. You can see a wide door at the bottom that accommodated the size of the wings but as they moved the space shuttle out from the building to take it to the launchpad, they would have to open more doors higher up the building until it safely slid out on its carrier. Then it would be towed down a long graveled pathway to the launchpad--very slowly.
The other stop our bus made was at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, a huge building that houses a large Saturn V rocket like the ones that launched the Apollo astronauts into space for their trips to the moon. The thrusters on the bottom of the rocket are so large that a man could stand up inside one of them. Space capsules, landing modules, land rovers, space suits from the Apollo astronauts, and even some moon rocks were on display.
When we were finished exploring we went back outside near the stands that are set up for visitors to watch rocket launches and waited for our bus to take us back to the visitor center. There we could explore more exhibits, learn about the robots like the one exploring Mars and the Hubble telescope, and even experience what liftoff is like in a simulator that holds 40 people.
Our day at the center ended with a stroll through the Rocket Garden. Some of the earliest rockets are there like the ones that took the very first astronauts into space with the Mercury program and then the Gemini program where astronauts learned to survive longer flights as a step toward landing on the moon.
While the space community here is now changing, it is still very active. Private industry is now funding the research and providing the incentives to explore further. A new rocket is being developed that will be much heavier and be able to launch astronauts into space with the aim of exploring the planets starting with Mars. That is one of the reasons that a robot is exploring Mars now--to see if man can utilize the elements found there to be able to survive on that planet. It's an exciting concept and challenge. I remember wondering if landing on the moon was truly possible. It was. And now new generations will look toward new worlds of exploration. How exciting to think of the possibilities!
Our day ended with another beautiful Florida sunset. Tomorrow we would arrive at our destination--Key Largo!