Do you think, as we did, that NASA Space Program was pretty much a thing of the past and that private companies are only trying to make money off of the excitement, created years ago and in current movies, television, and books, by tempting multi-millionaires to pay exorbitant prices to take a ride into the vast unknown of the only frontier left?  Well, we were so mistaken.  NASA is alive and well and making great advances toward human beings traveling to and from and being able to live for a year and perhaps longer on Mars! And the time is only about three years away before the first steps toward that goal will be taken. The enormous Saturn V rocket, which will launch the Orion Space Ship on that venture, is what we learned all about and actually saw on our recent visit to Kennedy Space Center!  It was one of the most amazingly exciting learning and fun days we have ever spent. This is a GREAT trip of a lifetime.

2   Kennedy Space Center astronaut

Kennedy Space Center is built for families to be entertained through learning.  Each of the experiences provided at the different buildings is wonder-filled and wonder-full!  Located about an hour from Orlando’s Disney World, the center is just as enjoyable in a different way.  When you are in Florida a full day (or more) at Kennedy Center on Cape Canaveral is a MUST!  The drive out along the causeway is beautiful, as Atlantic waters are on each side of the highway, and Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by a natural wildlife preserve, so be on the lookout for hundreds of species of birds and for alligators and other wildlife.

If you visited Kennedy Space Center years ago, this is a MUST to visit again, as enormous strides in space exploration and inventions occur every day, and new exhibits here are on-going and dynamic. We recommend arriving at 8:30 A.M. to get the best parking spots at the huge parking lot. Purchase tickets on-line ahead or as you arrive. KSC is open every day year-round; gates open at 9 a.m.  Closing time is about 6 p.m. depending on time of the year.

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At the Rocket Garden we learned about all the various rockets since the inception of our USA Space Age in the 1960’s and many of these giants ended their use in this beautiful garden for us to see and enjoy. Next we took the comfortable, narrated bus ride a few miles beyond the Center to see the actual place where the rockets are built, and we were lucky enough to get a glimpse at the Saturn V because one of the huge doors of the building was open. We saw the authentic launch pads used for sending up previous space ships. And to our surprise we learned that unmanned rockets are being launched frequently for testing, for sending up satellites, and trips to the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope.  We missed seeing the most recent launch by only a few weeks.

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When rockets go up we have seen the “smoke” billowing out and I always felt concern about this hazard for people’s lungs, but we learned it is not smoke but steam created by the enormous water tanks spilling water on the ground at the moments of ignition. This is not to put out the fires we see beneath the rocket but to cushion the enormous sound emitted by the rocket launch, which is so powerful it would literally stop the heart of anyone nearby. (Astronauts are on top of and leaving the sound behind, so it does not harm them). This sound is the reason viewers at a launch must see it from three miles away at the safe viewing area.

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There are many buildings in which we saw actual retired rockets and space modules. We saw the life-sized model of the Saturn V and its modules which will accommodate four astronauts who will live in it on the six-month trip to Mars. It will take all their provisions and necessities, including tools, for a full year of the most comfortable existence possible there and for the six month return trip! The film showed the twelve years of scientists and engineers imagining and developing the vast number of necessities for life and making them small and lightweight enough to be carried and used in such tiny space and in zero gravity. We learned that thousands of the items we use in everyday life were created by NASA geniuses for other space expeditions. These items include microwaves, cell phones, GPS, long-range communications, freeze-dried foods, solar panels, artificial limbs, ski boots, fire- fighting equipment, Teflon, UV glasses, Velcro, memory foam, and so much more, which you can find here.

I-MAX Films showing astronauts at work in zero gravity were fascinating, and we got to experience some of their difficulties in the hands-on exhibits. We squeezed into the actual seat of one space module; saw the toilet system explained and learned how an astronaut has to go to the bathroom in zero gravity. We saw actual astronauts in outer space cook and eat their food, which was humorous with food floating around in front of them.

There are computers set for a visitor of any age to stand in a specific place and experience the difficulty of an astronaut’s training. By moving my hand around in the air I tried to use the on-screen tool to repair a screw in zero gravity. It let us know the difficulty of doing this for an astronaut floating around and in gloves equal to us wearing five pairs of earthly gloves. There are many other similar experiments to try to gain understanding and appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to courageous careers as astronauts. These simulated tasks were amazingly difficult and nearly impossible but fun for people of any age to try.

6  in capsule

There is a fascinating and fact-filled exhibit and film which entices young people to choose the path to a career as an astronaut. NASA needs engineers, physicists, computer experts, chemists, lawyers, accountants, and many other well educated and dedicated young men and women. Look at the NASA career opportunities and requirements here.  Many of the retired scientist, technicians, and volunteer workers are at Kennedy Space Center to answer any questions about career choices or about their experience building rockets, space ships, and shuttles.  One live astronaut is there each day to give a talk, to have a face to face encounter and answer questions, and you can even purchase tickets to have lunch with him or her.

We are glad we chose to stay in our RV at the quiet KOA in Titusville beneath giant hardwood trees with scenic Spanish moss trailing down. It is only a half-hour away from Kennedy Space Center and from the Merit Island National Seashore and Playaland Beach. And if you do not have camping equipment you can rent one of their excellent cabins or deluxe cabins.

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