Monday, March 7, 2016

Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island NWR and Canaveral NS

We did some exploring of the Space Coast area with Mike and Sherri. We had visited the Kennedy Space Center before but did not get to see some of the exhibits because they were waiting to launch the shuttle.  Also, since then, the shuttle program has ended so there is a whole new display related to that program.     
One thing they emphasized on the tour was that NASA is alive and well with new programs since the shuttle stopped flying.  They are now working on the Space Launch System (SLS), a new rocket system that can be used for a flight to the moon, a near Earth asteroid and, some day, even to Mars.  It will be a huge rocket over 300 feet in length and the first launch is expected in November 2016.
Of course the International Space Station (ISS) is still orbiting and doing scientific experiments.  We were there right before astranaut Scott Kelley returned from his year long flight in the ISS.  The space station is truly international with its crew of six coming from over 15 countries.  More than 200 people have served on the station since it was first occupied in 2000. 
The crawler-transporter was used to carry the Apollo Saturn V rocket and later the shuttles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad.  It can carry 12,000,000 pounds and moves at one mph while getting 48 feet per gallon of fuel.  It is being modified to carry the SLS.
Launch pad 39A where Apollo and shuttle flights were launched.  SpaceX is a private company that is using other facilities at the cape to launch its rockets but not at this pad.  39A is also being updated for the 2018 SLS launch. 
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the forth largest building by volume and the largest single story building in the world.  It is 525 feet tall, 716 feet long and 518 feet wide. The flag is 209 X 110 feet and each star is six feet across.   All the Apollo and shuttle rockets were assembled in the VAB.  You can check out a view of the VAB from about ten miles away in our last post.
The part of the tour I really like is the old Mission Control Room that was used for all the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches.  I remember watching them on TV whenever a launch was a very big deal.  When you realize that the iPhone I carry is a computer with more capacity than the ones used to build and launch rockets to send men to the moon, it gives you a real understanding of what it took to accomplish those missions.
The third stage of the Saturn V rocket and Lunar Lander.  Between 1969 and 1972  six of the landers carried men to the surface of the moon and another one was used for propulsion and life support by the Apollo 13 crew to get them back to Earth when a tank exploded on their way to the moon.
The newest displays at the center deal with the shuttle program.  There were 135 shuttle launches of five different shuttles from the cape between 1979 and 2011.
The orange external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters were attached to the shuttle for the launch. They are outside the building that houses the Shuttle Atlantis.
The shuttle was designed to be a space work truck to carry parts and material to the ISS and to launch satellites into low Earth orbit.  One of its greatest accomplishments was the launch and the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope that has let us look into deep space.  The front of the shuttle was where the crew lived and the bay which was open to space was used for cargo.
The bottom and nose of the shuttle was covered with ceramic tiles to disperse the heat of re-entry.  While the shuttle was a rocket when it launched it was a glider when it landed back on Earth, so the pilot only had one shot at getting it safely on the ground.
Six shuttles were built.  The first, Enterprise, was used to test its landing ability and never went into space.  It is on display in New York City.  Columbia disintegrated while returning to Earth in 2003.  Challenger exploded on takeoff in 1986, a tragedy witnessed by many because it was carrying Christa McAuliffe a teacher who had been chosen to make the flight.  The Endeavor flew 25 missions and is now on display in Los Angeles.  The Discovery flew 39 missions and is now on display in Washington, DC.   
There is a memorial hall for those who died on board the Columbia and Challenger, including tributes to each astronaut and parts of both shuttles that were recovered.  Learning more about the shuttle program and seeing the Atlantis up close was very interesting and informative.
No Sherri is not sleeping behind those dark glasses, she waited until the movie started when we went to see a 3-D IMAX movie about space exploration.
Another day we did the Black Point Wildlife Drive in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  The area was closed to the public for years because it is so close to the NASA facility, so it was not developed allowing many animals to live without inference of people.  We saw many great birds including this beautiful anhinga. 
There were many roseate spoonbills, beautiful pink wader that are often mistaken as flamingos.  The roseate has the spoon like bill. 
There are also many big alligators.  I did not realize how big this one was until I looked at the pictures and saw the tail looped around. 
This great blue heron had its feathers all ruffled up as it went after a small fish.
There were many small, colorful butterflies.
The wading birds were having a feast.
We got up close and personal with this green heron.  It was not bothered by the many people trying to get a picture.
What a trifecta!  A great egret, a great blue heron and a roseate spoonbill all together.
A couple of old coots.  If you are on the Space Coast and want to do some great birding, the Merritt Island NWR is a must stop.
We then checked out the beach at Canaveral National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped land on the east coast of Florida.  It really is like a step back in time walking along a beach in Florida and not seeing any development.  As you can see it was not crowded at all.  We had a great time checking out these places and sharing our experience with Mike and Sherri.

1 comment:

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Nice post about another place we haven't yet seen.