Friday 11/13/2009 Day 1: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center
On the first day of our Florida trip to see the NASA STS-129 Shuttle Atlantis Launch, we decided to tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center to see the exhibits and take the Up-Close Shuttle Bus Tour of the complex. We knew we were going to be back on Monday the 16th for the shuttle launch, but wanted to take a day on site before the launch day so we could take our time and see everything we wanted to without feeling rushed on launch day. Plus, some of the tours and exhibits might be closed on launch day, and Dad made the great move of getting us Up-Close tour bus tickets for Friday, which promised to get us closer to the shuttle launch (it did not disappoint).
We arrived at the Visitor Center Friday morning and proceeded to walk through the rocket garden. The rocket garden has a collection of the early rockets the United States used to get astronauts and payloads into space. There is a Mercury Redstone, like the one Alan Shepard used to be the first American in Space, and a Saturn rocket, similar to the humongous Saturn V, as well as an assortment of capsules and many informative plaques and descriptions. Dad and I even sat in some of the replicas. It was pretty neat, and tough to get all the rockets into the camera frames.
After viewing the Rocket Garden, we went to the Astronaut Memorial, and saw a brief presentation on NASA today, which showed some live remote camera views of the prep work that was being completed for the upcoming shuttle launch. It was pretty informative, and neat to see. Then we went and saw the 3D IMAX movie about the International Space Station, and it was on to the main event, the Up-Close Bus Tour.
The Up-Close tour was really great and well worth the extra $20 it costs. We got to ride out to the NASA Causeway where we would be watching the STS-129 launch from on Monday. We could also see the Atlas V rocket which was supposed to be launching Intelsat 14 early Saturday morning, and the Delta IV rocket in its assembly building which was to launch later in the next week, but got delayed. We could tell that we were going to have some prime viewing spots for the launch. The shuttle was on Pad 39A, although most of it was obscured because the control structure was in place. NASA Launch Pad 39A, where Atlantis would launch from is 6 miles away from the causeway. Pad 39B, converted for the Ares Rocket Program is slightly farther away. The Delta IV and Atlas V are US Air Force Launch Sites, and not accessible or viewable to the public. Views from the causeway.
After viewing the launch sites and rockets from the causeway, we got back on the bus and headed towards the large Vehicle Assembly Building. We made a right and drove past the standard tour viewing platform (3 miles away) and headed towards a closer tour viewing area. We drove past the 39B launch pad and past a couple NASA crawlers. Then we made it to a viewing area midway between pads 39A and 39B. It was really close. We stayed there a while and viewed both pads. Shuttle Atlantis was on 39A. We also saw a tortoise burying eggs, and a NASA T-38 Jet fighter flew over. It was very close, very cool, and well worth the trip.
While at the viewing platform I was able to use my super zoom lense to get an image of one of the USGS Benchmarks in the excluded camera pad area. Its designation is “KAREN”.
After viewing the shuttle and launch pads, we went to the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is the largest building in the world by volume. It is over 500 feet high, and each star on the giant American flag is 6 feet in diameter. Each stripe is 9 feet in diameter. The VAB was built to assemble the huge Saturn V rocket. Today’s shuttle is half that size. When we visited, vultures were using the heat waves off the building to soar. More info on the VAB is available on Wikipedia.
We did a drive by of the really loooonng NASA landing strip after our stop at the VAB. It was not very exciting, just a huge runway.
After the runway drive-by we ended our bus tour at the Saturn V building. This rocket is huge! To big for my zoom lens, so I’ll have to wait for some pictures from Dad to post here. It was neat to see the rocket, touch a moon rock, and get a bit to eat. The Saturn V building is near the bleachers where the extended family of the astronauts get to view the launch. More info on the giant Saturn V rocket is available on Wikipedia.
After the bus tour, we returned to the visitor center and rode the NASA Launch Experience, which was amusing, and toured the shuttle bay in their full size shuttle on sight. Then it was back to the hotel. The Intelsat 14 satellite was due to blast off on the Atlas V rocket we saw earlier at 12:48am that night. So we got some rest and went out to the beach at 12:30am to watch the launch. Unfortunately unknown to us, the launch was scrubbed at 12:35am and we ended up staying out on the beach until 2:15am before giving up on it that morning. Doh!
As always, larger pictures of our full trip to Florida are available from my Flickr photo gallery. Day 2 includes our trip to Daytona Speedway.