Kennedy Space Center – NASA
Trip Date: June, 2013
“one small step for man one giant leap for mankind”. This is where it all started. In the midst of white sand Atlantic beaches, there lie a facility beaming with the brightest scientific minds of the world, and towering rockets and shuttles ready for deep space voyages.
Kennedy Space Center (KSC), home of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly known as NASA, is strategically located in the eastern shore of Florida at Cape Canaveral. Earth’s rotational direction and availability of such large landmass governs the selection of the East Coast as the home of NASA. Driving into the facility, one cannot miss the Rocket Garden with replicas of multiple voyages have been erected for the pleasure of the visitors. Starting from the Apollo 13 to the Voyager, it all can be experienced in the garden. The sheer sizes of the rockets would amaze the visitors, even before the structural intricacies are disclosed. Then the awestruck visitors are told that about 5% of the entire volume of the rocket is generally occupied by the passengers. We start to question our existence in front of those giant structures. But wait, this is just the beginning of the humbling experience in KSC.
140,000 acres of land would require a bus tour, which is exactly what KSC visitor center has to offer. The tourists enjoy the guided portion of the bus tour, narrated by none other than the retired space program employees. You’d hear mesmerizing stories about space travel, hazards of rockets, and intricate details of the facility right from the horse’s mouth. The distinctive building where all the monitoring of the launches are done, and where the designing, planning, and testing of the technology is performed, stands tall in the middle of two launch pads, 39A and 39B. For easy transport of launch-ready rockets, and millions of gallons of fuel, NASA developed a ginormous vehicle, called Crawler. The path for the vehicle is about 300 foot wide, and is leveled with gravel and has a strong foundation underneath the ground. The structure of the launch pad is such that the enormous heat generated from burning liquid hydrogen do not kill the wildlife around it. Storing 2 million gallons of water under the launch pad acts as a dampener for the heat and tremors. The viewers’ gallery is generally set up about a mile away with stands for media and VIPs.
The history of the American moon mission is widely known, but the inside stories behind the success of Apollo 13 is perilously heart wrecking. The loss of lives, money, and support coupled with international political pressure of successful launches of Sputnik (Russian space craft), required a bold decision maker like John F. Kennedy to step up and pull fresh blood into the crown jewel of American space missions. It took 10 years of tireless efforts from NASA scientists, after Kennedy announced his goal of reaching the moon. Sadly his assassination in November 1963 did not allow him to witness the successful launch of Apollo 13 with three astronauts. A Purdue University graduate Neil Armstrong was the first to land on the moon, and his fellow travelers described the view of Earth as the most amazing one of their lives. They said they had to step out of the planet to know it better.
A walk on the moon might be an achievement of a lifetime, but who knew that it was just the beginning. From that point, multiple countries, often led by the USA, have ventured into the space and neighboring planets. The next adventure in the KSC took us exactly where space missions found new dimensions. The ‘Hubble Telescope’. The 3D movie on the topic, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio takes viewers to a whole new level. Makes the most arrogant of humans humble when their existence in the ‘bigger scheme of things’ become questionable. You take a virtual tour from the Earth, and go farther. Pass the planets one by one, and into the galaxy – Milky Way. Once you start looking back, the Sun and the Solar System starts to fade out as a tiny dot in the body of the Milky Way. That’s just a few hundred light years away. Travel a little farther, and the Milky Way starts to look like a dot in the ocean of Nebulae and Galaxies and Black-holes. Hubble has seen many stars born, age, and die. All at the same time. That is space travel to you. Stars are born with a bright spot and a dark smokey crown around it, and as they age, they turn yellow. Around that time multiple solar systems are formed. Who knows an Earth-like system must be there somewhere, millions of light years away. Crazy fact check – Imagine an alien with extremely high powered telescope is looking at Earth from his planet 60 million light years away. Guess what he will see on Earth. Dinosaurs.
Anyway, enough of science and boring space talk. We forgot to point out one of the break through discoveries of the last couple of decades. When it was required that the space craft or Rocket can be reused. Not only to save resources, but also to make multiple safe round trips for humans into space. In about 8-10 years, a team of dedicated scientists and engineers created the first space shuttle – Columbia in 1981. This is a vehicle that launched like a rocket, and landed like an Aeroplane. This enabled NASA to lead another breakthrough project into fruition – International Space Station (ISS). Till date, multiple trips to the Hubble, ISS, and other satellites have been made possible with the space shuttle technology.
Trivial as it may sound, the efforts KSC has made to encourage and attract children to be involved in the scientific activities make this an admirable institution. Infusing the interest in space travel, answering naive questions from adults and children alike, NASA has proved its worthiness. A walk in the park for a day will surely bring a smile, and curiosity to the visitors, whatever be their background and exposure to science. And kudos to KSC, in the maintenance and innovation displayed in the park that constantly educates people without sacrificing the entertainment facet of the abstruse thing called ‘Rocket Science’!