Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center   Leave a comment

From the time I was about six, I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut. Given my age, it was clear that the then-new Space Shuttle, or one of its successors, would be the vehicle I flew to space in. I had a plan–Air Force Academy, fly Blackbirds, test pilot school, then NASA. Other career paths popped into my head, but that was probably the most consistent one.

It was sometime in high school that I let go of it, realizing that, for me, it was not an attainable path. Sometime in college, it was replaced with “amature bike racer” as unattainable dream. But, I never lost my interest in space flight.

So, on New Years Day, we left Tampa to head west. The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the “retirement home” for Atlantis, one of the surviving Space Shuttle Orbiters.
First View of Atlantis

Where other sites, like Udvar-Hazy, simply have their orbiter sitting on its wheels, the KSC has mounted their orbiter at an angle, with multiple levels of viewing platforms–you can really see all over the spacecraft.


Goodbye, Atlantis

They also have the payload bay doors open, so you can get a sense of how Atlantis performed its missions.
Atlantis--Payload Bay

I tried to explain to my daughter that, when I was her age, I wanted nothing more than to sit in this cockpit. Right now, however, US manned space flight is more museum artifacts than a reality.

They had a unique way to explain the 22° glidepath the Space Shuttle used to return to earth–a slide, which my daughter loved.
22º Glide Slope

That Was Fun

The exhibit hall had many other shuttle-era artifacts, such as this glider model. The film at the entrance explained that the director of the program that started the orbiter gathered his team to announce the project, throwing this glider over their heads. One thing I found amusing was how the film showed the delays the project had–a contrast to “we will get to the moon in this decade…”
Shuttle Model

Also on display was the bus that would take astronauts out to the launch pad.
Crew Transport

In the area about the International Space Station, was a mockup of the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, used to help astronauts maintain their muscles and bones.

I remembered why they named it that way…
Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill

We visited the rest of the facility, including a bus tour that took us past the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB).
VAB and New Tower

The buildings are already being used for new programs, such as the Air Force’s X-37B.
Home of the X-37B

The Kennedy Space Center happens to sit on a wildlife refuge. During the bus tour, I saw a few alligators, a manatee, and the nest of a bald eagle.
Eagle Nest

They are one of three locations that have a Saturn V (the other two being the Johnson Space Center and the US Space and Rocket Center). In the building is a full-scale mock-up of the Apollo Command and Service Module.
Apollo CSM Mock-Up

It also is the home of Apollo XIV.
Apollo 14

Back at the visitor’s center, there were a number of vintage artifacts, such as Gemini 9A.
Gemini 9

A full-scale mock-up of a Russian Soyuz hung over the entrance.

Anyone know how old you have to be to get a driver’s license on the moon?
Who Let Caitlin Drive?

The Rocket Garden outside had a Mercury-Atlas stack, which took the first Americans into orbit (Mercury-Redstone was used for the first two, suborbital flights).

The Saturn IB booster was used to take Apollo capsules up for their first flight, then subsequent flights to Skylab and the ASTP.
Caitlin and Rebecca by the Saturn 1B

The future of US manned space flight was represented by a mock-up of the Orion capsule.
Orion Mock-Up

Even though there is a fee for admission and it’s in the middle of nowhere, the KSC is probably the best place to see a Space Shuttle and really get a feel for it. For me, it was bittersweet, as it shows that this era of space flight, the one I grew up with, is truly over. Hopefully, the next chapter will be written soon.
Me and Atlantis

Posted 2015-01-20 by Mr. Guilt in Aircraft, Winter Break 2014/2015

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