October 24th, 2011
So, I stopped posting my travelogue in Florida after Walt Disney World.
Some stuff happened between then and now -- mostly major problems with NFS. Then my monitor died in a particularly strange way, so I've been operating for the last week or so with my computer plugged into the TV. Everything's okee doke now.
Anyway -- after Disney World, I drove out to Titusville. I had a hell of a time finding the right hotel. I ended up stopping in at two separate places that I thought were right and they weren't. My GPS came in handy and I knew that in the very worst case, a friend of mine knew where I was staying and I could call her. Luckily, that turned out to not be important.
The next day I hopped in the car to go to Kennedy Space Center.
It was a little strange to see this bus in the parking lot:
it's so close to EPCOT!
I ended up purchasing an annual membership -- I planned on visiting twice and I knew the discount was going to make it worth my while. Using that discount, I went on one of the extended bus tours and a ticket for lunch with an astronaut. They had a history tour that I was interested in, but they weren't running that tour while the shuttle was on the pad.
The annoying part is that you have to walk in to customer service to get your badge made. There was a huge line and only one person handling the line, so it took probably about 40 minutes to get that set up.
Once I did, I ventured out and found out that Star Trek: The Experience had made their way out. There was also an Orion crew capsule set out.
It was the first chance I'd had to take a look at it. It looks the part of a step backwards into the 1960s, but it's much, much larger than the Apollo capsules were.
Around the side, they had one of the escape rockets which is set up to pull the crew capsule to safety if something goes wrong on the launch.
All of that's nice. But it wasn't really what I was there for. This was:
I was really confused when I saw this. I knew where Enterprise was (I'd seen it at the Smithsonian). Challenger and Columbia were complete losses. Discovery and Endeavor were stored at the OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility). Atlantis was on the pad. So what the hell is that?!
It's dubbed "Explorer". I ignored it for the moment because right next door was the Shuttle Launch Experience. They had a guy outside who looked me over and told me I'd have to take my sunglasses off and put them in my shirt pocket. I wasn't really sure what I was in for, but I was excited! As people would come up, he'd direct them to use lockers for their larger stuff.
You walk up a long queue and into a building where they line you up and then play a video at you. The video was interesting -- various facts about the shuttle. From 400 feet away, the heat from the launch will kill you. 800 feet away and the sound will kill you. Around 1500 feet will work, but you're going to have to keep an eye out for alligators -- the low frequency sounds apparently rile them up.
They give you a rundown of the shuttle launch procedure and then tell you that you'll be riding in a simulated payload module which can hold 40 people or so. Once everyone's in and strapped down, they rotate the module, so you're laying back in seats that are similar to first class on an airplane.
The experience is interesting -- every one of the astronauts says that the actual launch is really one heck of a ride. The rumble of the engines is enormous. Shortly before actual lift off, the shuttle tilts forward a bit. From that point on, you're pushed back into your seat. They play radio chatter and give you an idea of what altitude you're at, how long into the flight you are, and a view of the outside.
One of the most beautiful things in my mind is that transition between the Earth's atmosphere and space where the blue and black fade together and the stars shine brightly in the eternal night of space.
Once you get out, they have a long spiral ramp down with facts about each of the shuttle missions. You end up in a gift shop which has this:
So apparently, it comes well recommended. 8)
Anyway, I walked back over to Explorer. They had a long ramp to walk up which twisted around. At each corner, they gave you little facts about how space travel has improved our everyday life. For example:
From what I understand, the only things that are real on it are the tires and the robot arm on the inside. They let you walk at the aft end of the flight deck and a little bit of the cargo bay. That was interesting for scale. I took a couple of pictures of the inside:
I headed back over towards the crew capsule -- taking a little more time to look at the Orion escape rocket. There was an exhibit called "Explorers Wanted".
...Well, I'm pretty sure that meant me!
Inside they had a couple of simulators -- one docking the Orion crew capsule to the space station and another landing the lunar lander. Each had varying levels of difficulty. They were hard to get into -- hordes of kids around them who weren't taking turns. Luckily, there was plenty else to see. Like this lovely series of posters which were around the exhibit. The lighting sucked, so I burnt a bunch of memory trying to get them to come out.
Other random stuff on there -- 1/2th of a hex limbed robotic explorer (ATHLETE)
The new NASA lunar rover. This was actually on Top Gear a little bit ago. Probably the neatest thing about it is that the space suits dock onto the rear wall of the rover, so you get out by climbing into that suit, closing the airlock, and getting on your way. It prevents moon dust from getting into the vehicle. Given the trouble we expect with Martian dust, it's a pretty cool solution to the problem.
They had a bunch of computers with webcams up so that you could send yourself an electronic postcard. It'd take a picture of your face and insert it into one of various settings in space. Toyed with those for a bit before noticing that it was getting around time to line up for lunch with an astronaut!
On the way there, I walked by the rocket garden and made the decision that I was going to learn to identify each of those rockets on sight. We'll see how well I do in a sec.
Lunch was in a room off to the side of the relics of space exploration hall. We waited in the lobby under a Soyuz mock up.
(Soyuz capsules are so weird -- all bulbous and green.)
Lunch was a buffet.
But the food wasn't nearly important as the drink selection!
Holy cow! I hadn't had Tang in years.
Well -- the astronaut who spoke was Samuel T. Durrance. He was a payload specialist which was interesting -- I've never heard how you get selected as a payload specialist. He worked on the astro observatory which was a sort of telescope that was fitted in the shuttle's cargo bay. More or less, it was the low rent version (at the cost of a shuttle launch?! Hah!) of Hubble and preceded Hubble's last required servicing mission by about 5 years.
I happened to sit at the right table -- he came over and talked to us for a bit prior to doing his actual presentation. One of the bits that I got out of that is that you can still be an astronaut even if you aren't a test pilot or engaged at NASA. In the case of payload specialists, the contractor providing the equipment provides a list of people that they'd like to send up with it. NASA weeds down that list, so there just might be hope for me yet, so long as I get involved with something that's going up to space.
After the presentation, everyone got to line up and take pictures with him. My official photo was truly awful -- the guy just doesn't know how to smile -- but the one on my camera worked out great.
I had to really hoof it at that point to get on the tour bus.... and that's probably a good place to end this post. 8)