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Florida Destination: The Kennedy Space Center

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

This winter marked my third time in Florida and my first time at the Kennedy Space Center, an attraction often overlooked by visitors to Orlando.

The KSC One of NASA’s main launch facilities is located in Florida in part due to its relative proximity to the equator. (The Earth is not perfectly round, so the equator is further from the center than either pole. As a result, the linear velocity there is greater – in fact, if you do the math, it turns out a rocket can fly 1,036 miles/hour faster once it reaches orbit if launched from the equator, so less energy is needed to launch it). Florida and Texas are as close to the equator as the US gets, so our satellites, rockets, and shuttles are launched there.

The Kennedy Space Center is open to visitors through a large, theme-park-like complex with various shows and museums. From the complex, a 3-hour bus tour takes you to three designated observations spots across the space center. Interestingly, the space center compound is also a designated wildlife preserve (it’s very large) and you can see an occasional alligator, boar, or an exotic bird walking right across the road.

The first stop of the tour takes you to a catwalk about 5 miles away from the shuttle launch platform. If there aren’t any launches that day, there is not much to see there except an 8-minute informational movie on a pretty small screen in a makeshift shed. Bring binoculars, because that way you can actually make out details of the launch pads in the distance.

The second stop takes you to a pavilion where you can see various informational films and a reenactment of the first Moon landing and launch. The third stop, to me was the most interesting one – you arrive at another museum which contains life-size replicas of parts of the international space station, as well as an overpass which takes you to an observation area above an actual assembly facility. I was there on a Sunday so we didn’t actually see people at work, but apparently on weekdays, you can meet with actual NASA employees and sometimes even astronauts.

Some of the things the tour guide explains on the bus are also interesting – for example, the building where astronauts are housed when they come back to earth has no stairs to the first floor, because while in space they develop osteoporosis. You also drive by a shuttle preparation plant, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty, but has not floors, which makes it the largest single-floor building by volume in the world,

The entire visit takes about 5 hours, but if you can plan in advance I highly recommend going on a day when there is a scheduled launch – I think the experience will be even more interesting. Some of the visitor pavilions, while informative are not the most engaging, and a lot of the info you get there is freely available on the web. While I’m glad taxpayer money isn’t being used excessively here, the pavilions are badly in need of some upgrades, so seeing a shuttle launch here is the real treat.

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