Kennedy Space Center

Apollo 1 Launch Pad

Apollo 1 Launch Pad

I stand under the concrete structure and stare through the enormous round hole above my head.  It is a simple edifice– four concrete pillars in each corner, about thirty feet apart and about twenty feet high, supporting  a concrete slab with a perfectly round hole about 20 feet in diameter above my head.  I can see the clear blue sky and white billowing clouds of a perfect Florida afternoon.

Tears come to my eyes.

I know that on Friday, 27 January 1967 at 6:31pm, a small spark in a tiny capsule approximately 100 feet above where I am now standing created a flash fire that took the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Deke Slayton was standing in the launch bunkhouse, just a few yards away.  He ran to the capsule, hoping against all reason that somehow the three men survived the fire.  Nowadays, the launch control room is located so far from the Shuttle, you could not possibly run there in just a few moments.  I am surprised to learn that for the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo flights, the bunkhouse was in a bunker right next to the rockets that are about to launch.

View of Mercury from Firing Room

View of Mercury from Firing Room

Our tour takes us into another small bunker and I peer through several layers of thick glass.  I put my hand under a Plexiglas buffer and literally click the same button clicked over 40 years ago to send one of the Mercury astronauts into space from the launch pad I can see just a few hundred feet outside the thick glass.  There is even a real, life sized Mercury Rocket sitting on the launchpad.  The tour guide describes the people and conditions that occupied this very same room during that historic moment when I was too young to even begin to comprehend what it all meant.

Number One Daughter clicks the button

#1 Daughter clicks the button

I have seen many specials, read many books and talked to many people about the NASA space flight programs–But today’s tour taught me unimaginable new things.  It is one of two “behind the scenes” tours that KSC (Kennedy Space Center) Visitor’s Complex offers.  Had my good friend, JediBFA, not insisted on taking this tour, I would have never known about them.

The KSC Visitor’s Complex combines all the essential elements of an ideal vacation spot.  There are interesting and historical things to see, just like a museum, an abundance of educational opportunities, the chance to meet with humans who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth”* and traveled into space, IMAX movies, guided tours, theme park-like attractions, a live-working launch complex and, of course, plenty of food and gift shop items to satisfy everyone.

In addition, there is a camp program, occasional shuttle & rocket launches, astronaut training simulations and the chance to have lunch with one of the astronauts.  The astronaut memorial and hall of fame are also close by.  To top it off, the pleasurable surf of Cocoa Beach is just a few minutes to the south.

The KSC visitor’s complex is open every day of the year, except for Christmas and during some launches.  It is much less expensive than a one day ticket to see the mouse, even when you add the extra for a behind the scenes tour or lunch with an astronaut.  With careful planning, you can even get a pass to be inside the center during a shuttle launch–The closest vantage point available for anyone who does not have a special connection to a NASA employee or high ranking politician!  But be careful–Be sure to plan your launch watch early in your vacation window so you can make the necessary adjustments should the launch experience one of their many, common delays.

As I watch my three children tour the space center with Mrs. LanceAround and JediBFA, I notice how the many displays catch their attention, invoke their imagination and create enthusiasm.  While I find the Space Center to be perfect for anyone traveling to Central Florida, parents with children would be remiss if they did not avail themselves of this great opportunity for educational fun.

Vacationing at KSC

Vacationing at KSC

KSC is located only 45 minutes away from the Theme Park area of Central Florida.

I highly recommend that you plan to take a break from the mouse for at least one day to see this extraordinary place that has witnessed pieces of humankind’s greatest history and yet still holds such promise for the future of all humankind!

* from the poem High Flight by John Magee, Jr.,  re-printed here in its entirety:

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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