Friday, August 26, 2011

NASA Juno Tweetup: day 2 - KSC Visitor Center, Astronaut Hall of Fame and Endless BBQ

Read my previous blog entry in the "NASA Juno Tweetup" series: "Day 2 - Juno launch"
Jump back to my first blog entry in the series:  "Preview of my report"

Looking down the business end of a Saturn V rocket at the KSC Visitor Complex's Apollo/Saturn V Center

Day 2 of the NASA Juno Tweetup started with guest speakers and demos in the tent, followed by the successful launch of the Atlas V rocket with the Juno spacecraft.  The launch was the final event planned by the Tweetup organizers, but I didn't want my NASA experience to end just yet.  Part of our NASA goodie bag given to us on day 1 was a free two day pass to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  I had been to the KSC Visitor Complex a few times in the past, but I decided to use the afternoon of day 2 to check out these attractions again.

Since this was launch day, I pulled up to the KSC Visitor Complex and noticed quite a large crowd there.  Some of my fellow Tweetup attendees were already inside and were Tweeting that they had never seen it so crowded.  That's good news for the space program, but bad news for me.  I figured that the pass was free, so I might as well take advantage of the place.

Before I entered, I tried to purchase their "Cape Canaveral: Then & Now" tour that brings you out to the original launch sites of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, as well as a stop at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum.  This tour brings you to Launch Complex 5, where Alan Shepard became the first American in space on a Mercury Redstone rocket in 1961.  We drove by this pad on day 1 on the way to our Launch Complex 17 tour, but we didn't stop there.  This tour also stops at the site of the Apollo 1 launch pad fire that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.  Unfortunately, they weren't running this tour on the day I was there.  It looks like a great tour, and it was available the next day, but I wasn't going to be in the area.  After the fact, I heard that the Air Force Station also offers a similar (but much cheaper) tour.

I wandered into the KSC Visitor Complex and was pretty blown away by the amount of people there.  I got a lay of the land, and headed toward the Imax theater for a screening of the space station film.  The line for the film was extremely long, and I just wasn't in the mood to wait on it.

Rocket Garden

My next stop was the Rocket Garden, which is various rockets used by NASA during the early years of the space program.  I love the history of the space program, rather than the flashy stuff like the Imax or rides, so this is really what I was hoping to see.  It was interesting to stand next to a Mercury Redstone rocket and imagine a human on the top of it waiting to launch into space.  Those were pretty brave guys to climb aboard those older rockets.  The Saturn IB (rocket on its side in the picture) was the kind of rocket that the Apollo 1 crew were in when the launch pad fire killed them.  Testing that rocket led to the developemnt of the massive Saturn V, which you'll read more about in a bit.

One part of the Rocket Garden is the actual service structure from the Apollo missions, namely Apollo 11, which was Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins heading to the moon for the first moon walk.  I made this little cell phone video of me walking the same service structure that the astronauts did when it was time to load into the capsule atop the Saturn V rocket on Launch Complex 39A.  At the end, you can see the tiny capsule they had to climb in.  They would be loaded in on their backs, looking up toward space.

One part of the KSC Visitor Complex that is a "must see" is the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  I have been to it before, but I really wanted to go see it again.  You have to take a bus over to it from the main Visitor Complex, and the tour usually includes a stop at the gantry that KSC built along Saturn Causeway that overlooks the Launch Complex 39 (shuttle) pads.  That part of the tour wasn't happening due to the Atlas V Juno launch earlier, but I wasn't too disappointed, since I drove right by Launch Complex 39A on my day 1 tour of KSC.  After waiting on a long (30 minute) line, I finally got bussed past the Vehicle Assembly Building over to the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Saturn V rocket at the Apollo/Saturn V Center

Your first stop at the Apollo/Saturn V Center is a reenactment of the launch countdown of a Saturn V rocket.  They have the actual firing room computers that were used during the Apollo program.  The video and show is quite entertaining.  Then you head into the main room, and are greeted with the sight in the picture above:  the business end of a Saturn V rocket.  NASA had already produced Saturn V rockets when the program came to an earlier than expected end, so the rocket on display here is one of those unused rockets.

The Saturn V rocket is so long (36 stories tall), it was impossible for me to get the entire thing in my camera frame.  It's raised up about 15 feet off the floor, so you can walk right underneath it and examine all the different sections.  It's just absolutely massive.  It's funny to see how small the crew capsule is compared to the rest of the rocket.  This rocket contained an incredible amount of power to break free of earth's gravity and propel humans 235,000 miles to the moon.  I've heard that the Saturn V rocket was the loudest man made object.  This rocket contained as much explosive energy as a small atomic bomb.  I would have loved to see a Saturn V launch in person, but I suppose that without a time machine, the Apollo/Saturn V Center is the next best thing.

I decided that I would leave the KSC Visitor Complex and head across the NASA Causeway bridge to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  This is included with your KSC Visitor Complex ticket.  The Astronaut Hall of Fame does contain a little hall of fame area with pictures of the inducted astronauts, but it's really a great museum showcasing the history of the space program.  I really liked this museum as much as I liked the Apollo/Saturn V Center, if not more.  They had great exhibits showing the progression of the space program, along with many interesting items to look at.  I didn't take a single picture in there, since I was obviously engrossed in the displays the entire time.  I was able to join up with a tour group going through the museum, so I got a great dose of NASA history.  A couple of times I wanted to correct the tour guide, but I bit my tongue.  I stayed there until closing time, and really need to go back to see everything I missed.  I highly recommend you spend some time here if you have an interest in the space program, and I assume you do since you're reading my blog post.

Bad cell phone pic of the Endless BBQ

The last day of the Tweetup ended like other NASA Tweetups have ended, with the Endless BBQ at someone's house.  The gracious hosts were shuttle technicians that live in Merritt Island.  From what I saw, the crowd was about 50% Tweetup attendees and 50% current or former space program employees.  I only took this one picture with my phone, which you can see above, but it really sums up the evening. @CraftLass was singing the Big Bang Theory theme song with NASA TV playing in the background. This BBQ was the perfect way to end the Tweetup experience with a bunch of genuinely nice, fun and interesting people.

That was the end of day 2, and unfortunately, the end of my time at the NASA Juno Tweetup.  My next blog post will be the last in my NASA Juno Tweetup series, wrapping everything up with my thoughts about the whole experience. 

Read my next (and last) blog entry in the "NASA Juno Tweetup" series:  "Reflections"
See all my pictures from the NASA Juno Tweetup 

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