3900 miles traveled.
I didn’t know what to expect from Kennedy Space Center. Since the Space Shuttle no longer flies, I thought it might be a gigantic museum, or a ghost town. I was surprised to find many projects underway, many of them run by private industry. It seems NASA is taking a backseat, focusing on research, and helping private industry where it can. For that reason, it just leased one of the Space Shuttle launch pads to Space X which plans to use it for many commercial purposes, including taking tourists into space. At least 4 other companies have contracts to begin using the Space Shuttle runway (where the SS landed when it returned to Earth) for all kinds of commercial purposes, again, including taking tourists to space. One company plans to open next year and offer a “vomit comet” experience to paying customers. They, and others, will expand into space tourism and expect to be up and running in the next 2-3 years.
Space X is already way ahead of the game. It is the company that has already launched three rockets carrying supplies for the International Space Station. So far, its the only one that has a pod that returns safely to Earth, instead of burning up in the atmosphere. This is critical if the astronauts want to return experiments to earth, or themselves for that matter. Up to now, the only other option was hopping a ride on a Soviet Soyuz.
I was surprised by how much the whole Kennedy Space Center experience reminded me of a theme park. There were rides, games, movies, 3D experiences, and food outlets everywhere we turned. But they were really well done. One of the highlights for me was the blast-off simulator. We strapped into seats and counted down to lift off. The whole thing was designed by astronauts and they claimed it was very realistic. I have a feeling it was only about 10% of what they actually experienced, but it was really cool, none the less. The other highlight for me was the simulated Space Shuttle launch. The experience was from the view of those watching the launch. That one ended with really cool views of the Space Shuttle in space, but what we were actually looking at was the REAL Space Shuttle Atlantis (which was stationary) but because of the way the movie played around it, it looked like it was flying. Ingenious effects. I have lots of pictures here. I thought it was very interesting that they put Atlantis on display without any changes. What you see is what she looked like when she landed after her last flight. That includes dirt, re-entry burns, and missing ceramic tiles.
Overall, the experience made me want to read Deception Point by Dan Brown again. It was a great book. (Warning: in this book he does to NASA what he did to the Catholic Church in the DaVinci Code. Don’t take anything he says as fact . . . IT”S ALL FICTION.) It’s a thriller about the politics behind commercializing space. In real life, it seems NASA has yielded the field and fully supports (and actively helps) private industries headed for space.