My final few days in Jacksonville, Florida were enjoyable. On Thursday, New Years Eve, we drove to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral which was just over two hours away from our hotel. The Kennedy Space Center has been on my bucket list of things to do in Florida for a few years, but I hadn’t had a chance to cross it off until this trip!
The price of admission of $50, or $46 if you are disabled, seemed a bit steep at the ticket window, however it was a great deal in retrospect. The grounds of the space center remind me of Disney World – complete with fountains, colorful facades and the overall flow of the attractions. After you buy your ticket, you walk passed a fountain with a quote from John F. Kennedy:
For the eyes of the world now look into space to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.
The quote stayed with me for the duration of my visit to the Kennedy Space Center. John F. Kennedy supported the space program during his presidency not just because of its scientific value, but as a way to unify and inspire the American people during the very uncertain times of the Cold War when it seemed like the world was on the brink of World War III.
After walking through the main gate, we were immediately met by the Rocket Garden, which was home to actual rockets or models of rockets that sent satellites or humans into space. It was amazing to see how big they actually were and helped put the rest of the day into context.
After the Rocket Garden, we headed to the back of the grounds and boarded a tour bus for a grand tour of the entire complex that is only accessible to the public through a guided bus tour. The bus tour was exceptionally done & our driver pointed out a few interesting things like the crawler that moved the space shuttles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pads, Cape Canaveral Air Force Launch Station which is the new launch site for NASA, and Launch Complex 39 which is home to three separate launch pads that were used to launch many of the important rockets & shuttles into space. The driver also explained that NASA is leasing out its launch pads to third parties like SpaceX to allow them to focus on more long term aspirations like human missions to Mars.
Launch Pad 39A was recently leased by SpaceX
Our driver then dropped us off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center which is separate from the rest of the Kennedy Space Center grounds. We had the opportunity to learn about Americas first (unsuccessful) attempts at spaceflight & how John F. Kennedy committed to putting a man on the moon before 1970. We also had the opportunity to walk under the Saturn V rocket which is the largest rocket ever sent into space. It was so big it was hard to imagine it ever being able to fly, yet alone make it to space! The center was also home to the Launch Control Center, so we were able to watch a re-enactment of the first launch of a human-manned rocket to orbit the moon.
Thrusters on the bottom of the Saturn V rocket
Command Module of the Saturn V Rocket
After the Apollo/Saturn V Center, we boarded a bus to take us back to the Kennedy Space Center. Our bus driver discussed the various NASA spin-off technologies, items or concepts that were developed by NASA that we take for granted in our everyday lives. Things from artificial limbs to arthroscopic surgery to disposable diapers to the anti-slip material on the bottom of my crutches were all developed with help from NASA. NASA does not profit from any of the spin-off technology it developed, but if it did I am sure it would be able to fund a mission to Mars by now!
Before leaving the Kennedy Space Center, we tried to watch an IMAX presentation about the future of space travel, but the projector stopped working about halfway through the movie. We decided to visit an exhibit on Atlantis and, again, were wowed by the size of the space shuttle!
Space Shuttle Atlantis
My inner-nerd definitely came out during my visit to the Kennedy Space Center. It is immensely disappointing that the American government decreased the funding of the space program to the point where we cannot launch American astronauts into space without the help of another country. It sounds like the privatization of the space industry will definitely enable the science of spaceflight to improve by leaps & bounds over the next few decades, though!
After the Kennedy Space Center, we drove back to our hotel and the sightseeing part of our vacation was over. As an avid college football fan, I spent the remainder of New Years Eve & all of New Years Day watching the bowl games with my family in our hotel lobby! The day after New Years was the TaxSlayer Bowl – unfortunately my Penn State Nittany Lions lost to the Georgia Bulldogs, but I still had a great time at the game and was happy I traveled down to Jacksonville to root my team on!