Push Away the Screen: Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX Rocket Launch

Our family was invited by Kennedy Space Center to have Lunch with an Astronaut and visit the new Atlantis Exhibit.  I had been planning this trip for quite some time. We've only been to KSC once before, years ago, before kids. I remember when we went that it would not be a place to take young kids, so I've been waiting and waiting and waiting to get the opportunity to return to Cocoa Beach, and the nearby Kennedy Space Center. The #TampaTrio are now 8, 9, and 10 years old, so this seemed like the perfect age!! And it was!

You've heard of Cocoa Beach, right? Wink

The TV series I Dream of Jeannie was set in Cocoa Beach, and Captain Tony Nelson was the astronaut in the series.

In our version of astronaut encounters, we got to meet Dr. Jim Reilly, a PhD geologist turned astronaut who flew on 3 space shuttle missions. Super cool.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived in Cocoa Beach on Friday, early afternoon. Spent the day at our hotel relaxing, swimming, and exploring. There was a SpaceX Rocket Launch planned for 2:14am Saturday morning, but it started raining around 8pm, and it didn't let up. We did set the alarm, got up, saw it was raining, realized the mission was scrubbed, and went back to bed.

We woke up on Saturday, went out for a nice breakfast, and drove the 16 miles over to KSC. Along the way we told the kids the history that we knew of the space program and some funny personal family stories of adventures that James and I had on our first visit together over a decade earlier.

We arrived, it wasn't raining, but it looked like it might start at any time, so we quickly looked at the Rocket Garden, and some of the outdoor tributes. We also let the kids play a bit on the very nice (and shaded) playground area.

That's James in the blue shirt reading about the rocket engine, from who knows what engine?? Not me.

And then we quickly made it over to the Atlantis Exhibit.

We watched two quick documentary films about the history of the Space Shuttle program. I was really quite impressed to learn that the idea and construction for the Space Shuttles began in the early 1970's. There were lots of "aha" moments, and trial and errors before the fleet was constructed and successful.

After watching the movies, the screen became transparent and we were all starting right at the REAL Space Shuttle Atlantis!

With her cargo bay doors open we could look right inside this magnificent ship. And it was amazing. James and I walked around it in awe. Growing up in the age of the Space Shuttles this was right in our ballpark. The kids, while impressed didn't quite have the same "OMG" moment that us old folks did. Tongue Out

They were more about the SIM experience.

Ronin kept crashing, and got antsy quickly. Haley and Ella on the other-hand listened to one of the employees who told them to use a more gentle touch.

And voila.

Both of my girls managed to land their spacecrafts.

And then as a family we went on the Shuttle Launch Experience. During the briefing I was worried about Ella and her back as they really were going into details about how scary and realistic it was. So I asked an employee and she assured me that Ella would be fine, that it's more for show than anything.

The technical highlights include an amazingly realistic simulation of the space shuttle’s eight and a half-minute ascent into orbit, custom-designed crew cabins with unprecedented vertical range, high-definition audiovisual effects, and advanced seating effects to maximize the sense of realism.

The sense of realism. It was loud. It felt like we were flying at over 17,500MPH. It was an incredible experience.

We emerged from the Atlantis exhibit and it was POURING rain! Pouring!!  We had our lunch with an astronaut experience at 11:50am, and it was 11:40am, so we decided to try to stay as dry as possible by taking the long way around some exhibits, but no matter what, we still wound up soaking wet, and cold. Thankfully the AC was not turned down to frigid, and after waiting for the woman in the bathroom who was drying her RAIN PONCHOS (this I'll never understand) we finally got a turn under the dryer and attempted to make ourselves as presentable as we could.

Lunch was great.

You see that? That my friends is TANG. Real honest to goodness TANG.

The kids LOVED it. I didn't have any. I was too busy warming up with coffee.

Our lunch was served buffet style and we all chose a big serving of fresh greens, and I placed salmon and talapia on mine. Haley had talapia, too. Ronin and Ella both had salmon.

And then there were lots of desserts: cookies, ice cream, mousse. I refrained from any dessert, but we let the kids each choose 2 items.

Towards the end of our main meal time, our Astronaut was brought out and spoke a bit about his background, and then opened the floor for some Q/A.

There was ONE child that got chosen. And of course, you know it was one of mine. And if you follow my blog, you know which one it was.

I can tell Ronin is a little bit nervous because he's twirling his hair. My sweet boy.

He asked the docent "have there ever been any autistic astronauts." And the reply was "not to my knowledge." And then he asked the astronaut "what does it feel like to steer in space?' But his question was misunderstood, and he thought he said STAND in space, and then we got quite the lengthy discussion about the lack of gravity in space, all during which Ronin was looking at me rolling his eyes. Cool That will teach him to speak more clearly.

After our lunch with the astronaut, it was STILL raining so again we did the best we could to stay under shelter and made our way over to the buses for the bus tour of KSC.

Ronin was my seat buddy and we spent quite a bit of time exploring the KSC grounds. Ronin and I were both fascinated with the Crawler-Transporter System.

When they were built, the KSC crawlers were the largest tracked vehicles ever made. They move the Mobile Launcher Platform into the Vehicle Assembly Building and then to the Launch Pad with an assembled space vehicle. Maximum speed is 1.6km (one mile) per hour loaded, about 3.2 km (2 miles) per hour unloaded. Launch Pad to VAB trip time with the Mobile Launch Platform is about 5 hours. The crawler burns 568 liters (150 gallons) of diesel oil per mile.

Ronin was so intrigued by how SLOWLY they moved and kept asking me how many hours it would take for the crawler to get from KSC to our house.

The Crawlers move on a special rock that comes from the Mississippi/Alabama area, so it was hard to get him to understand that there was no way that the crawler could even drive to our house.

This vehicle is just HUGE.

We passed by the iconic NASA building that you always see on the news.

And it was by this time that Ronin was dancing in his seat. Parent's you'll know what I mean. He had to go to the bathroom BADLY. Even though he went before we left, I think he drank too much Tang. Undecided I did all I could to keep his mind on what we were seeing, but this is my #1 tip before you get on the bus. LIMIT FLUIDS AND GO TO THE BATHROOM BEFOREHAND! I know it's hard to limit fluids when we're in Florida and it's hot, but my little dude got pretty miserable. Thankfully we didn't have any accidents, but when we arrived at the Saturn Rocket exhibit, he shot out of that bus like he was a rocket himself with a straight shot for the bathroom.

We spent quite a bit of time at the Saturn Rocket exhibit. This was James' favorite part of the day.

Just in case you don't remember, the Saturn rockets were the rockets that were responsible for launching humans to the Moon!!

The Saturn V rocket was 363 feet tall, about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds, the weight of about 400 elephants. The rocket generated 34.5 million newtons (7.6 million pounds) of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams. A car that gets 48 kilometers (30 miles) to the gallon could drive around the world around 800 times with the amount of fuel the Saturn V used for a lunar landing mission. It could launch about 130 tons into Earth's orbit. That's about as much weight as 10 school buses.

It's just an amazing part of technology and of our history.

There was a TON of information about the history of the Apollo missions and the kids even got to touch a moon rock!

But what left an impression with me was this:


Do you see the dates of the Apollo 15? July 26-August 7, 1971. I was born on August 8, 1971.

In my "baby book" my mom recorded that Apollo 15 returns to Earth. On re-entry, one of the capsule's three main parachutes is found to have deflated; but the safety of astronauts David Scott, James Irwin and Alfred Worden is not compromised.

I just found that really really interesting. It just goes to show how important the space program was to our parent's generation, and ours.

It seems to be lost a little bit on this current generation of youngsters. While the #TampaTrio totally loved KSC, there was no "personal connection" for them. They hadn't seen a launch, they hadn't been glued to a TV while a shuttle launched or landed.

That is until later that night.

We were lucky enough to be present for the launch of the SpaceX rocket.


Having spent all day at KSC, the kids were able to know what it was that they were looking at, and what they were hearing. They identified when SpaceX broke the sound barrier. They could tell when it separated from Dragon. THEY HAD A CONNECTION!

And now they are excited, engaged, and ready to see how the next chapter of our space history unfolds.


Photo by SpaceX of the launch on September 21, 2014

Have you ever been to KSC? Have you ever seen a rocket/shuttle launch?