Something that has been on my bucket list for a long time is to see a rocket launch, but that isn't the easiest thing in Colorado. On the evening of Dec 3, Nathaniel and I were driving from the Orlando airport to Palm Beach to visit my family, listening to NPR. All of a sudden, they were talking about the Orion spacecraft and said something about Dec 4. Listening closer, we discovered that they were talking about a launch to test the systems and splashdown, and we both agreed that we should probably take advantage of this opportunity! So what if it was at 7:05 the next morning, two and a half hours away from where we were currently heading, with buses that hadd to be boarded a couple hours beforehand? We were in Florida for a really cool launch opportunity.
The next morning (if you can call it that) we left to go to the Kennedy Space Center at 2:45. We got there and there was a huge line to park, then a huge line to get onto the buses, and just a ton of people at the launch viewing site. We found a pretty good view of the site, set up Nathaniel's tripod, and waited. 7:05 rolled around, they started the countdown and... It was aborted. There was a boat in the water, and they didn't want to launch anything if the boat was not in a safe place. Ok, no worries, the launch window was going to be open until 9:44 am. They start the next countdown and... Aborted again. This time for wind. Ugh, ok, ok, still enough time to launch.... But third time around, aborted again, because of a valve malfunction. Now we are really cutting it close...but there is still one more opportunity for liftoff... But we're thwarted by the fuel systems again!
Ok, so we paid for admission to the Kennedy Space Center, and an extra ticket to see a rocket take off, and the launch got scrubbed. What do we do now? Well, NASA refunds you nothing, but you get 20% off in the gift shops, and your admission ticket counts for the next launch attempt, too. We decided to take advantage of the fact that we were at the Kennedy Space Center and look at the exhibits.
The launch site is located at the Saturn V Center, where they have an actual Saturn V rocket on display. They also have artifacts from the lunar expeditions, like space suits, rocks, journals and the lunar rover. We decided it was a good time to look at this part of the museum because the bus line was ridiculously long. This was the biggest turnout for a launch in a very long time, and shuttling 27,000 sad people back to the main area was not going to be an easy task. After we went through the whole Saturn V center, we headed back to the main complex by bus.
When we got back to the main complex, we signed a banner about the Orion mission, and then went through the Atlantis building, which focused on the space shuttle missions that lasted from 1981-2011. The fact that they made several huge spacecrafts with enough cargo space to transport multiple satellites and the Hubble telescope, that then got to be reused over and over again (over 130 missions and 6 shuttles), is just mind boggling. These scientists and engineers are truly amazing people to work together to accomplish these missions.
At the KSC they also have a rocket "garden" and IMAX, but we were so tired that we decided to call it a day. We had also decided to buy the transportation tickets again to come back the next day and try again,
The next morning we woke up and did it all over again. However, the crowd was waaayyy smaller (3000) and we actually got seats on the bleachers rather than the grass. We discovered that what we thought was the launch structure and the rocket was not actually it, and it would have been difficult to see the rocket start all the way from the ground from where we were the previous day. The launch team only gave a 40% chance that the rocket would actually take off, and we kept seeing the wind blow the flags nearby. We held out hope, but the conditions didn't seem to be getting any better... But lucky for us, 7:05 rolled around and the rocket took off. It caught us off guard because they had screens and an audio feed going, and the rockets ignited when our audio feed still had almost a minute to go! It was so bright, and quite loud, and even though we had to skimp on sleep and spend more money, we were so glad we got to see a launch (especially one that is so important to future space exploration!).
With the rest of our "day" at the Kennedy Space Center, we bought some souvenirs and gifts for my family, and went through the rocket garden. The rocket garden is where they have a bunch of rockets on display, mostly standing up, and you can also sit inside the capsules that the astronauts sat in for their missions.
We had both been to the Kennedy Space Center before, but this was an extra fun trip. Not only did we get to go together, but we got to see a rocket launch (something I've wanted to do forever). It sounds like they happen relatively frequently, so if you're going to central Florida, take a peek at the schedule for KSC. The visitors complex is fun to spend a day at anyway, but if you get the opportunity to experience a launch, I highly recommend it.