Located on the east coast of Florida, a short hours drive from central Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has been the United States primary location for human spaceflight since the late 1960’s with the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle missions departing from the now famous complex 39. The adjacent Air Force Station had been the center for the pervious manned programs and continues to regularly deliver commercial, scientific and military payloads to space.
I have always been fascinated by space and am enthusiastic about educating others of the wonders, and beauty, of space and its exploration through the website Spaceopedia. Considering my interest in space exploration, and being aware that NASA’s Space Shuttle program was coming to an end following the loss of Columbia in 2001, I made sure I was in the facility when one of the last Shuttle launches was planned. That day finally arrived, Saturday the 31st of May – Launch Day! The weather was perfect so the chances were very high that Discovery would get away on time at 1702 EST.
I had joined a two day tour that picked me up from Orlando and took us around the various attractions and centers. Saturday the 31st started early at 0700 at which point we headed to the Visitor Complex at Kennedy Space Centre where they had a number of historic rockets in the Rocket Garden, the unbelievable exhibit showing the Atlantis Shuttle, Mercury capsules, rides, Hall of Fame and launch simulators including an IMAX theatre – a full day in itself.
Admission to the Visitor Center also included a tour to see an actual Apollo/Saturn V Center (most powerful rocket ever built to send man to the moon), the second largest building in the world where they assemble the shuttle and rockets, the plant where they construct the International Space Station (ISS) and finally, the viewing gantry to see complex 39 which is the Shuttle Launch Pad up close. I was like a pig in mud! Incidentally, Discovery (the Shuttle I would see launch) was going up to continue construction of the ISS, at a cost of NZD $210 billion, it’s the most expensive single thing humans have ever constructed. Six times more expensive than the 2nd most expensive thing!
By mid-afternoon of the day of the Shuttle Launch, those of us on the VIP tour made our way to the NASA causeway viewing area. This is the best place the public can view rocket launches from complex 39. At this point we were approx. 10km from the 39A launch pad; as close as the public can get. We would wait and watch the countdown from T -02:00:00 (two hours) before hearing the final clearance that ‘We are GO for launch’ and that we were about to witness “the greatest show on earth” as Commander Mark Kelly remarked.
The launch itself was phenomenal and lasted about four minutes until you could no longer see the Orbiter Vehicle streaking into the heavens; but it felt like 10 seconds! The best thing has to be the noise - the crackling thunder – and vibrations pounding your chest, such is the power of over 7 million pounds of thrust. If you want to see a rocket launch yourself at Cape Canveral you can plan your trip using the rocket launch schedule on the Kennedy Space Center site. Already can't wait to see something similar again.