Most of our activities are chosen and planned by Jess as we travel. I spend much of my time working and don’t always adventure with the family. Every once in awhile, I choose a place that I’m particularly interested in, and Jess and the kids are awesomely accommodating. My chosen adventure this time was a week of Space Stuff at Cape Canaveral. In addition to witnessing a rocket launch, we spent a day exploring the Kennedy Space Center.
We had camped at the crowded but conveniently located Manatee Hammock Campground, a county campground just south of Titusville, Florida. We watched the launch from the edge of the campground, and it was only a short drive as we headed over to the Space Center.
Date We Visited: February 6, 2016
Ages of Kids: 10, 8, 5
We don’t often pose as a complete family, so here is one of us, looking completely normal. The NASA ball is cool, but also notice the shuttle booster in the background.
I’ve been a minor space nut all my life. One morning a few years ago the kids wandered into my home office to say hello. I was streaming one of the Space X ISS Resupply rocket launches, and they asked what it was. I paused for a moment, and then explained that there were astronauts living in a spaceship in orbit around Earth, and this was a mission to send more food and science experiments. It was such a cool experience to share with my kids. We watched video tours of the International Space Station, and have since spotted the space station as it streaked across the night sky.
Visiting a veritable mecca of space travel was a continuation of that experience. Learning alongside my kids about various space travel accomplishments was a wonderful experience. Just inside the gates is the Rocket Garden, where they have a variety of rockets on display. The early days of space travel were a strange and wonderful thing. The kids piled into one of the spacecraft used to first circle the earth.
There are many things to see at the Space Center, but after the Rocket Garden we headed quickly to the Bus Tour. The tour is included in the admission tickets, and includes a drive by visit to a few launch pads. It was amazing to drive by the huge crawling platforms that were used to move rockets between assembly buildings and the launch sites. We also drove past one of the Space X launch sites and saw (at a distance) the ULA rocket that we watched take off a few days later.
Cape Canaveral is a huge area dotted with launch pads, but most of the space is just empty wilderness to maintain a buffer around launches. Explosions on the pad or in the air are hugely problematic, but having ‘nothing’ around the pad helps to slightly simplify things in the event of a disaster. All that area is free range for the wildlife, including alligators and an incredible variety of birds. The bus drove right by two bald eagles, just sitting right by the road. View blocking heads present for… uh… scale.
The main stop of the bus tour is the Saturn V center, dedicated to the Saturn V rocket and our exploration of the moon. The main feature of the center is of course a Saturn V in all of it’s glory. The sections were slightly separated for easier viewing, but were otherwise present, laid down through the building. Rockets are really stacks of rockets. Each stage has a fuel tank and an engine that burns the fuel to provide thrust. You generally need a stage for each phase of a mission. As each phase burns out it separates and drops off, making the load lighter and easier to accelerate for the next burn. Rockets delivering satellites to Earth orbit commonly have 2 stages. The Apollo missions to the moon had a much more difficult job which required many more stages and engines in different configurations to make the trip there, AND the trip back. The massive size of the rocket is impressive, and exploring and learning about them was a serious highlight of the tour.
Cara took to my suggestion and wore her Buzz Wings. The wings were originally part of a costume Cara had, and as she grew the wings were the only part of the custume that still fit. They have traveled with us, and though she doesn’t always wear them they come out her and there. Seeing her wear them as she wandered around looking at space stuff was especially cute.
After exploring the rockets and exhibits at the Saturn V Center, we jumped back on the bus for a ride back to the Johnson Space Center. Our next goal was to see one of the spacecraft of my youth: The Atlantis.
Pictured above (with children for scale) is the main fuel tank and solid rocket boosters that boosted the Space Shuttle fleet into space. After entering the main doors we entered a presentation room with projection screens all over the walls and roof. Our introduction video was quite impressive, but the coolest part was when the wall behind the front screen opened to reveal the Atlantis on display. The Atlantis was amazing to see in person. It served for many years as part of the three shuttle fleet, running an amazing number of missions to space. The shuttle fleet was the main method of transporting and building the International Space Station and other space tools like the Hubble Telescope.
The moment the screen opened and I walked up to see Atlantis was my personal highlight of the entire day.
Around the ship itself was quite a number of displays, including mockups of the interior and exhibits to learn about flying the shuttle. The kids loved the slide, which we managed to not get a picture of.
Another area we visited twice was the play structure by the Rocket Garden. It was a wonderful display, and provided the kids plenty of unstructured relax time. We have learned that our kids to better on structured activities (tours, museums, etc.) if they can mix in some wiggle time. We also ate lunch here after I retrieved our lunch cooler from the truck.
We also viewed the 3D IMAX movie about an Atlantis mission to repair the Hubble Telescope. The movie itself was breathtaking, and I felt like it gave us a good view of what life in space was really like. The wonderful views of Earth, and of Atlantis in action made the time spent there worthwhile.
We loved our visit. The kids had fun, and Dad got his space fix in. We completed our space experience a few days later when we watched a rocket launch up into space.
And just for posterity, here is another of those whole family poses.