Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Holy Space Shuttle, Batman!

Kennedy Space Center

When we were in the Houston area, we visited the Johnson Space Center. Of course, The Great Outdoors is only a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center, where the launches and returns take place. Sooo, we had to visit this NASA center...Atlantis was going up!

Shuttle mock up
We purchased a two-day, up-close tour package, that included a walking tour at at the visitors center, lunch with an astronaut, and a bus tour. We spent day 1 visiting several exhibits, including the "launch experience". On this ride, you get to simulate a shuttle take-off. Because of Donna's healing broken rib, she opted to view the launch from a separate area. It was pretty realistic, lots of vibration and simulated g-force. After that, we headed off to lunch - our astronaut was Story Musgrave, one of the more famous astronauts, with 6 flights to his credit. Dr. Musgrave is also in the Astronauts Hall of Fame. Lunch was good, and after seeing a few more exhibits, we drove over to the Astronaut Museum and Hall of Fame.

Photo opp with Dr. Musgrave

Memorial for fallen astronauts

Two days later, we drove out to KSC for our up-close bus tour. This was to be a very special tour, as the Atlantis shuttle launch was scheduled for the following day. The tour was great, as we got within 1 mile of both launch pads. We could see Atlantis clearly from our vantage point. During a launch, the closest anyone can be to the pad is 2-1/2 miles. Any closer can be very hazardous to your health, up to, and including, death.

Assembly building. Note the huge doors on the left!
The next day, we witnessed the launch from a safe 5-6 miles. It was spectacular, to say the least! To get a good viewing spot, you have to be out there about 3 hours earlier than the scheduled time. All day NASA was worried that weather could cancel the flight - there cannot be any lightning within 20 miles. As late as 8 minutes before launch, there was a weather hold. But the clouds took a turn, and we got these great shots! While loud, the wind was blowing towards the shuttle, so it wasn't as earth-shaking as we had been told it was. But it was very spectacular, none the less!

Atlantis is off!

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