Have you heard the one about the manatee and the space shuttle?

By | Category: Travel destinations
space shuttle Atlantis

The Atlantis space shuttle

Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is home to the history of US space exploration. It is also home to manatees, bald eagles, plants and about 5,000 alligators.

And they co-exist.

Since they do, a day spent at the Center enables the visitor to have a very full day.

As you near the Center you can see rockets lined up just beyond he entrance gates but before that an “astronaut” will greet you by the NASA globe. Suited up with a full helmet, you have no idea who is in the suit and it doesn’t matter. Queues immediately form for this photo-opportunity. After all, you’ve just met an astronaut!

The complex is large and yet no public money has been spent on the buildings, the exhibitions or anything else that the visitor can view. It has all come from private industry and they are at pains to point it out to you. The Center is run by a private body, it just happens to be next to the very launch pads that sent shuttles and other exploration missions into space.

Baha meets an astronaut?

an astronaut can greet you as you enter

For those who remember when the shuttle Atlantis was moved here in 2012 you might have thought it was just a case of putting it on a low loader and driving it in. Not a bit of it. The Center decided to preserve Atlantis as it was when returning from its last mission. That meant almost bubble wrapping it so that the space debris that hit it, the damage to the heat-resistible tiles would all be available to see. The last 9.8 miles took six hours to accomplish. Remember that next time you get stuck behind a tractor on a country road!

As you walk to where Atlantis is housed you pass the models of the rockets that launched the shuttle into space. Obviously rockets don’t survive but disintegrate as part of the launch process or are jettisoned in space. So, all the rockets are models just as those that greeted you when you walked through the entrance gates are. And it isn’t limited to just US space equipment. There is a model of a Russian one as well.

To understand the complexities of the move, a five minute film is shown in the theatre as an introduction to what this visitor attraction holds. Atlantis is just one of 4,600 different artefacts available to the visitor and today, Atlantis is the highpoint of the visit. There, attached to the roof at an angle like some giant bird, Atlantis hovers over the visitors. It seems bigger than it appears in the newsreels when it often is viewed as a medium sized plane. There you can see the burn marks, the damaged heat-resistant tiles and the interior. Around it you can see a space toilet, (sit on it if you like as Flavio did!) tributes to those that lost their lives in space disasters and models of early capsules.

This is one of five Mercury 12B which was on standby but never used

This is one of five Mercury 12B which was on standby but never used

There are long forgotten names like Mercury and Atlas, Redstone rockets and the names of astronauts I shouldn’t have forgotten but had. The history is here as well.

It’s educational too but in a Horrible Histories approach. From another astronaut, Don Petit, is a comment that, “When I was on station, we took yesterday’s sweat and breath and turned it into today’s coffee.” Maybe that explains why I have never liked the stuff! All waste water on board – think about it – is converted into drinking water for the astronauts to use. Is this ultimate recycling?

As well as having lunch with a former astronaut as I mentioned a week or so ago, those same astronauts are available at the theatre where they will give a talk on how they faced their lives in space exploration. It is probably good advice to do lunch or the theatre presentation but not both. Chances are you might hear the same thing twice!

The Center also operates a bus journey which takes you on a tour outside the NASA base. Driven by an ex-employee of NASA, the advantage is that these drivers are guides as well. Very knowledgeable ones as well. Try almost any question and they had answers and opinions even pointing out spots that looked like nothing but where past glitches and problems had happened. The bus also gives you the opportunity to see the thousands of acres that surround the base and the visitor and time should certainly be set aside for this.

the Apollo 14 capsule

The Apollo 14 capsule which safely returned to Earth

If you are in the area for half-term, then the Atlas V rocket lifts off on October the 29th. The Center provides the closest viewing area and, and this is a real bargain, launch viewing is included in the daily admission price. Guests are invited to view the launch from the main Visitor Complex or the Apollo/Saturn V Center inside the gates of Kennedy Space Center. Buses from the Visitor Complex will take guests to the Apollo/Saturn V Center beginning at 10 a.m. The last bus going to the Apollo/Saturn V Center for launch viewing will depart at 11:45 a.m. or until capacity is reached.

Surrounding much of the complex is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge which was established in 1963 and covers 140,000 acres. Obviously for security there had to be an area around the base that could be a buffer between people and the secrets. So a wildlife sanctuary was set up and since then animals, plants and the environment has flourished. The reason?

This is Snoooty, the oldest manatee in captivity at Brdenton, Florida. the manatee I saw preferred to swim away before I could snap it!

This is Snoooty, the oldest manatee in captivity at Brdenton, Florida. the manatee I saw preferred to swim away before I could snap it!

Man has largely left all of those acres alone. It means that bald eagles have nested and the bus drivers will point out where that year’s breeding nests are. This is the only place in Florida where I have seen manatees in the wild.  About 300 or 30% of all of Florida’s manatees are to be found in this refuge and there is a manatee observation deck from which you can see them – if they are being cooperative! And there are armadillos, wild pigs around, bobcats and possums with countless of birds and, of course, those alligators. In all there are 330 species of birds, 65 amphibians and 45 mammals which called Merritt home. Because the shoreline is protected as well, there are usually about 4,000 turtle nests so this has become an important breeding ground.

spae loo

and the most often answered question. How did the the space loo work?

This was the one attraction that I visited where we had half a day to see it. This was the one attraction where more time was needed to see more. It demands a day of your time.

It’s all here and it reminded me of the night I stayed up as the original moon landing took place in 1969. Then it was unbelievable that we could travel so far and it echoed back to the great explorers that set out into the unknown in the fifteenth century. The difference now is that we have documents, actual craft and eye-witness accounts. The fifteenth century left us in historical poverty in comparison. And the Kennedy Space Center is where most of the space riches can be found.

For more information about the Kennedy Space Center, click here.


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