Three… Two… One… Make Rocket Go Now

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September 24th 2012
Published: September 25th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Old Fort JacksonOld Fort JacksonOld Fort Jackson

Savannah, Georgia
I arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of Savannah after a long but uneventful drive. The hotel was nicer than the last few I’ve stayed at, which was good. The next morning (Saturday) I was feeling pretty lazy so decided not to do too much. After breakfast, the first thing I wanted to do was to visit the post office and send another parcel full of souvenirs home in the hope that my luggage isn’t too heavy. I still expect to be over the airline limit, though. Sending the parcel this time seemed to be more effort, and definitely took longer. They don’t seem to be in a hurry in Georgia. I can understand because it is very warm. A lady in the post office mentioned it was nice that the weather was cooling down too!

From there I headed slightly out of town to the Old Fort Jackson. The fort was built for the War of 1812, and was used in the Civil War too. They had a couple of guys dressed as Confederate soldiers, but there wasn’t a lot to see. There was a short film, of course. And the view from the ramparts was
Cannon on the rampartsCannon on the rampartsCannon on the ramparts

Old Fort Jackson
quite nice, overlooking the Savannah River. After looking around, I was quite happy to get in the air-conditioned car and drive down to Florida.

Again, it was a long but uneventful drive and I arrived at my hotel in St. Augustine. Unfortunately, I once again found out that the hotel didn’t have my booking. It turned out that the company that did the booking for my travel agent had subsequently cancelled it for some reason, but luckily it’s off season so there were rooms available. And if I thought it was hot in Savannah, it was even hotter down in Florida – over 90 degrees. It was very humid as well. Luckily air-conditioning is very common and I had a relaxing night.

The next day (Sunday) I was still feeling pretty lazy, and had only one thing I really wanted to see in town – the old Castillo de San Marco fort. St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied European city in the United States, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565. The fort itself was built in 1672. So after breakfast, I walked down to the fort.

On the
Inside the fortInside the fortInside the fort

Old Fort Jackson
way, I walked past a catholic shrine with a massive cross. But it was the fort I wanted to see, and after a short walk I arrived on the opposite side of the fort from the entrance. It’s not big, though, so I was soon in. And I was just in time for a talk by one of rangers. It was an interesting run-down of the history of the fort and afterwards I had a talk with him about the history of Florida and how it eventually became part of the United States. I then had a walk around the fort which also has a great view from the ramparts. But it was stinking hot and I couldn’t be bothered hanging around for the cannon firing so I walked back to the hotel before getting in the car and driving down to Cocoa Beach.

It was late afternoon when I arrived, so I relaxed reading my book in the hotel before having a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant. Cocoa Beach is near Port Canaveral where lots of cruise ships leave for cruises in the Caribbean, and generally seems to be a beachy, touristy place. It reminds

St. Augustine, Florida
me of Queensland, even though I’ve never actually been there. But that wasn’t why I was here.

So today (Monday), instead of the laziness of the last couple of days I was up and about early. After breakfast I drove up to the Kennedy Space Centre, about half an hour away. I was a bit surprised on the way, though. Despite all of the great things I’ve seen so far on this holiday, this was the first time I got really excited about what I was about to see. I felt like a kid again.

I arrived at the visitors centre and parked just before 10. Luckily, I had booked my ticket online months ago so I was able to skip the queue. I still had to swap my e-ticket for a proper one, but there was no line at that window. And it was then that I realised I must have decided to go for the “Lunch with an Astronaut”, and it seemed I was to go on the tour at 1:30, straight after the lunch. The sticker I had to put on my shirt said “VAB 1:30”, which I didn’t really think
Gate in the old city wallsGate in the old city wallsGate in the old city walls

St. Augustine, Florida
about but it turned out to be awesome. But I skip ahead.

I started with a walk around the Rocket Garden where they have a few of the early rockets from the space program. I then decided to spend some time looking around at the various exhibits. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at this point. I think I was expecting to have lots of museum-type stuff like they had at the Air and Space Museum. But generally, the exhibits seemed to be mostly geared towards kids. It was still interesting, just not what I expected.

It was soon time for lunch, so I headed over to where I’d been told to go. We were ushered into a dining room and given a buffet lunch. There were probably 6 or 7 tables, with about 10 people to a table, and despite what some people were expecting, there wasn’t an astronaut at each table. Towards the end of the meal, the astronaut arrived to give us a little talk and answer some questions. The meal was quite nice, but the talk was great.

Our astronaut was a fellow named Bob
Castillo de San MarcoCastillo de San MarcoCastillo de San Marco

St. Augustine, Florida
Springer who was part of two space shuttle missions. Before joining NASA he was a Marine Corp fighter pilot and flew over 500 combat missions in Vietnam. His talk included how he became an astronaut, including the selection process and training. He then went on to talk about some of his experiences as an astronaut. I really enjoyed the talk and he seemed like a really nice guy.

After a couple of questions from the audience, we queued up to get our photos taken with Bob. We were told that those of us with stickers for the 1:30 VAB tour had to go to the front of the queue, which was nice. It was then that I put 2 and 2 together and realised that VAB referred to the “Vehicle Assembly Building”. This is the extremely large building where they used to prepare the Saturn V rockets, and then the Space Shuttles, for going into space. I had no idea that the tour visited there, and as it turns out, I have been lucky to visit when I did because it’s only a possibility at the moment because NASA is currently between the Space Shuttle program and
From the rampartsFrom the rampartsFrom the ramparts

Castillo de San Marco
the next space program. Ordinarily, the building is very much off limits.

So after my photo with Bob, it was off to join a bus for the tour. The tour went to 4 places. The first was out towards Cape Canaveral, which is where the early space missions flew from. Today it is still in use, but for smaller missions such as satellite launches. From where we stopped, we could see three launch pads on Cape Canaveral, as well as look back at the VAB and the Kennedy Space Centre launch pads. We could see a rocket on one of the launch pads on the Cape, but only the base of it because it was basically in a building. They are put on the pads about 30 days before launch.

It’s also worth mentioning that of the massive area for Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre, only 10% is used by NASA. The rest of it is a nature and wildlife reserve, apparently with lots of alligators, gophers, turtles and bald eagles, amongst other animals. We saw a massive eagle’s nest, but that was it. Our guide was happy to tell us about
I have them in my sightsI have them in my sightsI have them in my sights

Castillo de San Marco
what lots of other groups have seen though. He also said that if we saw an alligator, we could give him $5 and he would let us get out and pat it.

Our next stop was the VAB and despite my expectations, I was still blown away by the size of the place. It is basically a big cube featuring 4 hangars, although it seems that they only really use 2. But each of the 4 hangars apparently can fit the Empire State building, with a bit of room to spare. I’m sure my photos won’t do the scale justice. Unfortunately, there is nothing in there at the moment. In a couple of weeks they will be moving the Space Shuttle Atlantis in there to prepare it for its move into a new building at the Kennedy Space Centre visitors centre. And a couple of weeks ago, the Endeavour was there before being flown to Los Angeles for its display there. So may be my timing wasn’t the best, but no matter. At least I got to see one of the shuttles up at the Air and Space Museum. Inside the VAB we had a little talk
Entrance to the fortEntrance to the fortEntrance to the fort

Castillo de San Marco
by a former NASA employee who worked in the section that made the heat tiles for the shuttle.

The bus then drove out past the Kennedy Space Centre launch pads. The first one was the pad used for all of the Apollo missions, and most of the shuttle missions. It is being left as is, with all of the shuttle launch equipment in place and won’t be used in the future. We stopped at a spot between the two launch pads for photos.

Then we headed to the last stop of the tour – the Apollo / Saturn V centre. We started off with a presentation with the control centre of the Apollo program, and a film “experience” that featured the launch of Apollo 8. This included all of our seats shaking during take-off. Apollo 8 was the first manned flight of the Saturn V rocket and the crew flew to the moon, orbiting but not landing. Then it was into the main area which features a Saturn V rocket. The Saturn V is apparently still the most powerful and complex rocket ever built and it was bloody huge. Again, my photos won’t do
Inside the fortInside the fortInside the fort

Castillo de San Marco
it justice. There was also a second presentation; this one was about landing on the moon. This was also really well done. When that was done, it was 4:30 and the place was starting to close down. I wanted to head back to the visitors centre anyway, so that I could buy some souvenirs before the main centre closed.

And so I did. As it turns out, even though they said the place closes at 5, they don’t really close down until the last IMAX film finishes (I would have liked to have checked these out if I’d had time. I thought the tour was going to only be 2 hours and I would see one, but it was not to be). So I had time to check out one last exhibition before leaving. I headed back to the hotel, tired but incredibly satisfied. I highly recommend visiting the Kennedy Space Centre if you ever get the chance.

Tomorrow is the final day of my road trip. I will check out the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is included as part of entry to the Kennedy Space Centre, before dropping the car off at
Rocket GardenRocket GardenRocket Garden

Kennedy Space Centre
Orlando airport. From there, I fly to Vegas! Apparently my workmates are placing bets about whether I will end up marrying a waitress there. I tried to place $10 on “No”, but they wouldn’t take bets from me. We’ll see what happens…

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 29


A rocket engineA rocket engine
A rocket engine

Kennedy Space Centre
A lego model of a Mars roverA lego model of a Mars rover
A lego model of a Mars rover

Kennedy Space Centre
Lunch with an astronautLunch with an astronaut
Lunch with an astronaut

Bob Springer gives us a talk
Our tour guideOur tour guide
Our tour guide

With the VAB in the background

I asked the tour guide why is the American Flag backwards on the building. He said it wasn't. I'm pretty sure it is.

25th September 2012

The Kennedy Space Centre really sounded interesting, which is no small thing when I'm not normally interested in that sort of thing. What a great opportunity to meet "a real live astronaut!" I like the photo. Interesting the gate in old city walls, must be fantastic to see that sort of thing in normal everyday streets, so different from here! How is Las Vegas? What is my new sister in laws name - LOL!!!

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