Like many, I was getting very antsy to get out and go somewhere. Riding out the virus in and around the house was taking its toll on my outlook and energy. My wife Shirley and I are road trippers. We work hard at our home-based credit restoration business and require a break to keep our batteries charged. A charge of my battery was long overdue. They don’t need to be long road trips. Maybe even just day trips. And, that’s why we love living in Florida. There are countless destinations for a Florida road trip especially if you love the outdoors. This blog is about my recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center.
I got a call from my long-time friend, Craig Neal. He had just gotten back to Florida from a road trip west to see his Mom in Denver. Craig had also visited Zion National Park in Utah and toured the capital of Nebraska, Lincoln. He too had been very anxious to get out and travel again (he’s also a major road tripper) and felt it was safe to do so by car.
On that call, he suggested that I drive across the state from our home in Largo to where he lives in Port Orange, FL. My business has been keeping us very busy, so I initially declined. But then Shirley, recognizing that I very much needed a break, pretty much insisted that I go. So, I packed and was out the door in 2 hours.
One of the days I was there we took a Florida road trip to Kennedy Space Center. It was only about an hour south of Port Orange along Interstate 95. Keep in mind that the state of Florida has been opening up a bit faster than most other states. Shirley and I had already been out to a few restaurants and stores. We have been diligent about COVID-19 safety, so I felt confident about being out in public. When Craig and I got there, we found that they required masks at all times and took your body temperature upon entering the Space Center Visitors Complex.
Kennedy Space Center All to Ourselves
As we drove into the massive parking lot at 10 am on a Wednesday, we saw that there were only about 2 dozen cars. When we left there were about 2 dozen more cars in the parking lot. But given the size of Kennedy Space Center, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. If you look at some of the photographs, you’ll notice very few, if any other people.
Because of COVID-19 none of the interactive exhibits were open. You couldn’t sit in the flight simulators, go into the many theatres including the iMax, or touch anything due to safety concerns. Think of Kennedy Space Center at this time as the world’s most impressive “space museum”. But did I mention there were very few people around?
The Rocket Garden
I hadn’t been to Kennedy Space Center since I was 19 back in 1976. I hardly remember that visit, so it was like this was the first time I had ever been there. The initial impression as you walk through the ticket gate, is spectacular. The first exhibit you are presented with is the Rocket Garden. Seven rockets are standing vertically before you from the smaller Juno I (71.25 feet) to the much larger Gemini-Titan II (108 feet). I’m not a huge science, sci-fi, or even space adventure guy. But this was incredibly impressive.
Immediately you think of the engineering and technology that went into getting these huge masses of steel and their fuel payload off the ground and into space. Then you look toward the back of the Rocket Garden and see the massive Saturn 1B rocket. It's 223 feet, more than twice the length of the Gemini-Titan II and ¾ of a football field. They displayed it laying horizontally so visitors can get a closeup view of the entire structure. The Saturn 1B was the rocket used for the first crewed missions of the Apollo program. We were like little kids, especially Craig. He got some very cool photos of these rockets against the grey Florida sky with the sun trying to poke through.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
We stopped to talk with one of the people working there and she recommended that we head on over to the Space Shuttle Atlantis building. Unbeknownst to us at that moment, Atlantis is the most popular exhibit at Kennedy Space Center. When we entered we could see why. The massive fuel payload containers used to get Atlantis into space now make for a very impressive entrance to the exhibit. It immediately gives you a perspective of the size and scale of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
We walked under and through this structure, entered the doors, and walked up the ramp (wheelchair accessible) to the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. We were not prepared for what we saw. The exhibitors did an amazing job of giving you a view of the entire length and depth of Atlantis before you even walk through the doors. I can imagine that nearly every person that gets to this point lets out some sort of gasp and has the hair on the arms stand up. Because that’s what happened to both of us.
Atlantis Alone is Worth the Trip
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here so you can get the first-hand experience should you decide to go to Kennedy Space Center. I will share that Atlantis is hung from the ceiling 3 stories high. She is open along the top so you can see the entire inside. Atlantis is hung at an angle so you walk alongside her on any of the 3 floors and peer into her magnificence.
We spent an hour or so walking around her and viewing the other exhibits displayed alongside like the Hubble Space Telescope. People young and old, space nuts, and average observers will be very impressed and enthralled in this one of a kind exhibit. And, once again, there were no people there but us. During the hour inside this exhibit, we saw one other group, a family of 5.
Forever Remembered is appropriately part of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. This section of the building is set off on its own and memorializes the 14 astronauts who lost their lives during Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle launches. As you walk through, you’ll remember many of the names and faces. It is a reminder of the sacrifice it took to get us this far into our exploration of space.
More of Kennedy Space Center – Heroes and Legends
Because we went directly to the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit after the Rocket Garden, we were sure to visit Heroes and Legends on our way out. This is a must-see when visiting Kennedy Space Center. It will take you back to the first manned mission you saw the launch on television. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame will bring back the images of the brave men and women who were the left this earth to discover the unknown.
Get Out There and Visit Places Now
Ironically now may be the best time in history to visit our national parks, state parks, and other places of interest. It's especially a great time for a Florida road trip as our state is opening up. Most people are not doing it, however. That means there are fewer people to contend within some of the places that tend to get very crowded under normal circumstances. Even so, all such places are observing safety precautions with limits to the number of people they allow in enclosed areas. And, if it’s outdoors there is less concern anyway.
Bring your mask, your hand sanitizer, and stay 6 feet away. But by all means, if you are healthy get out there and take advantage of the fact that there will never be these few people at your favorite places to visit on a Florida road trip.