Following a great Thanksgiving weekend in South Carolina, we decided to skip St. Augustine and drive directly to Florida’s space coast to catch NASA’s biggest launch event of the year: the maiden flight of the spacecraft Orion. This launch marks the start of a new era for NASA, one that they hope will eventually take humans to Mars. Needless to say, there’s a buzz of excitement around here.
Kennedy Space Center (KSC): On Wednesday, we took a full day to explore this amazing museum/theme park that’s entirely dedicated to the US space program (thanks, Jen A, for setting up the tickets!). The exhibits were really interesting, interactive, and inspiring. The boys had fun with simulations that tested their skills at take off, docking, and landing of space vehicles. KSC also had a great exhibit on space shuttle Atlantis and many older rockets, like the massive Saturn V of the Apollo era. At every turn we experienced space, science, technology, and some incredible history. A terrific educational experience!
Astronauts: One of the best parts of KSC was hearing from former astronauts. In one of their regular “shows”, an astronaut spoke about what it was like to train for and live in space. It was really great to hear his stories and to get a personal feel for what space travel entails. We met Jon McBride (pictured above) and also heard from another astronaut who spoke quite extensively at the launch of Orion.
Orion Launch: Our second day at KSC started at 3:00AM, as we made our way to the a launch viewing site for the Orion launch. Our special tickets entitled us to an up close vantage and running commentary from guest astronauts, NASA TV, and mission control. We learned a lot from them but, unfortunately, the launch was “scrubbed” due to problems with weather and a fuel tank valve. Everything was re-scheduled for the next day.
Our third day started at a much more reasonable 5:30AM. Rather than fight the traffic and crowds of KSC, we opted for a more local experience at Kennedy Point Park in Titusville. It was a bit further away, but we still had a direct view of the launch pad and could follow the countdown on NASA’s mobile app. And Orion did not disappoint; the takeoff was an awesome site to behold against the early morning sunrise. It traveled slowly upwards before ducking behind the clouds. About a minute later, we could hear and feel the earth rumble. Incredible!
Cape Canaveral National Seashore: One unexpected treat from this area was our discovery of this National Seashore and Wildlife Refuge. On Thursday afternoon (in part to keep us awake) we hiked and drove around this area on what amounted to be an animal safari. The marshlands were filled with birdlife: egrets, ibises, eagles, herons, spoonbills, ducks, shorebirds, and many more. We actually spotted 4 different bald eagles! In the water, we saw dolphins and alligators, and even caught our first site of wild manatees. This little alligator was just a few feet from the boardwalk, and he seemed keen on striking a pose for the camera.
This weekend, we have a couple more days in the area. We may zip back up to St. Augustine or take a trip to Cocoa Beach. We also have some “homework” that the boys will be doing, so look for more from them on their blogs. Of course, everyone is excited for this coming week, as we’ll spend the whole week at Disney’s Fort Wilderness!