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Nominal Me

I'm falling in love with my camera and taking photos everywhere I go. That, combined with my passions for politics, sports, religion and other things we all agree on, makes this blog persist.

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Location: Astoria, New York, United States

I'm born in Manhattan and raised in Queens.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

John F. Kennedy Space Center

Today I got the chance to visit the John F. Kennedy Space Center, located East of Orlando, FL. It is the third space center I've been to (Huntsville, AL, where many of the rockets were developed, and Houston, TX, home of Mission Control, are the others).

Of the three centers, much of the early space program can be said to have "happened here," as I will show below. Due to this fact, there is a lot to see here in terms of examples of rockets and areas used for important parts of American space program history.

One example of this is the F-1 engine on display, the largest liquid-fueled rocket engine ever designed. Each one of these has more thrust than all three space shuttle engines combined. Not bad. To see the scope of it, notice the sign on the left side of the photo (the brown circle)...that is pretty much chest level for the average person today.

I was able to walk right up to the enormous Saturn 1B rocket, which played an important part of the early American space program. Developed by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to serve as a launch vehicle for the test Apollo spacecraft, this model made its first suborbital flight on February 26, 1966. In 1968, a rocket similar to this launched Apollo 7 and America became one step closer to the Moon.

This center, unlike Houston, has few artifacts one may touch and feel. Yet one notable exception to this is a Mars rock, which visitors may touch. At this point, however, I probably touched layers and layers of microbes of other people's fingers who have beat me to it, but oh well.

While light on rocks to play with, this center gives you the chance to see the actual places many important things happened relating to our space program. One great example comes from this photo, which shows the Mission Control room of the early 1960s American space program. It was here that our first men in space were given Earthly support.

A moving portion of the center is the Space mirror Memorial, which is owned and operated by The Astronauts Memorial Foundation. A nearby plaque reads:
"Whenever mankind has sought to conquer new frontiers, there have been those who have given their lives for the cause. This astronauts memorial dedicated May 9, 1991 is a tribute to American Men and Women who have made the ultimate sacrifice believing the conquest of space is work the risk of life."
Sadly, many humans have died in the effort to explore space. This monument recognizes some of them.

V-2 rocket engine, designed by German engineers, was on display. I learned here that the technology of rockets for war is old, with missiles being used by India against the British when they colonized the area. This World War II era engine is impressive because it has a cooling system that prevented the volatile ignition elements from melting the metal casing. It was a major breakthrough in rocket technology, allowing us to both point nuclear missiles at people and launch humans into space. Without it, rockets would explode, rather than propel.

At the center, visitors are given the chance to walk through the U.S.S. Explorer, a mock up of the Space Shuttle.

We were able to walk inside the Shuttle and see it's flight deck and crew quarters. The shuttle program is expected to end sometime around 2010, when the International Space Station is complete.

I was given a chance to get close to the Gemini 2 space capsule, the only unmanned spacecraft to complete two space missions. If you look closely on the right, you will see that Plexiglas extends beyond the metal of what was the bottom of the capsule. The Plexiglas represents the original shape of the capsule, which was burned off by friction as it re-entered Earth from space. It is an example of one of the many dangers that come with space travel.

The real charm of this place comes from visiting the locations where history happened. From this slab of concrete, America first ventured into space. It was here that the U.S.A. launched Explorer I, its first satellite.

At Complex 26, the launch site of Explorer I, you can see the console that set our space program in motion. Because the computers that monitored the launch needed to be hard wired to the rocket (effective wireless communications had not really been developed), the missile launch pad was dangerously only 400 feet away. It had simple gauges, like weight, that determined if enough fuel was in the rocket. The fuel dissipated at "ambient," or normal temperatures, so it was a process of elimination to determine if enough of it remained to successfully launch a satellite.

Here, one can see the Atlas ICBM / Thor Able Ground Guidance Computer, This is part of a room-sized computer that guided our rockets (including, possibly, our ICBMs) in the 1950s and 1960s. It has about one kilobyte of computing power, significantly less than the laptop I'm typing on to post this article. The people here used things like typewriters, math and something called brains to keep things on track. The horror!

Ham and Enos, the first American chimps in suborbital space, were given their place on a Wall of Honor. One cannot ignore the bravery these chimps showed in an effort to make our space program work. We must all shed a tear for Ham and Enos. Do it now.

I was given the chance to see rockets of all shapes, sizes, and eras. One example included the Polaris A-3 rocket, a Fleet Ballistic Missile which had a range of 2,500 miles. This rocket, capable of delivering a nuclear bomb, was used in submarines (and possibly other places) from the 1960s to the 1980s. It is impossible to separate the space program from nuclear rockets, as the research for both purposes served common goals: to launch something from one point to another. Elsewhere in this rocket park were ICBMs and other missiles. To the defense department, launching a human into space and launching a nuclear bomb into Russia were not too far removed from each other.

This photo here shows the place where Alan Shepard, the first American in space, made (American) history. We were allowed to walk around and check it out. Oddly enough, this was a relatively small rocket. Within a few years, the size of them would increase greatly. It is hard to imagine that Shepard made it into space in one of these things. Nevertheless, it is hallowed ground for American history.

Not all of the places at the center are locations of triumphs. At this landing platform, Launch Complex 34, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed during a failed launch of the Apollo I spacecraft. Our guide asked that we remove our hats while walking on the site in honor of the fallen astronauts.

This launch pad, which was used only once after the Apollo I launch, is now a landmark.

Nearby, you can see the concrete slabs designed to spread the exhaust away from the rockets as they launch. There is usually a second one available in case of some sort of problem.

The early space program's main form of transportation -- at least for the rockets themselves -- was very low-tech...railway cars. Now they use humongous crawlers.

The Kennedy Space Center is not just about history, however. There is a lot going on right now, including numerous launches. One being prepared right now is a commercial launch for Boeing, which you can see here.

The Shuttle program, while on its last legs, is still a big part of NASA's work. Here, you can see the massive launch platforms needed to send one into space. If you look carefully at the lower center of the photo, by the base, you can see a white truck. Yes, this thing is that big. In fact, as a movable platform this is the largest mobile device in the world.

One of the main parts of the tour is the Apollo/Saturn V center, which celebrates the American Moon program nicely. The rockets used to launch Americans there hangs above the heads of visitors as they come into the complex. It is broken down into the various stages of launch.

As you can imagine, the complex is large. It is a great example of the size and scope of the vehicles needed to launch people into space.

You can see the size of the exhaust cones here.

The space center is awesome! If you're in Orlando, you really must check it out. It you are interested in American history at all, this place covers a lot of it. It touches upon issues like the Cold War, science, and our universe above.


Blogger LeesMyth said...

Cool post, Nom. The F-1 engine reminded me of a giant robot from (I think) a Beastie Boys video. I'd heard of room-sized computers that were out-thunk by PCs, but a laptop just takes it to a whole new level of amazement. And if shuttle launches are still a big part of NASA's work, I wonder what NASA will do starting in 2010....

Thursday, 13 April, 2006  

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