A Different Kind of Garden

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My in-laws are visiting this weekend, so Hubby and I took them to Kennedy Space Center yesterday. I got to photograph a different kind of garden – a rocket garden!

The space center is now doing special tours of the launchpad and the Vehicle Assembly building (I guess because they are no longer in use for the space shuttle program). We did the launchpad tour, which allowed us to go into the Restricted Area and get very close to the launchpad.

The launchpad was cool. They told us about how the astronauts used to come out here about three hours before launch, get strapped in, and then they were left alone. The safe distance for spectators is 3 miles away. They showed us the emergency ejection system, which was a series of 7 baskets that the astronauts could ride down to the ground. Apparently that’s easier said than done in a 65-pound space suit. They mostly tested the ejection system with sandbags, and one brave Marine! Then we drove around and got to see the Flame Trench up and close.

This “Flame Trench” is where the shuttle’s flames went during lift-off. A large water tower adjacent to the launchpad supplied 300,000 gallons of water (in less than half a minute!) while the rockets were firing. This wasn’t due to the heat. The shuttle launches are the second-loudest sound event generated by humans, and those giant sound waves would bounce up to the shuttle and damage it. So the water helps to break up the sound waves and minimize damage to the orbiter.

Being so close to the launchpad made me really appreciate the engineering feats of going to the moon and building the International Space Station. Just take a look at the charred bricks in the flame trench. They had to figure out how to manage sound waves, rockets, fire, heat…and somehow the men strapped into the small orbiter on top survived all the noise, heat, and vibration and blasted into orbit!

After our special tour of the launchpad ended, we joined the regular tour at the Saturn V Center. They do a fun replay of the Apollo VIII launch sequence, using the real computer systems used in the launch. The room even shakes and flashes with the orange flames to simulate the rocket fire.

Then you can view the an actual Saturn V rocket. It’s huge! It’s so strange to think of being one of the men sitting on the top of that rocket. I really respect the people brave enough to try it!

One of the amazing things about the space center is that it’s surrounded by Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. All this high-tech space stuff, surrounded by undeveloped land that is great for birds and wildlife! They have a “natural Florida” exhibit at the space station that tries to show off some of that wildlife. They have bobcats, wild hogs, turtles, etc. and several species of birds. They need to have a bird person check over their picture identifications, though — their picture of “Mottled Ducks” are of Blue-Winged Teals, and their “Snowy Egret” picture is a Great Egret in breeding plumage!

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