Space Coast

24 Feb

Our three nights at Blue Spring had been very successful, now it was time to move on. We were making our way to the east coast and Kennedy Space Centre where on 24th February a shuttle is due to be launched.  This being high season in Florida, along with Daytona 500 week end, Presidents Day and the impending shuttle launch the campgrounds were all very busy. We had been able to secure two nights at Wickham Park, a County Park near Melbourne, then three nights at Mosquito Lagoon (north of the causeway to Space Centre) then back to Breezy Palms in Palm Bay (south of Melbourne), Kennedy Space Centre is between the two points so a visit could take place en route.

Wickham Park was nice enough as a park, lots of pools and pleasant to wander around. However, the surrounding area was largely residential and commercial not really anywhere for us to walk out to, we made the most of our two night stay walking around the park and catching up with some chores.

Saturday we drove north calling at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Again unfortunately we were not able to do much other than a quick tour of the visitor centre as the roads were not accessible to larger vehicles and there was not suitable parking for RV!

As we drove further north we left behind the apartments, hotels and commercial property, the roadsides became more rural, Daytona (of car race fame) was perhaps another 50 miles north. On arriving at Mosquito Lagoon RV we were pleasantly surprised by its surroundings, set beside the lagoon and looking towards the National Seashore and its Islands the RV Park sits on small jetties of land with a boat channel between them. Its what I call rustic, the view and the quiet surroundings suit us well.

Half a mile walk along from the campground is Seminole Rest Indian Mound where the National Park has preserved an archaeological site, an Indian midden made up of many layers of shells and debris of the ancient  peoples life here. The small park is a lovely place to walk beside the lagoon, the picture below is looking back towards the campground.

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This is the sort of place where you can sit back and be lazy, days could drift by while you watch the pelicans, egrets and heron fish in the shallow water, seabirds glide on the breeze, the fish jumping to catch a passing insect (yes, could be a mosquito) ……. that is unless you have a other half who can’t sit still!

Monday we drove over to the National Seashore. Unfortunately we were not able to drive further than the first car park as there was no RV parking available along the rest of the six mile stretch of coast. Disappointed we walked along the beach to the visitor centre, to discover that was under construction and a temporary cabin housed a very small exhibit of local interest. Thankfully the beach walk was very enjoyable, the sun warm and a breeze took the heat away.

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Looking north towards Daytona from the National Seashore

Back at the RV Park Robert was able to borrow a canoe to paddle off into the calm waters of the lagoon, the sun still very strong he came back looking the same colour as the boat.

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Conversations with both the campground owners and fellow campers led us to realise that our booked site in Palm Bay was not going to give us much of a view of the shuttle launch, where as, at Mosquito Lagoon we were almost under the flight path. After due consideration we decided to stay put and (hopefully) enjoy the best view. It wasn’t hard to decide, we were enjoying our location.

Kennedy Space Centre was about 45 minutes drive south, we had opted to buy annual passes which will give us access to the facility for as many days as we care to visit – apart from launch day.Bright and early Tuesday morning we set off for our first visit arriving just after 10 am. We headed for the shuttle buses waiting to take visitors out to the viewing gallery of Launch Pad 39. The STS133 is waiting on 39a for its launch. On the way we passed the huge buildings in which it is prepared before being rolled at 1mph along a concrete access road to the launch pad.

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To put the picture in context, each one the stripes on the National flag is as wide as a 45 seater bus!

Out at the viewing platform we climbed several sets of stairs until we were high enough to look out to the launch site. The supporting structure hides the shuttle itself, we could see the orange tip of the main fuel tank and make out the two smaller solid rocket boosters.

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The view and on the right a model of the same.

P1160401and this is what is behind it (model)

It may have been a long way off but it was still very exciting to me to be able to see it at all.

We loaded back on the buses to drive to the Saturn V complex. We had seen a similar exhibition in Houston when we visited the NASA facility there, however the size of this rocket is awesome and when you enter the room to see it towering above your head you cannot help but wonder how it ever flew into space. The tiny capsule at the very end is the section where the astronauts were housed all the rest falling away at some point in the launch.

We had a snack in the cafe sitting below the rocket with the moon lander hanging over our heads… strange!

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This area is devoted to the Apollo Missions, the story behind the first landing on the moon. In a dimly lit gallery to one side protected by glass cases were artefacts from those historic missions. Two pieces of moon rock, suits worn by the astronauts both inside and outside the spacecraft, medals awarded to the men, but strangely the item which caught my attention was:-

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The hands that walked on the moon!

To enable the space suits to be made accurately each man had plaster casts made of his body. These are the plaster casts of the hands of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the first two men to walk on the moon. The third name perhaps the least remembered is the guy who orbited in the space craft and waited for them. I question who was the bravest.

Back at the main complex we attended a talk by Jon McBride one of the first shuttle astronauts. He began by telling everyone he hopes to beat the record set by John Glen who at 77 was the oldest man to fly in space. He is keeping himself fit and healthy in the hope that in ten years time he can accomplish this goal. Part of his talk gave an insight into the camaraderie which exists between astronauts around the world. We had no idea there were so many countries involved.

A full size replica of the shuttle, Explorer, is situated in this main area too, again we climbed steps to reach first the payload area, with the crew quarters in front of it, then up again to see the cockpit.

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It all seemed amazingly stark, no fancy bits or plush padding, just plain functional.

We finished our day by attending the briefing for the current mission. This did not turn out to be quite what we thought and a public relations guy ploughed through a mountain of information so quickly we found it hard to take in. Quite disappointing really. He was explaining what was happening across the whole facility and briefly touched on the shuttle due to launch. What we did get was that there was an 80% chance of it going ahead as scheduled.

It was 6.30 when we left the complex and the sun was setting behind the rocket garden

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It had been a long day but very enjoyable. On our next visit we hope to view the Imax films and ride the shuttle take off simulator we also have the Astronauts Hall of Fame to visit which is 6 miles along the road from the main complex. Before all that however we should have a shuttle launch.

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