After viewing the beautiful fireworks at Epcot in Disneyland, we decided it was time for us to visit Cape Kennedy. It was a visit all of us had been looking forward to, and it is only a forty-five minute drive from Orlando.
One little incident happened on our way there. I hope it is not off topic, for it did happen while we were in route. We passed a stretch of highway that ran parallel to a canal very close to the road we were driving on, and we saw a living wild ALLIGATOR. Emily and Leigh Ann spotted it first. By the time I looked, it had disappeared, and only a line of bubbles surfacing showed where they had seen him.
Now this might not seem like much to you Floridians, but to me- who has lived in the mid west most of my life it was a sight worth seeing. I have seen a diamond back rattler in South Dakota, lots of deer and coyotes, a wild wolf or two, a herd of buffalo at Custer State Park in the Black Hills, and a family of wild turkey in New York but have I seen a live alligator? No and I was afraid I had missed it.
Terry hadnt seen it either, and he found a way to get off the highway (which wasnt at all crowded) and drive by the area slowly. The darned old creature wasnt visible. As we passed, I kept looking out the back window, and I think I saw a snout emerge from the spot. It looked sort of like a log, or a stump, but stumps dont swim, and this one did. So I am sure I saw the alligator too. .Yeah!
We made it to the Space Center in good time, and found a good parking spot in the sprawling parking complex. As Terry was assembling my power chair, a middle aged man passed us holding up a small jack-knife. See, he yelled. Im a terrorist because of this. I have to take it all the way back to my car, damn it to hell. We didnt answer, but I dont think he was in the mood for conversation anyway.
There was a charge at the gate I think it was between $25 or $30 each. I forgot to ask Terry how much. We went through the gate, and passed inspection without incident.
This is a fantastic building. The walls are giant screens that display the workings of rockets and space. Although there was no animation on the screens while we were there I understand they show movies that are incredible. The rocket pictures look realistic and very close. I thought that even the still pictures that covered those walls were exciting.
We had sort of wanted to get there early enough to have lunch with an astronaut but didnt quite make it in time. We did go to the attached auditorium though and were there for the lecture and the opportunity to meet the space man. The astronaut this particular day was Sam Gemar. He was not a pilot, but a technician who has been on space travels four or five times. He was certainly knowledgeable (as he should have been) about the space program and what was going on. There were a couple of college students in the audience who were studying space technology, and they fired penetrating questions at him. He fielded them neatly, answered them in terms that we could all understand, and gave a fine performance.
When he moved about to talk to the audience, I was interested in him for another reason.
He was born in Yankton, South Dakota, which was about fifteen miles from where I spent most of my youth in the University town of Vermillion. I told him I was very familiar with Yankton, and he informed me that he really wasnt. He was born there but grew up in Stockholm, S. D. which is about 40 miles north of Vermillion. I knew of Stockholm too, for I had a friend who lived there. He told me that his three brothers had graduated from USD. Then he posed for a picture with me. I looked kind of silly sitting in my chair with my big straw hat tied on under my chin, but thats the way it goes.
The court area had many places to buy drinks or snacks, and a big shopping area where many, many space items were being sold for good prices, I might add.
Arrows pointed the way through a door that opened to the Rocket Garden. Each rocket who had entered space and returned was upended , and surrounded by a small fence and a caption telling which rocket it was and where it had been.
We then took the tour bus which had a handy lift for wheel chairs. I felt kind of silly being hoisted on the lift especially when I had to back up in my power chair without any rear view mirrors. With some help from Terry, we managed, and the safety bar was lowered in front of me. Then an elevator type of thing hoisted me up to the bus, and again I had to back up my chair a little. When I was in the right position, the platform turned and I was facing the front as were all the passenger seats. My family and I were the first to be put on the bus. It took only minutes for the rest of the passengers, and we were on our way. We were driven through an area in which deer and other wild life flourished, and I think the driver/lecturer wanted to show us some wild life, but all he came up with was a lone rabbit. When he pointed it out there was a collective, Oh-ah from the passengers which dissolved into laughter, the driver laughing as hard as any of us.
We passed several buildings, the first one being the huge tall building that was actually built high enough to house the first Apallo and Explorer rockets. Now the rockets are smaller, but the huge building is still there. It is there (I believe) where visitors can observe technicians actually working on the rockets. It was closed, possibly because the Discovery was only days away from its scheduled flight to the space station. The rockets are still housed there in bad weather or for repairs at times.
Our next stop was the observation tower, which was as close as we were allowed to get to the actual launching pad. We took an elevator to the second floor, and the view was fantastic. We were able to look over to Cape Canaveral and see the military rockets, and another huge building. We saw the Discovery lined up inside the super structure. I confess that I didnt see it, but one young man remarked about the huge truck he saw that was bigger then any truck that he had ever seen. He was looking through binoculars, so I can understand why it wasnt visible to me. However, I did see it on the news when the rocket was being moved to the hanger during the threat of Ernesto. I understand it was halfway there when they decided the hurricane wasnt actually going to happen, and they moved it back. I give them credit for not assuming it would be a small storm. No one ever really knows, and assumptions can kill.
We have some pretty decent pictures of the Discovery. It feels awesome to me to think that I saw the very innocent looking rocket that took people up to the Space Station and returned them safely.
Some people climbed the steel stairs to the third floor, but that was as far as anyone was permitted to go. It was cool there on the second level and the view was amazing. I am sure there must have been some NASA guides or security around, but I didnt see any. There were a lot of visitors, though, and all seemed to be enjoying the place as much as we were.
Our last bus stop was a visit to the Saturn V complex.
First the visitors are sent to a room surrounding a round area defined by a railing where I assume a movie was shown at other times. This time though it acted as a holding area and then we were ushered into another room which is either a duplicate or a transplanted area of the actual first headquarters where the monitoring of the early rockets took place. The visitors went through the procedure, and you could feel the tension building. It was deadly quiet during the count down. 10 9 finally we heard lift off and the whole room shook as the rocket appeared to leave the gravity of earth. When they seemed to be on their way as safely as possible, the visitors felt a profound sense of relief. It was well done. Power or wheel chairs are not permitted in this area, although canes are allowed, and if you are fortunate a family member will be there in case you need help. I didnt, but my son and daughter-in-love were there just in case.
Then a door was opened and the visitors were allowed to view and walk under the huge Saturn rocket which was suspended on its side. Even though it was almost time for the last bus, it was difficult for the visitors to leave this display.
However, as usual, we were the first to board the bus due to my power chair. The ride back was brisk, and this driver didnt have a lot to say although he was very considerate to all of the passengers.
I was a bit disappointed that little credit was given to the research facilities in the country and the great engineers whose brain work is responsible for making it possible for these machines to break through the bounds of gravity. I keep thinking of a book I once read where an astronaut said I was sitting in this little ship with a half inch of metal under me in a ship built by the lowest bidder.
There is much to see at Kennedy Space Center, and we didnt see it all possibly because the Discovery was due to fly in a few days, and some things were simply not open to the public. It is certainly a place that should appeal to anyone visiting the area. Florida has so many exciting places to go and visit, I can understand why so many people love this beautiful State. Even though they are visited by hurricanes yearly, I think it would be worth the risk just to live there.
SLIGHT OFF TOPIC ALERT
It was still fairly early when we left. Leigh Ann had fond memories of Daytona beach when her family vacationed there when she was a kid. It wasnt far, and easy to find. The beach itself is beautiful. On this particular day it was not crowded at all. The sand was hard packed and the ocean looked gentle against the bright blue sky. However the area surrounding the beach was disappointing to Leigh Ann. What she remembered as a pretty town filled with nice restaurants and stores had changed into fast food joints, bars and shoddy looking night clubs. We found the hotel where the family stayed, and it now looked run down and shabby.
We stopped at a Ponderosa place to eat. There were quite a lot of waiters, but very few customers. It was only about 5:30 PM. so perhaps it was simply a little too early for dinner. The waitress spent a lot of time by our table, just chatting. She was a nice young lady, who lived in the area. When Leigh Ann asked her what had happened to the town, she replied that the college kids had adopted it for their spring breaks, and the waitress felt the area had slipped to cater to them. Many of the ones who came in their pick up trucks and sport cars were not the kids who came to rest up, but rather wealthy kids who wanted to live it up. The town eventually catered to the cash, as she put it. As we left, and passed the residential areas which had maintained their décor of respectability and beauty, Leigh Ann said she felt a little sad because some of her great memories of the beach now had a slightly different twist..
We got back to the condo fairly early, but still tired. Since we were going to leave Friday and make it home in one day, we decided that we would spend most of Thursday just getting ready for the trip. I sill have one more short review to do of Disneyland, and then I promise to no longer bore you with My Vacation, .
Thank you for reading.
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