Kennedy Space Center: The Apollo Moon Missions




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While the closest attractions to Orlando are Disney World and Universal Studios, the most interesting attractions we visited were an hour’s drive away. One of them was the Kennedy Space Center. In fact, it was the main reason I wanted to visit Orlando. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon we headed east for Cape Canaveral.

The center covers 144,000 acres on the northern half of Merritt Island and is across a bay from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We arrived at the Visitor Center and decided to start with a bus tour of the area. This is a must-see part of the visit as it brings to life the size and scope of the complex as well as bringing you to the Apollo-Saturn V Visitor Complex, something you do not want to miss.

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Janis and Betty at the Kennedy Space Center

The bus tour took us along a number of launch sites and other areas of interest as the tour guide explained what were were seeing. Early in the tour we passed the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the largest one story building in the world. It stands 526 feet high but it is essentially one very large room.

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The Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. The large flared extensions on the right are doors – very tall doors – so the assembled rockets can be taken out. The flag is the largest American flag on the outside of a building in the world.

The giant Saturn V rockets were assembled here and then moved to the launch site on a very large heavy duty tractor, called a Crawler-Transporter. They were hauled upright along a crushed gravel pathway called the Crawlerway.

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The Crawlerway’s two parallel paths run from the Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance to the launch pad near by. The Crawler-Transporter is sitting idle on the left waiting for its next mission.

The Crawler-Transporter is massive. It had to be as the Saturn V rocket, fully assembled, stood over 350 feet tall. To haul such a large piece of hardware without it toppling, the transporter inched along at a breathtaking one mile per hour. And it was a gas guzzler, using 296 liters of fuel to travel a kilometre.

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The Crawler-Transporter

The final destination for the Transporter-Crawler was Launch Pad 39. This is where all the Apollo moon missions were launched from. The launch pad is surrounded by high fences with curved tops and barbed wire. This is not, as you may think, to keep people out. It is to keep alligators out! The Kennedy Space Center shares its space with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the second largest wilderness preservation area in Florida.

Launch Pad 39
Launch Pad 39

After that we passed several displays of the current project, the Orion program, an international cooperative effort that will eventually see humans landing on Mars.

Launch tower for the Orion program.
Launch tower for the Orion program.

And then we came to the piece de resistance of the trip – the Apollo-Saturn V Center. We got off the bus here to explore this giant display. First stop, the actual control room used for the Apollo Moon Missions. It was a thrill to see where those historic missions actually took place. Three large screens above the control room showed movies from various angles of the Apollo 8 moon launch, the first mission to propel men around the moon and back. As the film referenced different people in the control room, the chairs at which they sat lit up. I filmed the launch which was awesome to say the least.

Three screens showed the Apollo 8 Moon Launch above the actual control room used for the launch.
Three screens showed the Apollo 8 Moon Launch above the actual control room used for the launch.

After the presentation, the doors opened and we went into a cavernous vault of a room housing a restored Saturn V launch vehicle in all its massive glory. It is huge! Fully assembled, the Saturn V stood 363 feet high. The rocket was displayed horizontally in sections with separate displays of the lunar modules.

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The Saturn V rocketship that propelled men to the moon.
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How big are these rockets? Here they are with Janis and I standing underneath them.

After some time exploring this exhibit, we checked out the rest of this complex. Another show depicted a moon landing, and static displays included the actual suit astronaut Alan Shepherd wore when he did his moon walk. There is still moon dust on that suit.

Alan Shepherd's moon walk suit with moon dust still on it.
Alan Shepherd’s moon walk suit with moon dust still on it.

We also saw moon rocks, a display on the history of space suits and the actual Apollo 14 space capsule that the astronauts returned to earth on.

The actual Apollo 14 re-entry capsule.
The actual Apollo 14 re-entry capsule.

This display of engineering ingenuity was thrilling to behold. But we were only half done with our trip. We boarded the bus and headed back to the main visitor center. But if we were expecting it to be anti-climactic, it was anything but. We’ll cover that in our next blog post!

Meanwhile, click on the link for additional pictures of the first half of our tour. Or scroll on down if you are on the main page.




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