In Cape Canaveral
Today is launch day. We planned our days in Florida to be here today for the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The mission, NROL-76 is classified. It’s the first SpaceX mission for the US government, specifically the National Reconnaissance Office. This means no one knows what the payload is, just the orbit, but at an unknown degree. The Falcon 9 Full Thrust is a two stage rocket, 70m high and 3.65m in diameter. Once the first stage with the 9 Merlin engines spilts off, it will be landed back in Cape Canaveral.
We get up at 4.35am and drive to be at 5.30 on road 401, apparently the best spot to watch both launch and landing. We’re ready and watch the webcast at the same time, they start the prelaunch checks, but a controller says ‘hold, hold, hold”. And just like that, a redundant sensor isn’t working, so the launch is “scrubbed” for 24h. We’ll be back tomorrow!
We go to spend our day at the Kennedy Space center. There we watch 3D movies about space exploration, see a Saturn V rocket and various Apollo items, tour the grounds of Cape Canaveral… There’s a lot to do, so much that we extend our pass for the next day. Space exploration is fascinating. There’s three big main themes among others presented here: the Apollo missions, the space shuttle, and the new Orion capsule. Orion is a work in progress with the first launch planned for next year, unmanned first, then with a team. It’s a deep space exploration program, to study asteroids first, but potentially to go to Mars amd beyond too. On the grounds we see the outside of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) were the rocket is being built, the crawler that will take it out, and the launch pad 3 miles away. Note that the VAB is one of the biggest buildings in the world, the equivalent of 3.75 Empire State buildings. It is the biggest single storey one. It’s height reaches 160m (as comparison, the statue of liberty is 93m).
Going on the grounds also allows us to see the Falcon 9 a bit closer.
After a long day learning about space we go to sleep.
And we start over again.
This time the weather is a bit clearer, launch is a go. And before we know it the rocket is in the sky. It goes up, leaves a trail when leaving the atmosphere, splits and disappear. Stage 1 descends and burns, it keeps going at an unbelievable speed, and close to the ground it fires and lands perfectly. The sonic boom of it also reaches us just after. We’re in awe. I feel so lucky to have seen this that my eyes are teary. It’s unbelievable. This thing is gone to space, the sky is not the limit!
On our second day at the space center we tour the rocket garden, learn about telescopes including the new James Webb one, get propaganda about Mars exploration, and immerse in the story of the space shuttle. The shuttle program started in 1969 just after they finally made in to the moon, they started planning on a spatial bus straight away! 12 years later Columbia took its first flight and back. The shuttle is an orbiter and glider. To get to space it is attached to a gigantic rocket, to get back down from orbiting is has to slow and spin, it then is piloted as a glider back to the base. Sometimes they couldn’t make it to the base, so they piggy-backed the shuttle onto a Boeing 747 back to Cape Canaveral. At the Space Center we can see Atlantis, one of the five shuttles. It’s in the same state as after its last trip, with marks of heat from the launches and the re-entries. The space shuttle program gloriously sent Hubble to space and helped build the International Space Station. This marvel of engineering experienced two failures: Challenger at launch in 1986 and Columbia at re-entry in 2003. Both shuttles had 7 astronauts on board… This program, like other space programs and generally the race to space, has brought us many technology innovations, including in medicine. People at the ISS continuously monitor our planet and do research in space. The universe itself is a fascinating thing, and the human space exploration is as fascinating. I’d recommend to anyone going to Florida to go visit the Space Center.