We chose to go to the Kennedy Space Center. As children of the Sixties our worldview was formed by the combined and often competing realities of Viet Nam and the space program. Space has been so much a part of our culture that the cancellation of the space shuttle marks the absolute end of a long and proud era, and makes me feel old and sad.
The Space Center was wonderful. I researched online about how to plan our day and many sources recommended two days. I couldn’t imagine what you would do in two days, but we actually started to feel rushed by about 3:30 and had to miss quite a few things.
One of our favorite attractions was the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Like all giant tourist attractions it started in a holding room with a multimedia presentation that set the stage for the exhibits about the Apollo program. As a warm up the screens displayed all of the touchstones of our childhood: the news soundbites, advertising, fashions, music, TV shows and movies that instantly transport you to another time and place. By the time the actual presentation started I was 11 years old again and, like all Americans, looking up at the moon and seeing hope, honor and pride. We were on a mission. Everyone knew the goal. Scientists and engineers were heroes. We drank Tang.
Then we saw President Kennedy’s challenge to America. It was about 10:30 am and I welled up with sadness at what has happened to my country since we landed on the moon. Endless wars, fear-mongering, racism, xenophobia, the celebration of ignorance and most of all, the mockery of science. In 40 years we went from being a nation on a quest for knowlege to a nation with a distrust of progress. For the rest of the day I had a lump in my throat.
We’ve seen the NASA footage of the various rockets and capsules and landers, but when the doors finally opened and we were face to face with a Saturn V rocket, we gasped. Awe doesn’t come close to describing the feeling. Even after being told how big it is, you just can’t comprehend the size until you walk the length of it, and we both tried to imagine being strapped into a tin can, riding that beast into space.
On the other end of the size scale, the Mercury capsule is so small, Jack wondered how you could scratch your nose without accidentally hitting 10 or 15 toggle switches.
We opted for a special bus tour that took us out to the causeway leading to Cape Canaveral (off limits) so we could see the various launch pads, then to the amazing Vehicle Assembly Building, where the Saturn V was built, and the space shuttle was assembled.
We lucked out in that the space vehicle Atlantis is tucked away in one of the bays while it’s being prepared for permanent display at KSC. Jack took one look and said, “It’s a beater!”
Our other big stroke of luck was that there was a launch scheduled for two days away. We spent the next day asking everyone we met where to watch, and in the end found ourselves a fantastic spot on the causeway just south of where we were on our tour. We had a straight-shot view of the launch pad. Strike one off the bucket list!
If you can, take the time to read the full text of Kennedy’s speech.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”