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January 14, 2005

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Things To Do In Florida Not Involving Anthropomorphic Vermin

During the Saturday I was in Orlando, my sister and I drove the hour over to Cape Canaveral, the first time I'd seen the place since the last Florida trip I took in 1989.

With my camera-phone and its 200-some (low-res) photo storage capacity, I was more interested in quantity than quality. But here are the high points for people who don't want to wait for the thumbnail page to load.

[A full-scale shuttle oribter and booster/fuel tank assembly.]
At the front of the visitors complex is a full-scale model of a shuttle and its booster rockets and fuel tank. I'm pretty sure that was there in '89, but I can't remember. (Weird thing I just remembered, and it's really no more than a coincidence: In '89 I would have been there just after they started launching shuttles again after Challenger blew up. This time I was there a little bit before they start launching shuttles again in May following Columbia's reentry breakup.)

[Launch Pad 39A.]
In the 15 years since my last visit they've expanded the tour. The bus still takes you to the LC39 observation tower, but now there's a small movie and a set of displays in addition to just the tower itself. And the bus no longer just goes back to the visitor center: There's a second stop.

[A recreation of the launch control center as it was for Apollo 8.]
Now there's a building devoted to the Apollo program and the Saturn V rocket. You can "watch" the launch of Apollo 8 before stepping out into a (very long) room with a full Saturn V hanging well above the floor. At the far end of the rocket is a small program about the landings, mostly Apollo 11.

From there the bus takes you back to the visitor center. They say the tour should take two to two and a half hours. I took closer to three.

There have been additions at the visitor center, too. I don't remember clearly what was there 15 years ago, but I'm pretty sure most of it's (relatively) new. There was a short display on the Robot Scouts (Viking, Voyager, Cassini, etc.) that was geared more toward the kids. It was kind of amusing, though.

[The rocket garden.]
I also took a look at the rocket garden before heading into an IMAX show about the ISS in 3-D. That frickin' rocked. It costs more than $30 to get in and take the tour, and that hour-long movie went a long way toward justifying the cost by itself.

[A copy of Jules Verne's 'From the Earth to the Moon' at the Astronaut HOF.]
After that we went over to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which was new to me. The introductory movie was all right, though a bit drawn-out, and I'd probably skip it next time. The rest of it was cool, and the 4-G simulator more than justified the extra money admission added to the visitor center ticket.

All in all, this was probably the most interesting day I had while I was there. And, like some of the Smithsonian museums, I don't think I'd easily get bored with repeat trips. In fact, I'm tentatively scheduling myself to go back the weekend of May 14 to see Discovery launch. I've never seen a launch in person, and I think the revitalization of the manned space program would be the perfect one to see.

it was there....

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