Welcome back! After the excitement of Christmas and our lovely holiday back in England we’re off adventuring again, this time exploring exciting Florida. Specifically, Orlando and Gainesville! There is a big Chemistry Conference (Pittcon) happening here this week starting Monday that Rob will be attending, so we flew in a little early on Thursday morning to fit in some fun time. As a bonus our friend Cody is also attending the conference, so him and his wonderful wife Mollie agreed to join us on our travels 🙂
We’ll dive into part one of our adventures very shortly, but first – fair warning! I have not written a long blog for a while or had a chance to really go crazy with my beautiful camera, so you may be in for a frankly unnecessary amount of my photographs and long rambles. Sorry (not sorry) – let’s go!!
We started out very early on Thursday morning with a 6:30am flight out of Denver, which necessitated an upsetting 3:30am start. We set about a million alarms and luckily made it to the airport and caught our flight with no problems 🙂 It’s a three and a half hour flight plus a two hour time difference, so we arrived in Orlando at 12:00pm with plenty of time to enjoy our first half day in town. The first thing we noticed was the rather significant temperature change! It was a frosty -5°F (-20°C) in Fort Collins when we left, and was 85°F (30°C) in Orlando when we arrived – we had to take a lot of layers off very quickly the second we stepped off the plane, for sure!
Our plan is to stay in and around Orlando until the end of the conference on Thursday, and then spend the Friday & Saturday exploring the north a little more. We’ll be staying in Mount Dora on Thursday night, and then in Gainesville Friday night before we fly out of Orlando on Saturday:
Mercifully less miles than some of our other road trips, so a little easier to handle! We spend our first evening relaxing and slowly adjusting to the heat and humidity, ready for another early start and plenty of excitement the next morning…
We decided to start the holiday strong, so our first stop was NASA at Cape Canaveral! There is a very impressive tourist centre, plus for a little extra you can tour the actual NASA facility which of course we could not resist. Suitably dressed for the weather and feeling very patriotic, we began!
NASA, as you can imagine, is pretty awesome. There is tons of interesting information and historic pieces, plus inspirational music and famous quotes everywhere to make you feel extra excited:
We decided to tour the actual facility first, which is a combined bus tour and bonus visitor centre. Pumped up from the quotes and music, we set off!
The Kennedy Space Centre is a little way away from the visitor complex, and is the actual facility where the NASA team work, and where assembly and launches of the spacecraft happen. The whole perimeter is secured by the Department of Defense (which seems a little redundant given the tour groups) and most of the tour happened from the bus. The actual facility is massive (around 220 square miles) with buildings, construction sites and launch pads dotted around the place. We soon got our first look at the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) which seemed to be just up ahead, but was in fact a full five miles away:
The flag alone is a full 210 foot (64 meters) tall! In case you’re not already guessing, this whole experience was EXTREMELY American, but in the best way 🙂
Something relatively new for NASA is corporate partnerships, the most famous being with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company that launched the Tesla into space a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read about it, I definitely recommend taking a few minutes: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/14-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-spacex-tesla-falcon-heavy-rocket-launch-david-bowie/
We were very excited about the whole thing, so it was a definite treat to see where everything was built, assembled and launched from:
To nerd out at you for a second, one of the benefits of having commercial partners is that they will take wonderful but expensive technology and commercialize it, making it cheaper and ultimately viable for wider use. A few of the changes that SpaceX have made to that end are:
- Reusable boosters! NASA already has a reusable Space Shuttle in Atlantis, but the fuel cells are not reusable so are destroyed with every launch. SpaceX aim to have a fully reusable craft that can simply be refuelled between trips, which is obviously much cheaper.
- Horizontal assembly! NASA currently assemble all of their rockets in their final, upright position, which is tricky and means that you need a suitably tall building to accommodate this. SpaceX are assembling their rockets horizontally which is easier to do and allows for safer transport, and then turning them upright once the reach the launch pad.
- Transport by rail! NASA has a mobile launch platform that they use to transport their rockets to the launch pad several miles away from the assembly area, and it is a serious machine. Each one weighs 8,000 tonnes, is insanely expensive and has a max speed of 1 mph when carrying something (2 mph when empty). Definitely not ideal! SpaceX has the assembly building very close to the launch pad, and simply transports the rockets over by rail – much cheaper and easier 🙂
Okay, done nerding out. But anyway, my project manager brain was very excited by the process optimization!
One slightly strange feature of the NASA site is that the security against people means that there is actually quite a lot of wildlife. We saw a lot of animals while driving around including White Ibis, Grey Herons, Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Alligators (!!) and Wild Boar Piglets! It was hard to take pictures from the moving bus, but I just about managed to get these Turkey Vultures eyeing up these Piglets:
Heading back up into space, we were dropped off at the visitor centre to look at the various excitement that they had prepared. This included photo opportunities:
The actual control centre from the Apollo mission where man first orbited the moon, complete with countdown clock, videos and a nerve-racking recreation of the actual launch:
Plus a delightful video of Jim Lovell (who was part of the team to first orbit the moon) immediately following the launch making this excellent face:
After this scheduled programming we then moved on to the main area, where they had one of their restored space shuttles hanging and looking awesome:
As well as retired space-craft they actually had several moon rock samples, which was crazy to see. One large piece was preserved in glass, and another small piece you could just straight up touch:
Once we’d calmed down a little from this excitement we headed outside to get some sun, and see some more of the fabulous birds that were flying around everywhere. Being wary of the gators and poisonous snakes that are apparently everywhere…
… we enjoyed the views! Like I said before the site is very large, as you can see from our new view of the VAB:
Whilst looking at the birds we had a surprise entry for most impressive – this seagull who had just managed to catch a fish:
He was sitting really nearby showing off his meal, so a good opportunity for photos!
Once we finished enjoyed the exhibits and the birds we headed back on the bus to the main area and checked out the very cool Atlantis exhibit. Atlantis is notable for being a reusable space shuttle, and operated from 1985 – 2011, which is a frankly ridiculous length of time. During that time it was used for 33 missions, and travelled around 126,000,000 miles. Like I said above Atlantis was reused, but the fuel tanks were replaced each mission – here we are posing next to examples of these!
After reading all about this fabulous space shuttle (and resisting the very strong urge to try and jump onto it) we headed back outside for a little more sun, and to look at the delightful Rocket Field:
The Rocket Field was so impressive, but overheating quickly became an issue. Here we are ignoring the amazing Rocket Field to play around in the delightfully misty fountain…
Last but not least, we checked out the exterior of the Hall of Heroes. This is a beautiful monument, and of course once again very impressive in scale:
We had an amazing time and I could easily keep talking about it for several more pages (mwa-ha-ha) but luckily for you I will leave it there! Lots of sights still to see though, so we will get back to you shortly with part two…
Thanks for reading!