A Science Enthusiast goes behind-the-scenes at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center!
On April 18th, NASA launched the TESS Mission on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. I happened to apply for the NASA Social for the launch, and out of the 400 applicants, I was one of the 40 social media personalities selected to attend. It was a truly incredible experience, and I cannot thank NASA enough for the opportunity!
This post will be updated as I process through all the images I took!
The best way to go about this will be to start from the beginning, where we got our social media/press credentials from NASA.
Despite my half-asleep gaze and crazy hair (I flew into Florida from Vancouver the day before, and didn’t get into my place until after 11pm), I was excited. After a security sweep, we loaded the bus and we were off on our tour!
Our first stop was a NASA Live event, during which we learned details about the launch and TESS Mission. They discussed the launch vehicle (a SpaceX Falcon 9), the unique orbit TESS will be in, how the transit method of exoplanet detection works, how TESS is similar but different from the Kepler Mission, and more. Also, you can see the back of my head a lot. You can read more about everything TESS will be doing in the full article about TESS: A behind-the-scenes look at the SpaceX launch of NASA’s TESS Mission!
NASA hooked us up with some sweet swag, too.
Our first stop at the KSC Visitor’s Center was to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle itself is indoors, tilted at an angle of 43.21 degrees, because who doesn’t love a good countdown? But outside, they had the external fuel tank and the two solid rocket boosters that lifted the shuttles into orbit.
If you look closely in the bottom right hand corner, you can see a person walking by the SRB, giving you a sense of the scale.
After not one, but two short movies you have to watch before you can see Atlantis, we were in. Unbeknownst to us, Atlantis was just behind the second movie screen as we were watching. It startled most of us.
I took a panorama of the shuttle from the upper level of the viewing area:
I took a picture of the inside of the engine, too. Just because.
They had one of the engines on display, and you can really see how complex the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 is up close:
The downstairs area of the exhibit had a small display about TESS, and a gift shop. We moved rather quickly through this area, since we weren’t sure how much time we’d have to go through the rocket garden and other things we wanted to see (a very strong storm was moving in).
We stopped in at the IMAX theater, however the next show was in half an hour, so we didn’t have time to check it out. Instead, we looked at the display of capsules that are currently in development in the lobby:
Here’s a closer view at a SpaceX Dragon Capsule that resupplied the International Space Station:
Next, we went to the rocket garden. True to its name, there were rockets. A lot of them!
I got some up-close shots of some of them.
We then went to the “Heroes and Legends” building. Again, we had to watch a film to gain entry to it. I found the film to be pretty heavy on the hero worship, and hyping things up a bit too much. After all, we’re dealing with space, rockets, and incredibly talented/intelligent people who got us to space, and ultimately to the moon. I didn’t feel there was much need to hype it up for as long as they did. But they had this cool Saturn Rocket display in the first area we went into.
After the compulsory movies, we were able to explore inside the building.They had the capsule that Wally Schirra flew in during the Mercury program hanging from the ceiling, however there wasn’t a great way to actually look inside the capsule or see it any closer than the picture below. I was a bit disappointed with that.
Next, they had the actual consoles that Launch Control used during the Mercury missions on display, which was pretty neat.
It really puts the technology of the day into perspective to see this. No LCD screens, no fancy displays, just a bunch of knobs and switches.
They also had a suit from the Mercury missions on display:
The rest of the “Heroes” area involved interactive screens that I’m sure kids would have enjoyed using and playing with. There was also an astronaut hall of fame too, displaying plaques for fallen astronauts.
Nearby, there was a nature building that had a handful of taxidermied local wildlife, explaining how KSC works to protect the local animals on its property.
With the weather moving in, we were in a time crunch to see other exhibits (the exhibits are housed in various buildings around the center). We tried to go to the Mars exhibit, but it was closed. They did, however, have this LEGO reproduction of a Mars Exploration Rover, consisting of 90,000 LEGO pieces and weighing 290 pounds.
A lot of what we saw at the KSC Visitor’s Center felt either overdone, or aimed more towards kids. It’s important to point out that the Visitor’s Center isn’t actually owned or ran by NASA, rather it’s operated by a company called Delaware North.
I was expecting more of a museum-esque feel to the Visitor’s Center, so this was a bit of a letdown for me… Especially if I would have paid the the adult ticket price of $50, plus $10 for parking. I would have liked more information to have been presented about Atlantis, more details about the other exhibits inside it, and just more of a museum feel in general. An exhibit on how rockets were developed (and the Cold War) would have been great and put things in historical perspective.
With a heavy thunderstorm moving in, we decided to call it a day. Unfortunately, this means we missed a trip to the Saturn V Center.
This post will be updated.