As I wrote two days ago, we visited the KSC with my wife and kid, my sister, and my dad. Yesterday was a return visit – for Launch Day! No, they didn’t restart the shuttle program just for me and the family (aw shucks!) so we had to settle for an Altas V-551 booster launching the Juno sattelite into solar orbit before heading to Jupiter in 2013. The launch window was between hot and fucking hot o’clock yesterday and they got the rocket off with about 9 minutes left. We were about 5 or 10 miles away from the site so the noise was impressive without being deafening. The flame off the back of the rocket was so bright even from so far away and there was something particularly exhilarating from even that distance to see this new exploration of our solar system get blasted into space.
Now, before the launch we visited the shuttle mockup which Wasserstein predictably interesting but didn’t do the Shuttle Experience due to the launch. While waiting in the Florida sun, I looked around for a place to buy water and was dismayed to see that the water stand was closed – budget cuts? I needed to go back to the Space Shop (world’s largest!!) to buy some (overpriced not to say price-gouging) bottles of water.
After the launch, the site was completely overwhelmed. Just imagine that the day before, it was almost like we were all alone on the site: no lines, no crowds, and so plenty of things to enjoy and take our time to see. Let’s just say that a Launch Day is not something that they seem to anticipate or handle very well at KSC. What I forgot to mention was that at 7am, the first 2000 visitors (not us!!) were trucked out to the observation gantry at 3.5 miles from the launch site. Now, after the launch, not only the 1000 or 2000 folks at the Visitor’s Center but also the other 2000 descended on the available exhibits, restaurants, food stan and IMAX theaters and it was absolute mayhem. We gave up on trying to eat or drink anything and decided to attempt an IMAX. That was a mistake, the overwhelmed staff didn’t notify us until 35 minutes into our wait that we had already missed the film and had an additional hour to wait…we decided to split instead.
Moral of the story: visit KSC a complete day to see all the stuff: do the bus tour, the rocket garden, the exhibits, and an IMAX movie – but the day BEFORE Launch Day. On Launch Day, get there early for the good seating – BRING WATER!! – and then get the hell out of the and eat lunch elsewhere! But, I think that there is something so incredible about seeing a launch live that I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even my wife who is about as far from a nerd as the human species can produce, she found it abfab!
Footnote: our first stop on the way back (for lunch after our fleeing from KSC) was a Burger King/Shell Station just south of Cocoa Beach next to the I-95 freeway. As for BK, it was the first whopper I have eaten in many years and I think I prefer the taste of their beef to that of both Wendy’s and McDonalds. But what I was really freaked out about was the magazine rack at the convenience store checkout, I kid you not: Boar Hunter Magazine, Mud Fans Magazine, Airboat Magazine and Marsh Riders Magazine. Yes, this was redneck country. Oh, and the other magazines they had were rapper/soft-porn magazines with titles like Smooth and Booty. Born in the USA but can barely recognize it anymore.