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Travel Review Winter 2022
Kennedy Space Center Titusville Florida
Being a native of Florida I have known about this place since my childhood years growing up in Miami. I, like many others, had been privy to watch countless lift offs from this historic site since former President John F. Kennedy announced that we would land on the moon in the early 1960's. As a young adult I passed the exit sign off I-95 North that used to be labeled Cocoa Beach, as I recall, but today its labeled Titusville. One year, about four decades ago I decided to take the exit and visit the space center but was never able to locate it as I drove around for over an hour. This was of course before the gizmo known today as GPS (Global Positioning System) was invented and today is standard equipment on most if not all mobile devices. Before that us travelers relied on something known as a map which provides graphical color-coded lines that represent roads and Interstates. I still bring my Rand McNally map on long trips just in case my GPS becomes inaccessible. In addition, I am retired Army and have taken several courses in land navigation. There is a still a chance however that even me can get lost or turned around so as a last resort I locate the sun or moon to gauge where I am positioned in reference to the earth's equator. Once I exited I-95 my GPS took me to a very prominent semi-digital sign that pointed me in the right direction to the space center. Additional signs directed me to the main entrance gate and subsequently to the parking area. I noticed right off that there were quite a few tour buses parked off to the right that was a sign of the times in terms of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) precautions.
While headed to the parking area I could not help but to muse at a warning sign near a ditch on the right that reminded me of what our state has become famous and infamous for over the years. We typically lead or come in second in the nation when it comes to gators per capita, and they are our state reptile and the mascot of the University of Florida in Gainesville. The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America and its heart has four as opposed to three like most others. They are direct ancestors of dinosaurs who often hibernate when the temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. They are most active when our temperature is between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit so keep that in mind during your next visit if you plan to hang out near fresh water. I arrived at the center rather late in the afternoon as I was delayed by a rather silly legal matter involving a sibling who is mentally unstable. That may explain why the parking area was rather sparse especially in Zone six where I decided to park away from the other more congested zones closer to the main entrance. I also figured that my exit would be less crowded which I prefer after a long day of sightseeing and touring. One of the things that I look for right off is the placement of directional signs to point me in the right direction to the main entrance. There is nothing more frustrating than when I reach my destination, find parking spot, and then must spend needless time trying to figure out where I am in conjunction with the main entrance. Fortunately, that was not the case with this attraction as I was quickly able to locate the direction of the main entrance from thoughtfully place signs near my lot.
I was elated to see a sign over an area with kiosks that mentioned the word tickets because I did not purchase mine in advance via their website. I just was not sure if I was going to make it here in time to see much given my late departure from Miami and subsequent distraction with a case involving a family member that caused me to have to pull over on the side of the interstate. My elation was short lived as the kiosks were apparently turned off or did not work at all that day. I then proceeded towards the main entrance and was blown away by a fitting tribute to the namesake of the center located behind a spherical globe labeled NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the government program that was created on October 1, 1958, during the President Dwight D. Eisenhower administration.The J.F.K. (John Fitzgerald) tribute featured a granite wall with his likeness and quote engraved into it with an attached water fountain and quote from one of his speeches about space exploration with nostalgic music playing in the background. This is a well-done and fitting tribute to one of our greatest leaders. Next, I headed towards the main gate and inquired about purchasing a ticket and one of the attendants informed me that I would need to get it from the adjacent Welcome Center. I found the staff there very helpful and friendly and when I asked about a military discount, they offered me their senior rate which was $5 off the adult rate of $57. I decided to pass on the 1-year pass for $82 because I was not sure if I would be back this way in that time frame. After all, it had been nearly 40 years since my last stop through. The staff was also very helpful in explaining the site map - which was very easy to follow - and what attractions were the highlights as I had just under an hour and a half to see as much as I could. I was quite disappointed that I had missed the last bus to the rocket launch area several miles away. They also confirmed that the tour buses were not running due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and yes, they did require face masks while on the property. I overheard several foreign languages being spoken while inside the Welcome Center which suggests international visitors.
The center does provide free WIFI which for me is a plus because I like to use it to update my apps for free. I was once in a communications company while serving in the military, worked as a warranty repair audio technician at a growing furniture store chain, and was once an electrical distribution engineer with a major electric utility company; but if you asked me what or where that signal comes from, I could not tell you - perhaps space? Does anyone know? Maybe one day when I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time and I am not so tired that I want to take a nap or just relax with a cold one while watching some sporting event or just thinking about what I am going to do with my time, I will investigate what and where that signal comes from.>Back to the matter at hand, the first attraction that sticks out (literally) is the Rocket Garden to the left which ingeniously features ships arranged as though they were in a garden; Smile! I did not get a chance to take a closer look at each one of the nine rockets but as the saying goes, if you have seen one you have seen them all, right? Directly behind that area is an open space which is labeled on the site map as NEW ATTRACTION LAUNCHING SPRING 2022 which is just around the corner. I do not recall seeing any construction going on during my Fall 2021 visit but again, I was pushing the envelope to see as much as I could in the hour and a half that I had until regular closing time of 5 PM. I wonder what could be coming. Perhaps the word LAUNCHING is a clue? Maybe I will know more when I write Part II of this article. The garden is next to the Heroes & Legends attraction that had a long line and no time for me to wait given my tight time crunch. The map says that it celebrates the pioneers of NASA's early space programs and that it takes a full hour to enjoy which explains why I decided to skip it this go around. If I had to guess I would say that they cover John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong, Gus Grissom, and George Jetson (just kidding!). The Jetsons were way ahead of their time and even today we have yet to experience all the futuristic gizmos featured in that series to include my favorite Rosie the maid.
Next up was what I call the wall of space exploration celebrities that included actual astronauts like Neil Armstrong, the human NASA computer Ms. Katherine Johnson, and actress Nichelle Nichols of the Star Trek series fame to name a few. Astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, and died in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 24, 2012 (age 82). He served as a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952 and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University and Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California (USC). Among his many aeronautical accomplishments he is mostly known for being the first man to land a craft on the moon and first to step on its surface on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) as the Apollo 11 commander. Ms. Katherine Johnson was born Katherine Coleman on August 26, 1918, in Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, and died on February 24, 2020 (age 101), in Newport News, Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and French from West Virginia State College in 1937 with highest honors and in 1939 was handpicked to be one of just three Black students to integrate West Virginia University's graduate school. Ms. Johnson was hired by NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; today NASA) in 1953 where she worked until retirement in 1986 (33 years). Among her many aeronautical accomplishments she mentioned that her greatest was the calculations that help sync Project Apollo's Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and service Module. Ms. Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (America's highest civilian honor) in 2015 by President Barack Obama and in 2016 was portrayed by actress Taraji P. Henson in the hit movie Hidden Figures. Actress Nichelle Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932, in Robbins, Illinois. She was one of ten children who was a singer and dancer (discovered by Duke Ellington) before turning to acting. She danced with Sammy Davis, Jr. in Porgy and Bess (1959), and opposite James Garner in Mister Budwing (1965). Nichols joined the cast of Star Trek "The original series" in 1966 as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and played that character until 1969 when it ended and reprised the role on the big screen in 1979, 1986, 1991, and 2020. Nichols published her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories in 1994, and in 1995 authored Saturn's Child and in 2002 Saturn's Quest. She has been instrumental in convincing the NASA Astronaut Corps to break away from its all white, all male past via her Women in Motion, Inc. consultant firm.
Just past the wall of space exploration celebrities was a huge drawing of the International Space Station on the side of a building with a flag of each country participating at ground level. The first crew to occupy the station was in 2000 when American Astronaut Bill Shepard and Russian Cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergi Krikaley took up residence. Believe it or not, this football-field size station will eventually end up in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean in the year 2031 as NASA states that it is getting old with cracks leaking air. In the interim they will be transitioning its capabilities to private enterprises who will more than likely charge a fee to visit. The first attraction that I decided to go inside was the IMAX Theater which they have today in most major cities. The one in Uptown/Downtown/Center City Charlotte, NC, opened in the late 1980's early 1990's as the OmniMax Theater but in 1991 was renamed the IMAX Theater and featured movies and films on a 50-foot tilted domed screen. It will reopen on February 11, 2022, after major renovations to include digital film technology. You can see it on the QCT Charlotte Daily City Toursm route by Queen City Tourssm and Travel, our sister company. The one here shows captivating films about the past, present and future of space exploration. Surrounding the theater were these gadgets and gizmos used in space exploration along with video presentations. Ordinarily I would spend more time investigating most but due to my tight time constraints I was relegated to mostly snapping picks for future commentary. The really fascinating thing to me is that they were actually used in outer space on one of the many missions flown since the inception of the NASA program in the late 1950's as mentioned earlier. I could even see the wear and tear from those missions on the outside of the gizmos.
I got these 3D glasses near the entrance of the theater but quite frankly could not tell any difference from watching via my own prescription specks. In going over the map provided at the Welcome Center and going over it while writing this article, I may have not showed up for one of the 3D movies which explains the lack of a 3D experience. You would think that the attendant would have told me that when I grabbed a pair right in front of him. There went probably my only chance to watch a 3D movie because that is surely not on my bucket list.The movie that I watched was more of a documentary on certain space flights and missions from the past and technology used to accomplish them. I must admit that going into space is something that I never intend to do just like going way down under the ocean. I am, however, very appreciative of the brave men and women who have those aspirations and cameras to record their findings so that I can experience what they did without all the training and tremendous risks. Just the thought of me being strapped into a seat in a cramped cabin facing skyward brings chills to my spine! Kudos to all astronauts and deep-sea divers. Upon my exit from the theater, I came across a liquid refreshment vending machine and out of curiosity moved in for a closer inspection to see just what they were charging for one of those non-alcoholic drinks? I guess $3 for a 20-ounce bottle of liquid pleasure is not much if you consider the current price of eggs in Egypt. I typically avoid purchasing foods or refreshments when I visit tourist attractions because of the exorbitant tourist pricing unless I am of course writing about meals at these places as when I visited Epcot in Orlando. I usually dine at one of the nearby eateries outside of the tourist destination or sometimes Wal-Mart if one is nearby.
Another nuance that I engage in while visiting tourist attractions is to bring my own bottle(s) of water; typically, frozen to keep it cold throughout the day especially in sunny South Florida. They keep me hydrated while walking from one attraction to the next thus avoiding a heat injury. As a former U.S. Army Drill Instructor, I have seen firsthand what those ailments can do to the human body why exerting yourself in hot climate areas. I especially appreciate it when the site has thoughtfully placed one of those water fountains that includes a refill option for plastic bottles. They usually come with a digital gauge that lets you know how many bottles have been filled. If I do dine on site, I typically save that activity for last which gives me a chance to upload my pics and vids to the cloud to avoid them being accidently deleted which has happened in the past. We live and we learn, right! The center comes complete with seven options which I consider a lot considering the relatively small size of the park. They even have an adult lounge (Planet Play Lounge) inside the IMAX Theater building that serves beer and wine for those parents that need a break from chasing Timmy and Mindy all over the park who just insist on physically interacting with the actors in an aggressive manner and touching things that are clearly marked "Do not touch." Smile! The Orbit Cafe is the only one that caught my attention as it is situated right next to the IMAX Theater. My final nuance when visiting tourist attractions is to stop by the souvenir shop and pick up a memento or two. I typically set a budget of less than $10 to keep from getting carried away in all the excitement generated during my visit. Some folks choose to purchase a souvenir for others in their life and of course it's their prerogative and money. I used to do that but as I have aged, I have resolved to the notion that those folks perhaps resent the fact that you were able to take the time off to travel and have the extra funds to do so and not invite them to join you on the trip. It works for me at least. Smile! I will purchase my souvenir in Part II of this article.