Kennedy Space Center | Visitor Complex

by Jim and Melanie

Early in 2018, our son-in-law invited us to be his guests at a launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We immediately said “yes.” Our SIL is literally a rocket scientist/engineer. He works for a company contracted by NOAA and NASA, whose mission is to support the launch and instrument checkout of the next generation weather satellites of the GOES-R series.

Geostationary GOES-R was launched 19 November 2016 and is now part of the National Weather Service fleet. It views the eastern half of the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean. Storm development, lightning, and hurricane tracking are parts of its main focus.

Our invitation was to watch the launch of GOES-S on 1 March 2018. When GOES-S is commissioned several months after launch, it will view the western half of the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean as GOES-West. Pacific storms, their impact on the western states, and forest fire tracking will be parts of its main focus.

GOES-R Series | Credit: Lockheed Martin

This post is about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Our next post is about viewing the GOES-S launch later that same day.

KSC Visitor Complex

The email we received from the Visitor Complex instructed us about arriving and times of events prior to launch. We drove to the site early in order to tour the exhibits. We were directed into a special line for guests of the GOES-S launch, checked through security, and guided into a building where our credentials were cleared.

Each of us received a goody bag with brochures, pins, a patch of the mission, and some stickers for windows. We were given a Guest lanyard to wear so we would be easily identified when we went to the launch viewing site on the buses.

One of the first things we saw upon entry to the Visitor Complex is this wall honoring the original Mercury Seven astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.

Rocket Garden

Adjacent to this wall was the Rocket Garden, which displayed replicas of several of the rockets and capsules instrumental in getting our astronauts into space. At the far left in the image below is a replica of the Redstone rocket with a Mercury capsule on top. That combination put our first astronaut Alan Shepard into space on 5 May 1961. In the foreground is an Atlas rocket, similar to the one that carried John Glenn as the first American in orbit.

Below left is a replica of the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn to his three orbits of the Earth on 20 February 1962. Below right is a replica of a two-man Gemini capsule atop a Titan booster.

Behind the Rocket Garden is the Saturn IB rocket. The Saturn rocket series developed the heavy lift capability of our rocket arsenal. German rocket engineer Wernher von Braun was instrumental in leading that effort. This is the precursor to the rocket that launched our astronauts to the Moon.

Saturn IB

Saturn V

A most impressive rocket display was of the Saturn V at the launch viewing site. The Saturn V can be thought of as a vehicle. This type of vehicle was used for the Apollo missions. When it was used between 1967-1973, the Saturn V stood 363 feet tall and was 33 feet in diameter at the base. It was able to lift over 300,000 pounds into low earth orbit with 7.5 million pounds of thrust from 5 huge F-1 engines. Standing next to this rocket was awe-inspiring. It seemed impossible such a huge thing could lift-off and put payloads into orbit or toward the Moon. It was used 13 times with no failures.

Saturn V Stage 1 | Click to embiggen

You can drag and zoom around in this video to see more of the Saturn V.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

The next phase of the U.S. launch arsenal after Apollo included the Space Shuttle vehicles. The Visitor Complex included a display of the Shuttle’s liquid fuel tank and solid rocket boosters. They towered above the entrance to a building containing the Shuttle Atlantis. We did not tour the Shuttle. The lines were long. We had previously seen Shuttle Discovery in the Smithsonian display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

The orange part is the external fuel tank for the Shuttle’s 3 main engines. It held liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, a highly explosive combination when ignited. Here is a link to an internal view. Two men inside give a sense of scale. The two white structures on either side are solid rocket boosters. A leak in an O-ring on one of these boosters caused the Challenger disaster. The entire assembly with a Shuttle attached stood 184 ft tall, half the height of a Saturn V at 363 ft.

International Space Station

The current state of manned space exploration utilizes the International Space Station. This multi-nation partnership provides a research platform for microgravity and space environment in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields. As of this writing, the U.S. has no capability to launch humans into space. We contract with Russia to do that. There are plans to change that with the help of Boeing and SpaceX. NASA is also developing the Orion spacecraft and the SLS launch system.

This wandering tourist posed for our photo.

Celestial Sphere

This last exhibit was fun to watch. Known as the Kugel fountain, this 9 ton black granite sphere has 88 constellations engraved on its surface. It is suspended on a pressurized flow of water from below. The low friction support lets one rotate it with ease. Kids loved it.


22 thoughts on “Kennedy Space Center | Visitor Complex

    1. Anne Brannigan

      That’s a great post, so very interesting, thank you. Reading it brought back many memories. It must have been a memorable day

      1. Jim R Post author

        It was quite memorable. I visited the space center back in 1971 for a continuing education class. We toured the sites during the Apollo era. With this visit I was finally able to return and see a launch in person. I guess this was a bucket list item. 🙂

      1. Telescope Paul

        From the one time I was at the Space Center, over 30 years ago, the part of the tour that I still remember vividly was seeing the Saturn V rocket sitting in stages on the ground. It made the shuttle’s hanger and everything else seen seem small by comparison.

  1. shoreacres

    One of the coolest things I’ve seen recently was imagery from the satellite (GOES-R, I think) that caught the launch of Musk’s Falcon Heavy. I think these weather satellites are fascinating. I’m so glad that you were able to be there for the launch of this one.

    I had to smile at the phrase “rocket garden.” No weeds in that one, I would say. The Saturn V is impressive, but I must say I’d be right there with the kids, looking at the constellations.

      1. shoreacres

        Thanks for the link. I really am laughing at this: “The GOES-16 is now operational as GOES-East. It became self-aware on 18 December 2017.” I know some human beings who don’t seem to be self-aware. 🙂

        1. Jim R Post author

          GOES-S is now designated GOES-17. It will become self-aware later this year as GOES-West. Yes, I know some of those same human types. 🙂

  2. Perry Baltimore

    What a great write-up. I’m so glad you were able to participate in the launch on the evening of March 1st. So far, GOES-S has performed beautifully. We completed a series of 6 Liquid Apogee Engine (LAE) burns to place us from a Geostationary Transfer Orbit left by our ride on the Atlas/Centaur, to a Geostationary orbit, with very low inclination. (Mission regesignated at GOES17 since we achieved our orbit. Yay!) Following those burns was a successful stage 2 solar array deployment which placed our array into its final extended position. Then, we completed 3 of 4 drift stop manuevers using smaller Hydrazine Bipropellant Thrusters (HBT) in concert with other moniprop thrusters. Only one minor burn left to ‘stop’ us right at our checkout longitude. That final burn will be tomorrow. Everything exactly to plan! Then Monday will be a big day when we transition to what we call Nadir point, where the attitude of the spacecraft will change from a sun pointed reference to Earth pointing reference. The next several days following, we will complete some other deployments, turn on our GPS receiver, and initialize the instruments. A period of outgas and a very long checkout period will then be performed before we deem GOES 17 ready to fulfill its duties as GOES-West. NOAA will make the call when to officially replace the current heritage GOES observatory with this new technology. Exciting times for remote weather monitoring!

    1. Jim R Post author

      Thank you for those mission details. It sounds like the spacecraft is working well. We read this over together and have a very good idea now what steps are needed to get parked and tested.

      Keep up the good work.

  3. Pingback: Geostationary Orbit Translation – How I See It

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