I don’t know if it’s being a male or some other trait I may have, but admitting anxiety is not something that I easily do. And yet, here I was, anxiously strapped into a seat while lying on my back and looking straight up at the backs of the heads of the people in front of me.
My 9-year old-son, Connor, on my left and my wife, Kim, on my right, were similarly strapped into their seats, and like me, waiting to see what happened with butterflies in their stomachs.
Over a speaker we could hear mission control’s countdown. We felt, more than heard, the solid rocket boosters ignite and shake the entire compartment as we started to be propelled upward. The shaking escalated and we could feel the G force against our bodies as we lifted off the launch pad completely.
I glanced at Connor and felt a little comfort seeing the grin on his face. Kim, clenching my right hand with hers, was also enjoying the experience of the lift-off.
What we were feeling was the most unique thrill ride experience of my life. The Space Shuttle Launch Experience at Cape Kennedy Space Center.
Moments before as we stood in line, it was both entertaining and educational to see astronaut after astronaut talk about giving their input and ideas to make the ride as realistic as possible. It was fun to see the enthusiasm and excitement on their faces as they relived their shuttle experiences.
The launch experience is just one of many fascinating and entertaining things to see.
Less than an hour from the giant playground that is Orlando, The Kennedy Space Center is a cheap, educational experience for the entire family. I regret now that we only budgeted one day to spend there.
Before even reaching the parking lot, the first thing you see is the rocket garden. Several Redstone, Titan and Atlas rockets stretch into the sky and are surrounded by Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules that you can climb into. But this impressive display is nothing compared to what else there is to see and experience.
We had the opportunity to meet former astronaut Winston Scott at the Astronaut Encounter. Scott thrilled us with pictures and descriptions of his two space shuttle missions. His presentation was followed by the opportunity to shake his hand and take a memorable photo.
Also included in the price of admission is a bus tour that takes you to the LC 39 launch gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V center. From the 60-foot high gantry you can see the two shuttle launch pads, the launch control center, and the crawlerway or road the shuttle takes from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad.
The Apollo/Saturn V Center is a museum that should not be missed. Funded completely over decades by space center visitors, the building is a mammoth to behold. We were awed as soon as we walked inside the spacious building.
Suspended from the ceiling is a real Saturn V rocket. More than 363 feet long, it is the largest and most impressive, operational launch vehicle ever built. I couldn’t help but reminisce back to the 1960s and early '70s when names like Armstrong, Shepard, and Glenn headlined the news during my youth.
The center is dedicated to all of the Apollo missions, and houses several of their vehicles, spacesuits and tools the astronauts used to perform their various jobs while in space. We even got to touch a moon rock.
Connor especially enjoyed the Star Trek stage show since he was called out of the audience to shoot a flashlight through a sheet of aluminum with an air gun.
There is so much to see and do at the Kennedy Space Center that we were unable to experience everything in one day. There is an IMAX theater where two different films can be seen, the Hubble telescope exhibit, a children’s play dome, a replica space shuttle to explore and many, many other exhibits.
Yes, we admittedly did spend time at Universal Studios in Orlando and we did have fun in that giant playground, but when our vacation was over and we were on our way home, Connor told me he wanted to be an astronaut. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time he writes fiction novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books at www.Chrisahale.com