Kennedy Space Centre

By Diane Cherry

Ask anyone what they know about Cape Canaveral and they will tell you about the images stuck in their minds of the moon rockets and Space Shuttle blasting off from the launch pad. It all appears so high tech that it came as a bit of a surprise to us when we drove into the Merritt Island area, where Kennedy Space Centre is located, that it is actually a huge nature reserve and that only a tiny fraction of it, is used by NASA.

The highway is plastered with signs saying 'beware of the alligators - do not get out of your car' - there are around 1000 alligators in the nature reserve. We saw egrets, pelicans and a bald eagle's nest perched on top of a telegraph pole. Quite appropriate really, for the pride of America's space programme.

Security was really tight at the entrance and large bags, rucksacks and coolers were not allowed. They had also curtailed the areas that visitors could get to - the giant Vehicle Assembly Building (think football pitch standing on end) and the launch pads were off limits. We were quite disappointed by this as we would have liked to see parts of the International Space station which are currently being built there so that one day when looking up at it in the sky we could at least claim to have seen a part of it when it was still on earth. The one criticism we had was that the centre was very backwards looking and focused on the glories of the past when to the future is even more exciting with the ISS and future missions to Mars.

We took the bus tour to the Saturn V centre - Saturn V rockets were the type used in the Apollo programme. Nothing really prepares you for the scale of the engines and the size of the (basically) giant firework that blasted the astronauts into space. When you compare it to the small living quarters and the even tinier splashdown module you realise just how risky space travel is. It becomes evident just how hard it is to escape the earth's atmosphere far less aim probes accurately at far off planets and hope they get there in one piece.

A mock up of launch control was well done with the original equipment and they staged a take off where everything went dark and the windows rattled to give us some idea of the power involved in an actual launch. Unfortunately there were no launches while we were there. A lot of the centre is devoted to the great achievement of putting man on the moon and there was the 'Lunar Theatre' where the actual moment of touchdown on the moon was recreated. The IMAX cinema showed footage of a space shuttle mission with stunning views of Earth from the cargo bays.

Lets not forget the shop with the astronaut ice cream (although we didn't try it) and the rocket garden with different sized rockets arranged like a futuristic forest. All in all it was a great day and full of interest for everyone. And no, we didn't see any alligators!