For our visit to Cocoa we parked at Sonrise Palms RV Park. Cocoa is located in what is known as the Space Coast due to the nearby Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. Also, the “I Dream of Jeannie” TV show featured a fictional astronaut living in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Our primary purpose for stopping here was to visit the Kennedy Space Center. This makes a trifecta for us since we toured Space Center Houston in January 2014 and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, in April this year. Of course, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral have perhaps the most history with respect to the US space program.
All three of these NASA facilities offer a tremendous amount of exhibits and displays about the history of our space program including the Apollo launches and Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and the current efforts with the Orion program to ultimately achieve manned flight to Mars. Where the Houston and Huntsville facilities have mostly static exhibits and displays, Kennedy Space Center has more video content including IMAX and 3D presentations. Of course, they also have a building dedicated to the Saturn V and another dedicated to the Atlantis space shuttle.
One of the most interesting presentations at KSC is “Astronaut Encounter” where they have an experienced astronaut present a very personal perspective on their experience. We attended a presentation from Jerry L. Ross, a veteran of seven Space Shuttle missions and the first person to be launched into space that many times.
Part of visiting KSC is a bus tour of some of the more interesting parts of the facility. There are the launch pads that have been used for Apollo and Space Shuttle launches and the Missile Crawler, the behemoth machine that was used to transport launch ready Saturn V and Space Shuttle assemblies to the launch pad. Then there is the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, one of the largest buildings in the world by volume. It stands 526 feet tall with 4 assembly bays with doors that open to a height of 456 feet, the largest doors in the world that take about 45 minutes to open or close. To get a sense for the size of the building, in our picture you can see there is an American flag painted on one side. The blue star field of the flag is the size of an NBA basketball court and each of the stripes is 9 feet wide.
The current focus for NASA and KSC is the Orion program which has the ultimate goal of manned flight to and landing on Mars. In the next few years there will be proving missions to the moon and perhaps an asteroid. The round trip to Mars would be approximately 2 years and could take place in about 20 years. In addition, both SpaceX and Boeing are testing launch vehicles to transport people to and from the International Space Station. Already, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle is being used for supply flights to the ISS, launched from KSC.
Next stop: St. Augustine, FL