Remembering Janet – Travels with Allie.
Today we headed out east of Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, about an hour’s drive. It was a bright blue day, cloudless but very cold. The bad weather and snow storms north still pushing cold temperatures down here.
It had been about 8 years I think since we came last and had a most enjoyable day there. However, it was tinged with a little sadness in that the overall sense of the place was that since 2011 and the end of the space shuttle program, there were no plans for NASA to return to space and that even the space shuttle program had been a step back from the bold promise of the exploration of deep space that seemed to be on the cards with Apollo in the 60s and 70s. I can remember feeling quite tearful to see the shuttle Atlantis there, mothballed in all its glory. Remember I am a child of the generation who saw the moon landings and dreamed that in our lifetime we might look down on the Earth from at least a space flight. That dream died in budget cuts and now space travel belongs to the super rich.
Anyway….. today was different quite from the start. The message coming out now is so strongly aimed at the young generation and it is once more to dream of exploring and carrying out the promise of taking mankind out into the stars. It was there in every exhibit and show, “dare to dream, NASA wants young creative thinkers and scientists”. All of this is born on the back of new projects. The joint commercial projects with SpaceX and Boeing to develop rockets and transports for inner space, servicing payloads to the ISS etc. The success of these joint ventures has allowed NASA to concentrate its efforts on developing rockets to once more explore deep space, the immediate objectives being a return to the Moon, the establishment of a base there and then on to Mars. And of course there are once again frequent launches. Two this week alone. AAnd the miracle of modern reusable technology. The rockets landing back on Earth again, not being thrown away.
This new programme is called Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo, and it is being led by a woman, and the first two astronauts include a woman and a man of colour. The first unmanned test of the rocket will be this year with another test soon afterwards. These tests will, amongst other things, be the longest duration ever attempted ie 40+ days and will establish protocols for a moon landing in 2025. This time not just for a short visit. This time, to stay.
Anyway, we started our visit with a trip out to the vehicle assembly area where the earlier deep space rockets are displayed. These are huge – truly huge – and we saw the control areas where Apollo missions were monitored, the moon buggies, the landing crafts – how fragile they looked – and attended some lively and interesting presentations. They put the missions of the 60s and 70s into context of the technology of the time for younger people, which showed I think how amazing they were.
In a time before mobile phones, before the internet, before all the things we take for granted now, we put men on the Moon using computers that had less power than the average mobile phone. You cannot fail but to be impressed by that and to hear the speech of a young JFK, saying that “we choose to do these things, we choose to go to the Moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”. This also makes me sad to reflect on a time in American politics when there seemed to be hope and inspiration rather than the cynicism of today’s politics.
We then explored the pavilion devoted to the shuttle missions. This is where the shuttle Atlantis is displayed and there are lots of interactive exhibits around it. You can use a simulator to try and dock a shuttle to the ISS. You can crawl around a half size mockup of the ISS suspended on the ceiling with glass tubes, you can fly in a simulator to the ISS….. all a lot of fun.
We also visited the Mars pavilion where the plans and hopes for the coming missions to Mars were displayed and previewed, clearly aimed at inspiring young visitors, who will, after all, be the generation who man them.
We left after a full day, a very interesting one.
In the evening we went to Fran and Dave’s house in Melbourne. We had brought some things to store in their garage for a few weeks – 2 sets of golf clubs, a small case and a box of beer. We had a great evening too. Fran put on a wonderful spread of appetizers, and then we ordered takeaway entrees from a local Italian restaurant. All very yum. And of course ice cream. Fran’s dad, Buddy, was also there and Dave’s twin, Annie, who has come to help support him after his knee replacement. He’s had both done now and it is remarkable that a week after the second, he is walking with a frame. There is pain of course, but in pretty good shape.