I went to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral the day before our Tim Peake launched into orbit. Yep, I know he went from Russia, but still, I was around space when it was all kicking off. By the end of the day, I felt I knew what he was letting himself in for.
I’d made a space-themed Spotify playlist for our journey to Cape Canaveral from Daytona. As we drove along the beautifully clear road coming into it – off NASA Parkway West – Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’ blared out. Perfect. Felt a little silly as we passed the parking attendants, but I’m sure they’re used to it.
The Kennedy Space Center was quieter than I imagined. We were off season, 19 December to be precise. The low season gave us the chance to have a good look around, rather than have to join any queues, the centre was ours to explore for the day.
The first thing you come to in the centre is the Rocket Garden – a collection of cool rockets, that have all been into space at some point in time on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs.
Some of the rockets reached up to 223-feet high and you could even sit in a few of them. Too cramped – I was already doubting my ability to be a spaceman and we were only on the first exhibit.
Lunch with a spaceman
The highlight of the day was lunch with a spaceman. Technically, lunch followed by a chat with a spaceman, but details, details.We met Charlie Walker – he’s been into space three times and is the former President of the National Space Society.
He took us through a fascinating presentation about food in space, what they eat, how they select it, how they eat it and how it’s changed over the years.
It’s been 30 years since he’s been but he said he thinks about his time in space every single day.
“I had a moment when I was up there. I looked back at earth, saw how small and precious it is, and just wept for all the pain people cause each other there”.
A few things I learned about food in space
- Spacemen have to relearn how to swallow, it all changes when there’s no gravity.
- When spacemen sit at the table they have a special function to lock themselves in with their boots, or they’d float away.
- Astronauts play with their food in the zero gravity a lot.
- Before a mission the spaceman will have a meeting with a nutrition team to tell them what they like and don’t.
- Each individual spaceman’s food is packaged up with their pre-decided individual colour sticker on to avoid any arguments or issues in orbit. When the trays are given out up there each spaceman will always have a quick look at each others trays to make sure no one has ‘accidentally’ picked up their food.
- Spacemen barter with their food in space, to get the other astronauts to do stuff for them.
- All the food has already been given a Velcro sticker so they can stick it down to their plate, otherwise gravity will have it.
Sadly, or gladly, our lunch wasn’t spaceman food, as I’d assumed it would be. Instead it was a varied buffet of fish, chicken, pizza, pasta, breads and cookies and chocolate cake for dessert. Tried it all, obvs. Flip flop seal of approval.
Tour round the NASA grounds
You get to tour around the actual place where the rockets and space ships take off. The actual launchpad you see on the TV. I was amazed, and had to check it hadn’t just been set up for tourists. Nope, this was the real deal.
Just board a bus from the Rocket Garden and get taken on a 20-minute guided tour round the various launch pads. One of my favourite things to happen, apart from all the space stuff, was that we had to stop and wait for a tortoise to cross the road. Seriously.
Also, loads of alligators live in the grounds and the bus driver told us how one day one managed to get in the launch centre and cause absolute havoc because someone didn’t close the door properly behind them.
At the end of the NASA bus tour it was time for the NASA museum.
It was fascinating. One of my favourite collections was the space suits through the ages showing how much they’d changed. The helmets were there too.
Now I don’t want to show off, but I have in fact touched the moon. This little piece was brought back many a moon ago and placed in this safe box. It felt kind of glossy actually, not as rough as I would’ve expected. No need for me to go through the rigmarole of astronaut training now. Been there, done that.
– Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ hand casts for their gloves
– Apollo 14 Command Module
– Live recreation of the first man on the moon
Atlantis is the only spaceship in the world that’s been into orbit 33 times, a number which we realised was quite arbitrary when you think about it. There could be exhibits of ‘the only spaceship to have been into space 11 times, 23 times, 6 times’ but I get what they’re saying. Basically, it’s been up there many, many times compared to any old space ship.
This rocket cost $196 million to build (£137 million). It’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever seen.
Kennedy Space Center
It was hard for us to leave the Kennedy Space Center. I assumed we’d be there for a few hours and trot on, but we ended up spending about eight hours there, fascinated by the insight.
As I was starting to feel a little spaced out I realised that it was soon to close and had a second wind rushing round to see what we hadn’t managed to yet. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for the Shuttle Launch Experience Simulation or the Journey to Mars Exhibition – there’s just so much to do there!
Where to stay
We stayed at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel, just a 35-minute drive up the road. The rooms were slick, spacious and come with huge beds, as seemed to be standard for all the Hiltons we stayed in on our Florida road trip. There was also a beachfront restaurant serving a good selection of traditional Floridian fare. I went for the fish tacos with a beer, delightful while seated on the sand with the sounds of the ocean in the background.
I was in Florida as a guest of VISIT FLORIDA and Hertz.co.uk. Visit Florida have a whole January of activity in London – check out their ‘Moments of Sunshine‘ here. For more information on the Kennedy Space Center, check out their website.