Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Need My Space

My son suggested we make a stop at Kennedy Space Center during our trip to Florida. I'd taken him there as a child and we were lucky enough to sit on the beach at Cocoa Island and watch a shuttle launch. I was thrilled that he remembered it. So often, I think parents treat their children to experiences that they later forget because they are so young. But we both remembered what it was like to sit on the beach and watch that ball of fire race up into the sky and out of view before we even heard and felt the booming thunder in its wake.

This trip to Kennedy Space Center was a little different. The focus now was on things that happened in the past.

Vehicle Assembly Building

We experienced a simulated shuttle launch that my daughter loved. It made the skin (okay, fat) of my cheeks quake and shiver until I thought flaps of skin would permanently be misshapen and hang like cheek-earlobes on my face. I knew right then that I'd never want to be an astronaut. Not that I ever wanted to be one to begin with.

We took the bus tour around the immense acreage of the Space Center. My husband commented on how massive everything was. You don't realize it at first because there is little to compare things to, but when the tour guide started explaining the actual size of everything, we started to realize how dwarfed we were in comparison. For instance, the stripes on the flag on the single-story Vehicle Assembly Building are 9 feet across and the blue area is as large as a regulation basketball court. The building itself is 526 feet high and covers 8 acres.
 On one of the stops we climbed the steps to an observation deck where we viewed the launch pads. It was easy to visualize the rockets launching from there, especially after we watched videos of past launches that brought all of it to life.

This was the case as well when we stopped at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where we sat in the Firing Room and gazed down on the actual control panels that were used during the Apollo launch. Up on the big screens we watched the events of that day and then the walls and windows started rattling and shaking just as they had during the real launch. It was exciting.

But the part I loved most was the Hubble 3D film at the Imax Theatre. We got to journey with the Hubble crew who went up to fix the massive telescope. The views of Earth were as breathtaking as ever, but it was the views beyond our galaxy that captivated me. We saw pictures of solar systems being born. They looked like thunderstorm clouds surrounding small balls of fire. We saw clusters of galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster; our closest intergalactic neighbor. And beyond that, older galaxies that are billions of light years away.
Apollo/Saturn V Center

The images were so phenomenal that they seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. The cloudy masses, beautiful colors and swirling shapes made me feel like a child. I sat in the theater awed, thinking Is that really out there?

I love the insignificance I feel every time I stare out at the sky. But I don't know that I've ever realized the insignificance as greatly as I did after seeing those images from the Hubble telescope. It made me wish that we were exploring space even farther. It made me wonder how far we could go.

I only went as far as the gift shop where there were t-shirts and other souvenirs embossed with the phrase I Need My Space. Could any other phrase ever be so true?

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