Kennedy Space Center up close
17th February 2015

 

While Scifest Africa Director, Anja Fourie, was in the United States she was given a unique tour of the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA and now member of the Scifest Africa Advisory Committee, showed Fourie some of the most impressive exhibits at the Visitors Complex including the Atlantis Space Shuttle which she says “looks pretty rough, coming back into the atmosphere again – 33 times”. 

The shuttle is smaller than she expected which makes it even more remarkable that people could live and work together in such restricted confines and “not kill each other”.  Fourie adds that watching the spectacular presentation and then seeing the shuttle in front of her eyes was amazing, “even for someone who is not an American, it is quite an emotional experience”.

The supporting exhibits were almost as impressive showing how the astronauts work, sleep and even go to the toilet.

Fourie says one of the most historically significant exhibits was the gangway that the Apollo 11 astronauts used when they walked from the gantry into their capsule perched on top of the Saturn V rocket. She was allowed to walk on that gangway and in so doing followed in the footsteps of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

The rest of the Visitors Complex was crammed with models of just about every rocket that the US has ever sent up into space. There was also a replica of the Mercury-Redstone 3 space capsule that visitors are allowed to sit in so they can experience the cramped quarters of one of the earliest spacecraft.

There are also extensive displays of spacecraft that have explored the surface of the planet Mars. Fourie said it was an immense privilege to go on the tour with Jim Adams because he has personally been in charge of development of all the rovers that have been driven on Mars, so he could give first-hand accounts of how these vehicles were designed and built.

She said that Adams’ experience with the Mars landers is all the more incredible as his father was in charge of similar projects for the moon landers.

The tour was restricted to the Visitors Complex, but the LAUNCH Forum was held in the VIP Observer Building from where it was possible to see several of the many launch pads in the Kennedy Space Centre as well as the 55-storey high Vehicle Assembly Building. This building, where the space shuttles were assembled, and where they now assemble the latest generation rockets, sports the world’s largest American flag at 21 stories high. 

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