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Traveling Through Space and Time - June 2011

Andrea Gross | Jun 16, 2011, 10:57 a.m.

Relaxing with my seat tilted back I suddenly heard a loud noise, followed by spine-jarring vibrations. I felt a pressure on my chest, pushing me back against my seat. Then there was another boom—this one more deafening than the last—and the launch simulator at the Kennedy Space Center made me feel as if I were soaring into space.

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The Rocket Garden displays the base of historic rockets that launched the first Americans into space.

Suddenly all was still, and I saw the earth floating before me, a round ball with vague outlines of recognizable continents. A youngster who was sitting a few rows ahead of me broke the silence. “I’m going there someday,” he said, and all the adults nodded approvingly.

The Space Center, 50 miles east of Orlando and home to the United States manned space program, is that kind of place—as inspiring as it is informational, and as entertaining as it is educational.

Here, some of the must-sees:

• “Space Station” is an IMAX® film that serves as a primer to living in outer space by showing how astronauts eat, exercise, sleep and, yes, float in a weightless environment. In May, when the STS-134 crew led by Commander Mark Kelly (husband of Arizona Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords), spent 14 days at the space station, my husband and I could relate to what they were experiencing. After all, we’d been there too, albeit by way of a three-dimensional film.

Another IMAX® film, “Hubble 3D,” tells the story of the telescope that has given us unprecedented views of the universe. Watch this film toward the end of your visit when it provides a welcome excuse to sit down and rest your feet!

• Early Space Exploration isn’t the Center’s flashiest exhibit, but a quick visit helps put future advances into context. For a more personal look at the early missions, visit the Astronauts Hall of Fame, located several miles from the main complex. The hall is filled with astronaut memorabilia, including a Mercury spacecraft piloted by astronaut Wally Schirra.

• Fewer than 550 men and women have flown in space, but each day one of them hosts an Astronaut Encounter at the Kennedy Space Center. We heard a talk by Al Worden, who seemed like a nice, ordinary guy until I realized that as Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 15 moon mission, he’s one of only 24 people in the history of the world to travel beyond the orbit of the earth. Worden described walking in space 200,000 miles from earth, at which time he became the first human to see both the earth and the moon in their entirety. “It was kinda cool,” he said with a grin that indicated this was a grand understatement.

• The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes visitors to an observation stand that offers the best view most of us are going to get of the launch pad that sends astronauts into space. Then it continues to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where the 363-foot long Saturn V rocket hangs from the ceiling, dwarfing everything around it. This rocket was used for Apollo 11, the United States’ first manned landing on the moon, an event that is depicted in a film shown in the Saturn V theater.

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