Journey into Space: meet an astronaut, watch a rocket launch

Kennedy Space Center is both a museum of cosmological adventures and source of inspiration for the future of exploration

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 19 January 2022 09:20 GMT
Film 6- Journey Into Space Hd

Wherever you are in Florida, the sea is never far away. In less than an hour from downtown Orlando you can reach the Atlantic Ocean  at Cocoa Beach.

This laid-back surf town has retro touches such as a splendid pier that celebrates its 60th birthday in 2022. But every so often the calm is shattered by the latest delivery into space.

One sundown in December, I wandered along to Kennedy Point Park, listening to the water lapping and watching the optimistic anglers. But that evening there was more company than usual. Because this is central Florida’s Space Coast, with regular rocket launches beyond the earth’s fragile atmosphere.

Between July 1969 and December 1972, the Apollo programme made walking on the Moon seem as routine as walking into Walmart. While Houston was the home for Nasa mission control, the business end was handled at Cape Canaveral. And in the 21st century, this eastward projection into the ocean has never been busier.

The show I watched was courtesy of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company  – transporting 53 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The moment of lift off is strangely quiet, flames erupt and engulf the rocket – which, from this distance, seems to clamber painfully slowly from the launch pad.

Then the roar sweeps across the water and engulfs you.

Whether or not you experience the thrill of a space launch, at any time of the year a visit to the Kennedy Space Center will remain in your memory banks. It is both a museum of cosmological adventures and source of inspiration for the future of exploration.

You may also have the fortune to meet an astronaut: one of the very select group of just 600 people who have been into space.

Bruce Melnick took part in two Space Shuttle missions, including the maiden voyage of Endeavour in 1992. I met him beside Atlantis – in a building that was constructed around the last of the shuttles to return from space – where he told me why this part of the US was chosen.

“When you launch from the Earth, you immediately pick up the speed of the earth’s rotation. If you want to get to orbit quicker, you want to be going as fast as you can.

“Here at 28 degrees north latitude, we're moving at 900 to 1,000 miles an hour to the east.”

He told me about the moment of lift off: “It is loud. It's rough. There’s a big bang when the eight explosive bolts let go, and off you go, rocketing into space.

“It looks like a slow ascent when you take off, but we’re already going at 100mph when we clear the top of the tower. It's a real kick in the pants.

“What’s really cool is: you outrun the speed of sound very quickly, so all that noise goes away pretty quick.”

Atlantis ended her final mission in 2011, after three decades of the Space Shuttle being the workhorse of NASA – keeping America connected with the cosmos. Now, it’s the turn of the next generation.

Cape Canaveral remains humanity’s main connection with the Cosmos, with a direct link from a usually tranquil island to the sea of tranquility on the moon. Back soon.

Discover more at @VisitFlorida #LoveFL

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