USA D18: Spacing out on the way to Daytona
Sorry for that extended pause! Work pressures are now tapering off so I can finally finish off the trip…
Our second-to-last day began with an early departure from Miami Beach. Though there were aspects of staying here that I liked – the art deco, the beach, our hotel – it’s not a place I’m tempted to return to.
We endured the trip out to the main highways one final time and opted for the toll road north, hoping like heck that the wee grey box fixed to the rear-view mirror was collecting modest charges which would magically appear on Mike’s credit card.
It was the right way to go – on this beautiful balmy morning the roads were quiet and efficient. Three-and-a-bit hours later we were rolling toward Cape Canaveral and into the massive car park at Kennedy Space Centre.
With the expense involved in visiting here, not to mention the amount of ground to cover, you’d normally want to allow a full day. We had about half that. Once in we began where most people do, I imagine: the aptly named Rocket Garden.
We hustled over to the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, a $100m complex that opened only four months prior. A short film about the space shuttle programme origins and history screened first, the large screen lifting at the end to reveal the main entry to the exhibit and the huge Atlantis orbiter, suspended from the ceiling. It was cleverly done and so impactful.
We trotted off to wait for a tour. Keen to tap into some of the 45 year history at KSC, before we left home we studied the tour offerings and prepaid one which would take us out to see a couple of the launch pads. Had the Govt shutdown still been in effect, this part would’ve been cancelled.
Over 2.5 hours or so we covered a bit of ground, the main focus being Launch Complex 39 where all of the Apollo missions left from. We got an up-close look at pad 39A from in front of the flame trench. This was a decent length stop, allowing plenty of time to observe details. Nowhere was the history of decades past more evident than in the scorched brickwork.
This image I found online shows a fully laden mobile platform launcher on the crawlerway heading to LC-39A in the distance. The space shuttle programme may be finished but NASA is still going strong and commercial partnerships are in the pipeline for future use of the launch facilities.
We carried on…
Wildlife sightings popped up along the way and were a bonus…
The tour deposited us at the Apollo/Saturn V centre, accessible to the public only by bus as it’s a reasonable distance from the main visitor complex. In here is the amazing sight of a massive Saturn V rocket, which until being located here had been lying outside near the Vehicle Assembly Building. Other exhibits from the Apollo programme make this a place where people can connect with not just space exploration but that fantastical time in history when men landed on the moon – which happened for the last time in the year I was born.
(Ironically I’m writing this at the end of a week in which the leader of one of NZ’s minority political parties stated that he wasn’t convinced the moon landings actually happened. He later recanted!)
We queued for another bus to return us to the main complex and found we were just in time for one of the IMAX movies, Hubble 3D. This captured the 2009 journey that Atlantis made to not just upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, but to record in IMAX 3D imagery what the telescope saw when it was re-launched. The end result was astounding footage which took you around stars and into them. That was a bit for my wee mind to wrap itself around.
And that concluded our visit to the unique and brilliant Kennedy Space Centre.
Our final night in the US was to be spent at Daytona Beach an hour away to the north. We stayed out on the Shores in the cheapest hotel of the trip by miles, a bit dated but with a very comfortable room looking out to the ocean. We were just in time to catch the end of the sunset.
One of the main interest points here is the site nearby of the original Daytona Beach Road Couse, the track that essentially helped to create the huge sport and industry that is NASCAR. By now it was dark so we couldn’t see much but we went all the same because of the restaurant and bar, Racing’s North Turn, situated on the north bend of the old course. We instantly liked the look and feel and if we’d arrived much earlier it would’ve been the perfect venue to watch that day’s race.
We’d travelled a long way to not be able to see the place properly so hopefully we’d have time to return in the morning.
- Motorcyclists travelling 80mph on the highway without a helmet: 1
- What it probably costs a family to visit KSC for a day: 1 arm, 1 leg
- How many nights we could have stayed at Daytona Beach for the same cost as our four nights in New York: 13