In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon three astronauts launched from “Stone’s Hill” in “Tampa Town, Florida” (although the longitude and latitude that Verne specifies is actually closer to Port Charlotte). Eighty-five years later, right across the state, Cape Canaveral’s first test rocket—a Bumper V-2 lifted off at the Joint Long Range Proving Grounds (now Cape Canaveral Air Force Station), and just nineteen years after that Verne’s dream became reality.
There is some “Disney World” influence at the visitor center entrance, but this is not “imagineering”. Kennedy Space Center has the real stuff—real rockets that flew into space, real capsules that carried legends like Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong, a real space shuttle (Atlantis), and you might even see a real astronaut. I opted for the “Mega-tour”, which added a guided bus ride to: the gargantuan Assembly Building—with its 525-foot-high ceiling, Launch Pad 39A—where nearly all the Apollo and Space Shuttle launches took place (we got to walk right up to the rocket exhaust gully), and to the Apollo/Saturn V Exhibit. The Saturn V rocket looks like a skyscraper laid horizontal. Everything here is extra-large—the Assembly Building, the Saturn V, even the Space Shuttle was twice as big as I expected. It was a fascinating visit—educational, awe-inspiring, and even thrilling. I spent an entire day at the Center and didn’t see it all, so I’ll be returning soon.
There is much argument both for and against continuing manned space missions. I have always been a fervent proponent of human exploration, and feel that it is at the core of what we are. And so I believe that a manned mission to Mars is of paramount importance to humanity. I know of only one moment in human history when almost everyone on the planet held their collective breaths, and then simultaneously cheered—July 20, 1969.