Monday, May 28, 2007

Kennedy Space Center, Florida: A Thinking Travelogue, The Concluding Part 2

Other than watching the two IMAX movies as part of our visit to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on May 23, 2007, we also took the bus tour that brought us closer to where the action is. Starting at the Visitor Center, the bus first took us to the LC39 Observatory Gantry. On the way, we passed by the signature building within the launching facility, a block-shaped building termed the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), with the reputedly largest US flag hung on its side. We could even see some empty spaces where some of the wall tiles have fallen off the fa├žade, presumably a legacy from the last hurricane season.

Left: The young and the young-at-heart crashing the space party!
Right: A view of the imposing VAB from the bus.

The observatory is a steel structure, rising four levels high. At the top three levels, viewing binoculars are available to render a bird-eye view of the launching pads further afield, one of which already has the Atlantis space shuttle in place for the scheduled June 8 launch. It was a breezy afternoon, and the sky was clear for miles, making our vista panoramic and spectacular.

Top: At the top level of LC-39 (the bottom left inset shows Launching Pad with Atlantis attached).
Bottom: A closeup of a launch pad, albeit a replica in the exhibition hall.

Next up was the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which depicts the Apollo moon missions, both pictorially and through replicas and scaled models. We were held in awe by the human ingenuity, the rigorous training, and most of all, the tight quarters in the shuttle, and the desolation of the moonscape with one-sixth of earth’s gravity that the astronauts had to contend with. As rightly presented, the successes are the outcome of a team effort: the ground crew, the various teams of fabrication, towing/transport, assembly, and the astronauts: a case of believing in dreams and daring to succeed.

Top: At the entrance to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, a tired mom resting her head on the shoulder of one of her two sons.
Bottom: The bottom of the Full-sized Saturn V rocket, mom and son for size.

The final destination of the bus tour is the International Space Station, showcasing cooperation among nationals of different political regimes to strive for a common destiny.

Top: A replica of ISS hung in the exhibition hall.
Bottom: Mom in the ISS, to size

At the Visitor Center itself, we entered the Robot Scouts, and roamed the outdoor Rocket Garden. The former chronicles the role of robotics in facilitating and enabling the various exploration efforts, truly at the vanguard of discovery before mere mortals like humans could ever set foot on seemingly inhospitable terrain. Touted as the trailblazers for the human experiment, the various robotic probes talk about their interplanetary exploits.

At the Rocket Garden, sky-piercing historic rockets stand erect, testifying to their erstwhile brilliance in space conquest, evoking both a sense of adventure for the uncharted territory and injecting a dose of patriotism for a country where creativity roams unbridled and is valued intrinsically.

Top: Opposite the Rocket Garden where a Cantonese-speaking visitor offered to take our picture.
Bottom: Mom and son dwarfed by the erect rockets.

In contrast, while Malaysia has set up its own ANGKASA (Malaysian National Space Agency) in 2002, her fledgling efforts appear as minutiae at this stage. More important perhaps, the purported clamp on academic freedom may have put a damper on research that is so vital for this ambition of infinite spatial dimension to bear fruit. Would the following image remain a dream for Malaysia? And for how long, just to be positive about it? [Thanks to Jin Yeoh for forwarding the collection of space shuttle launch pictures to me, from which this image is taken.]

Since I started Part I of this thinking travelogue with a quote from JF Kennedy on choosing to land on the moon, it seems apt to end with a similar quote from another US president, the present one, on choice too, but in regard to the more encompassing space exploration, which is on display in KSC.

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