Dewayne Bevil on Attractions
Theme Park Ranger
8:52 AM EDT, September 6, 2012
There's a lot of shuffling of space shuttles going on, and you can watch some of it in action through tours and other opportunities at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Right now, space shuttle Endeavour is parked inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building, being prepped for a cross-country flight. On Sept. 17, the shuttle will piggyback on a special Boeing 747 to Los Angeles, where it eventually will be displayed at the California Science Center.
There are three ways to take a peek at Endeavour, which made 25 space missions in 19 years, before it leaves Florida forever: a tour of the Vehicle Assembly Building; the limited-time-only Endeavour Bus Tour; and fly-out viewing opportunities on Sept. 17.
Up close, big time
The "up-close tour" of the VAB lives up to its name. Endeavour seems unbelievably close, 12 feet or so from the public walkway. The shuttle is sitting in its landing position, like it just rolled in from space for the night.
The craft looks like it would enjoy having a nose rub, but my arms aren't that long.
When I dropped in last week, a former shuttle worker was there sharing memories. She talked about the hand-stitching in various parts of Endeavour, including on blankets that served as thermal barriers. We could see the blankets right there, steps away on the VAB. It's amazing that such a high-tech wonder was assisted by old-school quilting.
Another stitch story: The thread was so sensitive that it could not stand the rigors of a sewing machine, yet so sturdy that it could stand temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees.
The VAB, which dates to construction of Saturn V rockets in the 1960s, is crane-your-neck ginormous. But there are smaller details like the banners that team members signed for individual shuttle missions. They were displayed on a fence for astronauts to see on the way to the launch pad. Now many hang in the VAB's rafters.
The VAB tour is a $25 "add-on" ($19 ages 3-11) to the standard KSC tour that comes with admission, and it leaves every 30 minutes. It frequently sells out by noon, I'm told, so reservations are suggested. Endeavour will be in the VAB through Sept. 13, but the tours will continue after it leaves the building.
Date, mate, match
On Sept.14 and 15, the visitor complex will offer the Endeavour Bus Tour, which will include a drive-by viewing of the craft as it's being attached to the 747. This is accomplished with the cleverly named mechanism known as the "mate-demate device."
The tour includes a swing by Launch Pad 39-A, site of many shuttle launches, and it costs $20 per person ($14 for ages 3-11) in addition to regular visitor-center admission.
Up, up and away
Endeavour will take off from the Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 17, and a limited number of guests will be bused out there for the event. The price is $40 (plus admission) per person.
Other folks can watch from the attraction's Rocket Garden as the shuttle-747 combo flies 300 feet overhead. That viewing is included in regular admission. Takeoff is expected around 7:30 a.m.
Although Endeavour is flying off to the left coast, Floridians will get to hang onto its sister ship Atlantis. The vessel is being prepped for display at Kennedy Space Center, which is constructing a new exhibit set to open in July. Watch for special Atlantis-based ventures, including a special roll-over event, in coming months.
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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Where: East of U.S. Highway 1 on NASA Parkway
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily
Cost: $50 general, $40 ages 3-11
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