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A trip to the moon, via Florida

For vacationers arriving in Florida, taking a trip to the moon may be the farthest thing from their minds. Then again, it might be possible if they leave the driving to NASA. As promised, here’s a run-down on our recent vacation adventure.
Our three guys ‘ Virgil Carpenter of Elizabeth, Bob McKim of Corydon and Stuart McDougal of Tujunga, Calif. ‘ took off for the Kennedy Space Center early one day while we girls spent a grueling few hours shopping Daytona Beach followed by lounging at the pool for the rest of the day.
The three adventurers put on their dandy new straw hats, cut-offs and sunscreen, and headed out for the KSC early on a bright, sunshiny morning. In little more than an hour, they were standing in line for the $50, all-day tour.
‘It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,’ Bob said.
‘I can remember watching the landing on the moon at my grandfather’s farmhouse,’ he said. ‘I was 5 at the time but remember it very well. My grandfather, Robert Teater (‘Chief,’ he was called), went out and bought a new color television, and I didn’t understand why the landing was in black and white.’
It wasn’t broadcast in color, I’m told, because it would have been too expensive.
Bob and Virgil said they were most amazed at the ‘sheer size of the Apollo rockets.’
‘The first astronauts to climb on the top of those rockets and be shot into space should have been called astro nuts,’ Bob said.
For Virgil, the experience brought a better understanding of the contributions the program has made to society. First to mind is, of course, satellite TV.
‘I just never thought the space program was worth all the money we spent,’ he said. ‘But … ‘
He’s a little ashamed to admit that, as a young man, he was among those who didn’t believe we had landed on the moon. It was all a put-up, he thought, perhaps to keep funding in place.
‘I thought it was fake in the beginning,’ he said.
And now?
‘No, definitely not, because I saw the moon rock. I saw it, but I didn’t get to touch it because there were too many people in line. It was a small one, in a display case built up high, so you could reach in and touch it.’
Most impressive, Virgil said, is ‘the fact that the Russians, Americans and Germans all get along in the space program these days.’
In the early days, people believed conquering space gave nations the edge in spy capabilities. That was the reason behind President John F. Kennedy’s race to space, Virgil said.
‘We virtually didn’t know what we were doing in the space program,’ Virgil said. ‘It was JFK that pushed us forward and plugged the program with money. He practically gave them an open checkbook in the early days.’
In those early days, space was a household word for Stuart.
‘I became interested as a child, when I was old enough to comprehend what the space program was beyond Buck Rogers and cartoons,’ Stuart said. ‘It was part of our lives, and I grew up with it more directly than others since my dad (the late Allan Roderick McDougal) worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There were many ‘open house tours’ at the lab, which were fascinating and inspiring to the young and old.’
At the KSC in Florida, there were many details to learn.
In case you wonder why the U.S. has two space centers, Stuart said Launch Control at KSC is responsible for launching and landing (including the Apollo moon mission), and Mission Control at Houston is responsible for everything in between.
The Apollo 11 moon landing was nearly a disaster.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made that historic landing on the moon with only 15 seconds of fuel remaining. That’s because the programmed mission plan missed the original landing site; the computer selected another, but that site was ‘un-landable.’
‘Neil had to select the best site visually with about 30 seconds of fuel remaining,’ Stuart said. ‘They were too far into the lunar landing to abort back to lunar orbit.
‘But, somehow, they picked a spot, slowed down from 8,000 mph to 0, and landed vertically on the moon. Less than 12 seconds of fuel was left in the tank upon landing. A few seconds more meant the space craft would tumble along the face of the moon or perhaps land too hard, damaging the space craft beyond repair. In either case, we would have lost the crew and most likely ended the space program,’ Stuart said.
I had to ask: ‘How could the spacecraft crash when there was no gravity? If they were out of fuel, how did they get back to earth?’
There is, apparently, enough gravity on the moon for a heavy spaceship to crash into the rocks, even though the astronauts had to strap weights to their shoes to hop along the surface.
As for the return trip, Stuart said, ‘There is a separate engine and fuel cell for landing and liftoff. On lunar liftoff, the landing platform, engine and fuel cell remain forever on the moon and serve as the lunar launch platform.’
All three of our guys said the $50 tour, put on by the Delaware North Parks Services of Spaceport Inc., was well worth the money. But don’t arrive at KSC hungry, they said. A hot dog, chips and cola are $9.50.
And beware of the gift shops. ‘We went through every gift shop there,’ Virgil said. ‘It’s mandatory. To get back to the scene of things, you have to go through the gift shops.’
So? Where were the gifts, guys?
The KSC Visitor Complex, located in a National Wildlife Refuge, is open daily except Dec. 25 and certain launch days. The tours are conducted by a private company, and not underwritten by taxes. Wheelchairs, strollers and pet kennels are free, and multi-lingual assistance and brochures are available at the information center. The space center is 45 minutes east of Orlando on the Atlantic Ocean. For visitor information, call 1-321-449-4444, or for more information on the Space Center, go to