As a travel writer I’ve met my share of million mile airline members and platinum level frequent flyers, but I recently dined with a man who undoubtedly has flown more miles than anyone I’ve ever met.
Charlie Walker, veteran of three space missions, and I were introduced before he spoke at the Kennedy Space Center’s Lunch with an Astronaut program. Charlie was very personable and willing to share his experiences.
July 20, 2009 will mark the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. My home state of Florida has several air and space attractions which educate as well as entertain visitors.
During NASA’s early years astronauts trained at Cape Canaveral, Florida perhaps remembered as Mission Control Center. Later, training facilities moved to Houston, Texas, but the Cape still boasts the official launch site and the Kennedy Space Center.
The Kennedy Center deserves a full-day visit featuring the Shuttle Launch Experience. If you dare, board the ride that simulates the sights, sounds and the sensation of launching into space. While at the complex visit NASA’s spaceport facilities, see towering rockets and IMAX space films. Several times a day you have the opportunity to meet and talk, often a question-and-answer session, with an astronaut.
On Thursday, July 16. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11; Charlie Duke, Apollo 16; Al Worden, Apollo 15; Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14; and Walt Cunningham, Apollo 7, will celebrate the anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch at Kennedy Space Visitor Complex, and mark the opening of a new exhibit at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the Apollo Treasures Gallery. The new gallery showcases treasures from the Apollo moon missions. For more information go to Apollo-40th Anniversary.
With some pre-planning and good weather, you might be lucky enough to watch a shuttle launch; information and dates are available at www.nasa.gov.
In Titusville, six miles west of the space center, you’ll find Kennedy Space Camp (for kids and adults) and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. This locale houses memorabilia and tells the stories of the American space pioneers.
Visit Central Florida to taste Moon Soup at Chalet Suzanne Inn and Restaurant. Lunar Module pilot Jim Irwin grew particularly fond of the Inn’s romaine soup and chose it for his space menu. NASA freeze-dried the creamy green broth and carried it aboard Apollo missions. They make and sell Moon Soup at their own cannery on the property.
In nearby Polk City discover Fantasy of Flight, 30 minutes from Orlando. This interactive museum offers a chance to soar into the wild blue yonder by donning a helmet, goggles, and white scarf and slipping into an open cockpit bi-plane. A pilot takes you for a ride reminiscent of The Red Barron. Be sure to inquire about hot-air balloon rides, too.
Fantasy of Flight houses over 40 rare vintage aircraft which are often flown in weekend aerial demonstrations. Visitors can immerse themselves into a multi-sensory sight and sound journey through WWI trenches and a WWII pre-bomb mission brief. Veterans love this place.
Florida’s Space Coast, as the Cape Canaveral area is called, sits just 45 minutes east from Orlando. There are miles of pristine beaches and the largest sea turtle nesting area in the country.
The JFK library offers a fabulous re-creation in real time on the Web at www.wechoosethemoon.org. The site goes live at 8:02 a.m.on July 16th, 90 minutes before the anniversary launch of Apollo 11. Visitors can see animated re-creations of key events and browse video clips and hear radio transmissions between the astronauts and NASA flight controllers.
And if you want to plan a lunar dinner party please visit Mimi’s food blog for ideas.