Florida: Space Coast, Three Families On One Vacation - Sharing Space Adventures, Pink Floyd, and Laser Lights.
From our gathering point on the tranquil sandy beach the waiting seemed nearly unbearable. The youngest members of our group continued to dig canals to the-less-than-regal sandcastle. The rest of us passed the binoculars and waited.
The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright – On the Space Coast. Because the Space Coast, which includes the communities of Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Palm Bay and Melbourne, has an obvious connection with the heavens, it is only logical that space related vacation activities would be easy to enjoy in the area. The most obvious activity, free and easy to do, is stargazing. Because the area does not yet suffer from severe light pollution, stargazing is a vacation bonus for visitors. Our pocket star charts and tiny infrared night vision lights got plenty of use during our stay. The cloudless nights provided a blanket of stars so dense that in places they seemed to create the impression of lace.
See stars in the daylight. By daylight we discovered a local secret -- the amazing Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory at Brevard Community College. Even though it is an advanced astronomy teaching facility, it is open to the public and is novice-friendly. The facility features the world's only tandem team Digistar planetarium projector and Minolta Infinium star projector. Weather permitting the observatory is open to the general public for stargazing. Ask a question, no matter how dumb and get an easy to understand answer. From the volunteer astronomers I learned that at least twice a month, as close to the new moon date as possible, they conduct star parties. The best part, visitors of all ages are welcome.
Laser Lights and Rock’n’Roll. For entertainment at a faster pace the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory facility has a schedule of wild evenings that combine laser lights, music and surround sound. The venue of choices ranges from the more traditional Beatles and Mannheim Steamroller to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The top volume auditory experiences combined with superb visual imagery cannot be described as boring. In the same planetarium space they also have tranquil calming shows featuring Baxter Black, the cowboy poet and an all time favorite, “The Little Star That Could.” Also part of the planetarium and observatory complex is the more intimate 120-seat Iwerks Motion Picture Theater which features great educational entertainment. The film selections tend to be from the science and nature genre. The screen is larger and the image quality better than normal theaters. Combine that with six-channel surround-sound and the experience is mighty fine.
Blast off into exploration.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is huge. Even taking the fast track, to experience the enormity and complexity will take the greater part of a day. Our family has made the day junket more than once and, each time before arriving at the parking lot, we vow not to stay until closing. We have yet to keep the vow. The Center provides countless ways to connect with space whether in real time at Launch Complex 39 or vicariously at Robot Scouts and Universe Theater. The Apollo/Saturn V Center displays an authentic, now retired, Saturn V Rocket, a major “Wow” for space-travel buffs of all ages.
Feel the thrill of flight. Most compelling is the space flight simulator at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. It is actually possible to experience firsthand the thrill and the pull of flight. The G-force trainer centrifuge provides participants with a jet fighter training run, complete with the pull of up to “4 Gs” – three times the force of gravity – without ever leaving the ground. Visitors may also experience the lighter-than-air ease of walking on the moon or try the simulation of a rover ride on the surface of Mars.
No chilling out. Movie time at the Center is not exactly chill out time. Two five-and-a-half-story-tall IMAX® screens – the only twin IMAX® theaters in the world, provide educating entertainment. Tom Cruise narrates the 3-D IMAX® blockbuster Space Station that provides audiences with a cinematic adventure that makes viewers feel almost like visitors to the International Space Station.
Something old, something new. The tour labeled "Then and Now" provides participants with access to original launch facility, Launch Pad 26, now the location of The Air Force Space and Missile Museum. The scientific looking building showcases space exploration from the beginning stages. It’s the place to find Explorer I, credited with being the first US satellite to be launched into space. On tour visitors learn more about the first space travelers, the monkeys named Able, Baker, Gordo and Ham. The museum also houses 55 different missiles, rocket engines and Gemini II.
Try the space walk. At Space View Park along the riverfront in Titusville there is an open-air tribute to America’s space program and to the workers that continue to make the program viable. The U. S. Space Walk of Fame includes the Mercury Monument with bronze handprints of six of the original seven astronauts, the Gemini Monument and the Apollo Monument.
Where’s the Red Baron? If the question is, “What did you fly in the war, grandpa? The answer may be at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum. Located at the Space Center Executive Airport in Titusville, the 10-acre museum site displays, maintains and restores all types of aircraft that were indigenous to the world's air military forces from before WWI to the present day. This is a spot that would make Walter Cronkite smile. Onsite, more than 35 vintage warplanes may be seen; bits of flying history include Flying Tigers, C-47 Transports, a Sopwith Camel bi-plane and the World War II P-51 Mustang. For an added bonus schedule a visit on a Thursday and see the Grumman Gremlins busy restoring.
Science and art, why not? On the Space Coast it seems completely logical to combine art with science and it is done with creative purpose. At the Brevard Museum of Art and Science in Melbourne traditional icons like Monet and Matisse inspire the eye while at the Ruth Cote Clemente Science Center, selections from NASA’s Art Program are showcased. The ever-changing exhibition provides artist’s interpretations of major activities in America's aerospace program. In the contemplative gallery space there is plenty of food for the eye and the mind. At the same location but in the science complex visitors are invited to engage in space experiments. In what appears to be the best art/science collaborative, NASA has donated satellite models -- SYNCOM, TIROS, ATS, and Space Probes. They also have a model of the 1980's International Space Station. They have created the cosmos inside of a room. The darkened room simulates a typical December night sky over Brevard County. On the walls are a series of glowing panels, which give a brief description and background about each constellation.
Soar over the sea.
For those wishing to soar over the beaches and along the coast Flying Boat Adventures has introductory flights include a basic overview of the aircraft and a 20 minute flight in the flying inflatable boat (FIB). They have the option to launch at a public boat ramp or slide it into the water at a mutually convenient location. To ensure bragging rights participants receive a logo T-shirt, a video of the flight with in-flight audio, and a certificate that shows proof of flight.
Make it happen.
Location on the planet. The Space Coast stretches 72 miles along Florida's East Coast and is best known as the home of Kennedy Space Center. Just 35 miles east of Orlando, it is also offers the closest beaches away from theme parks. Area communities include Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne and Palm Bay. Space Coast Family Vacations.
The beaches are awesome; the area is it offers relaxation and inspiration. The unique combination of soft adventures, lively entertainment and sea breezes makes any Florida beach vacation perfect. Florida's Space Coast Office toll-free 1-877-57-BEACH (1-800-572-3224, (321)-443-4470 or www.visitspacecoast.com