There are seven people in space right now who are getting the ride of a lifetime. The astronauts onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis are viewing the world as very few people will ever have the opportunity to see it.
Last night I watched a re-broadcast of the shuttle launch. (On high def television —- oh, so very, very cool!) Amidst the excitement and enthusiasm for the mission came a sobering reminder — while the shuttle may look very much like an airplane, this is still space travel. With space travel comes a rich history that is, unfortunately, also filled with tragedy — the Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) disasters — in our most recent past.
At the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida, you’ll have an opportunity to experience the technical side of space travel, as well as the very personal side of it. The Hall of Fame is part of the larger Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and is just an hour drive from Orlando.
The Hall of Fame traces our race into space, not only historically, but also from the personal perspective of participating astronauts. You’ll see spacecraft from the Mercury and Apollo days, but I was fascinated by the personal memorabilia on display. These artifacts told the personal stories of the astronauts, their thoughts and dreams and goal, and spoke volumes about the individuals who soar so high above the earth.
There are also some interactive exhibits, including a chance for kids test their astronaut skills in the Astronaut Adventure room. It’s a simulation of what it must be like in space, complete with g-forces and walking on the moon. I went on a simulator that let me experience g-force and some other feelings of space. I was pretty queasy when I got through, probably the explanation for why it’s only a vague memory!
Inductees into the Astronaut Hall of Fame are chose by a panel who reviews individual contributions to space exploration. The inaugural inductees were the first American astronauts, the Mercury Seven, and included Alan Shepard (the first American in space), John Glenn (the first American to orbit the earth), and Gus Grissom (commander of Apollo I, his second space mission, tragically killed on the launch pad). The names of all inductees into the Hall of Fame, currently 66, are listed in a beautiful glass etching along the Hall of Heroes.
The Astronaut Hall of Fame is located at 6225 Vectorspace Boulevard, on the Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex, in Titusville, Florida, and is open daily 9 am - 7 pm. The Maximum Access Admission ($38 adults, $28 children 3-11, plus tax) covers the Kennedy Space Center tour, IMAX space films, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, all attractions and exhibits, and free admission for a second consecutive day. Other admission options are available.
If you can’t get to Florida, you can see space exhibits at a number of other locations, including the Udvar Hazy Center.
Photo credit: Kennedy Space Center