From Sebring To Space – A dsc Day Off (at Kennedy
Monday March 21: After a gruelling week-long meeting at
Sebring International Raceway, some R&R was certainly in order
for dsc’s ‘Brit Pack’, before jetting back home
across the Atlantic.
week went remarkably smoothly, helped in no small part by the generosity
of dsc’s stalwart US pitlane man Russell Wittenberg: his company
RV became Mobile Race Base for the week (sadly without the dancing
girls promised elsewhere though!).
With half a
day post-race before the flight home, there was just time to visit
the Kennedy Space Centre, less than an hour’s drive from Orlando
airport, to gain some understanding of the feats of bravery and
endurance which have originated here – efforts which put even
the Sebring racers’ endurance in the shade.
a busy (half) day at the Space Centre, there was sadly no time to
take the bus tour out to either the launch pads or the Saturn V
building, where the sole surviving launcher from the Apollo programme
is presented in all of its stunning glory. But there was time to
stroll around the impressive visitors centre, its IMAX cinemas and
permanent exhibitions succeeding beautifully in bringing the achievements
of the early space missions into perspective.
There is plenty
on display to remind all of us who grew up in the years of the “race
into space” of the sheer edginess of those early leaps of
both faith and technology. The astoundingly tiny Mercury, Gemini
and Apollo space capsules, the early manned rockets converted from
very early, ballistic missiles and the mission control centre which
features (if ads. in the 1980s are to be believed) less computing
power than a 1989 BMW 5 series.
Further on there
is the memorial to those astronauts who have paid the ultimate price,
including the crews of both the Columbia and Challenger tragedies.
This place is one which brings with it a hushed reverence: people
speak in whispers, if at all, while reading the stories of the brave
men and women who didn’t come home.
What is perhaps
surprising is that there have been a total of 112 Shuttle missions
since the first, STS-1, in April 1981. The fact that the total surprises
many people is a reminder that the Shuttle has achieved what it
aimed to do, to make spaceflight almost routine. The aftermath of
Columbia’s accident was perhaps a reminder that while the
rest of the world looks on in awe at the sheer spectacle of spaceflight,
the reality is that there are immense dangers associated with the
Shuttles (or Orbiters as they are more properly called) remain –
Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour. Discovery will be tasked with
mission STS-114, dubbed the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight Mission,
with a launch currently scheduled between May 15 and June 3, 2005.
There are two
other non-operational Shuttles – Enterprise, based at Dulles
Airport in Washington, the first built and used for all the initial
flight testing, both atop the Boeing 747 ferry aircraft and landing
tests after release from the 747 (and seen by this writer overflying
London in 1983 after a transatlantic flight aboard the 747 for a
series of goodwill visits), and Explorer, a full scale replica which
is available for viewing by visitors at Kennedy Space Centre together
with (enormous) full scale models of both the Shuttle’s external
fuel tank and re-useable solid fuel boosters.
a real sense of history at the Kennedy Space Centre: both Goodwin
and Lord vividly remember watching the moon landings, when space
travel seemed almost impossibly brave, and it is a real memory jerker
to see the place where much of it was planned and executed.
A mark of the draw of
this site is the firm conviction that the dsc boys will make time
post-Sebring 2006 to come back for a longer visit.