From Sebring To Space – A dsc Day Off (at Kennedy Space Centre)
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.

dailysportscar.comThe 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.

On 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.

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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.

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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 forces involved.

Three operational 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.

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There’s 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.
GG

 

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