A Circle in Life

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's rocket garden, showcasing early rockets used in crewed and uncrewed space exploration.  Photo credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's rocket garden, showcasing early rockets used in crewed and uncrewed space exploration. Photo credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

This is an editorial piece written by Michael Howard for We Report Space, in cooperation with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

This month, my grand-daughter Maylin and I had the pleasure of being guests of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC). It had been a dream of mine to spend a day at this incredible place with her and to share with her some of the years of covering launches at Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station here in Florida.

For many years, dating back to the last days of the Space Shuttle and through to the present, I have had the pleasure and dream come true of covering launches here as a member of the media and currently working with We Report Space. Covering launches and events with various organizations and space related companies, I have had a “behind the scenes” look at things people around the world dream of. It was my hope to share a piece of this dream with my grand-daughter Maylin and see the excitement in her face as we shared our adventure at the Visitor Complex.

"The Eagle Has Landed." Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

Our day began with the Heroes and Legends and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame exhibit. A fantastic look at the early days of these first heroes of spaceflight and the vision they had towards the future. Inside this exhibit is a great video for the guests and some actual hardware from the Mercury and Gemini program along with the launch control room for the flight of Friendship Seven in 1962 (relocated from within the boundaries of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and placed on display in the Heroes and Legends exhibit in its period-accurate configuration).

Mercury Control Center, rebuilt at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

From there, we visited the Rocket Garden that took us towards the newest area of the center, Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex.

Exhibits in Gateway at KSCVC. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

Gateway, takes you to the current space program and sends you into “space travel of the future” and a “journey to uncharted worlds light years away” with Spaceport KSC. This was an incredible portion of our day and seemed very popular as well with the guests visiting this wonderful area of the center. Exhibits included a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and Dragon capsule, the Lockheed Martin “Orion” capsule flown on EFT-1 as well as displays from Boeing with a CST-1 “Starliner” display and other interactive activities. We rode two of the 4 journeys from Spaceport KSC ahead of our trip out to the Saturn V Center.

Five Rocketdyne F-1 engines on the Saturn V first stage. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

Arriving at the Saturn V Center, we went back in time to the 1960’s and experienced the trials, challenges and setbacks that faced the U.S. space program during the Apollo program. This led us to the thrill of the control room and the launch of Apollo 8. When we arrived inside the main area of this massive building, there is an entire Saturn V that immediately greets you upon entering. It is an amazing site when you enter under the engines of this incredible rocket.

Lunar Module exhibit, Apollo / Saturn V Center. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space.

As you travel the length of this rocket you venture upon a Lunar Excursion Model or LEM that is also on display underneath the rocket. It was here my day changed in a way I was not expecting. While visiting the Saturn V Center, we came upon the Apollo 1 memorial area. Most people do not know the story about my father being in the block house at LC-34 when the Apollo 1 fire happened. My father, John Howard was on console that fateful day and it is a memory that still resides with him even now. Today at KSCVC, I had a moment that I will remember forever. There is a display at the Saturn V center as a memorial to Apollo 1 and part of the display were badges from those inside the block house at the very moment the tragedy took place. My father’s badge was on the top row. 

Badges collected from Blockhouse 34 workers following the Apollo 1 fire. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

My father is now 90 years old, and I sent him an image of this display and his badge. He said it looked correct. He mentioned badges were collected at some point in that series of events and now 56 years later, I was seeing it for the first time. Words fail to express the emotions I felt at that moment. 

John Howard's badge, on display at the Apollo / Saturn V Center.  Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space.

Taking it all in, Maylin and I grabbed a bite at the Moon Rock Café. I talked with my grand-daughter about the history we had seen and how my father was just one piece of this history. Just outside the Saturn V Center is a beautiful monument dedicated to Apollo 11 and the astronauts that made history with Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin being the first to walk on the Moon while Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the command module.

We then returned back to the visitors’ center to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Atlantis, words cannot really convey the majesty and emotions the presentation gives as she is presented to the visitors. Once she is unveiled, it takes a few moments to take in the beauty that is Atlantis. For me personally, Atlantis was probably my personal favorite space shuttle having taken many images of her including those of the day she began her final voyage towards her full retirement.

Maylin with Atlantis, following the pre-show reveal. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

To see Atlantis in this way is simply extraordinary. She is so close, you really have the feeling you can reach out and touch this amazing wonder of space travel and ponder on those that flew it. This is not the only experience inside the Atlantis exhibit; there is an area of a true quiet thought, a place of honor and reflection, Forever Remembered, a memorial for the astronauts of Challenger and Columbia who lost their lives in the pursuit of space. There are exhibits for each astronaut and two recovered items of Challenger and Columbia. For Maylin, it gave me the opportunity to share again the challenges and sacrifices sometimes made for those who have committed and given their all.

One last stop for us was the Journey to Mars. This exhibit showcases the exploration of Mars where you can see some full scale rovers that have made the journey to the Red Planet.

Life-size Mars rovers at Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / We Report Space

Our time at the KSCVC was coming to an end and we agreed it was a very special day for both of us. We both took away many memories and moments that will last for years to come for each of us. We will certainly be back and share new memories.

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