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18th – 30th October 2012
This week Chris is away on the experience of a lifetime combining NASA Space Centre Experiences in Florida and Washington, a first for our group of student explorers from India.
Touching down in Florida, the group’s first port of call was the famous Cocoa Beach, home to the world’s largest surf shop and the long, sandy shores which provide the perfect place to sit back and relax in the sunshine after a long and tiring flight. In 86°F/30°C heat; the students have also taken a liking to relaxing in La Quinta Inn’s refreshing pool, which just happens to be the first historic location they will visit during their stay. The hotel was formerly owned by the Seven Original Astronauts who set off from Kennedy Space Centre in 1963 for Mercury 7 – the United States’ first manned spaceflight project.
From following in the original astronauts’ footsteps, to eating with America’s most recent esteemed NASA astronauts, Chris and the gang have sat down for dinner and a chinwag with some huge names so far. Former astronauts Mike McCulley and Ken Cameron entertained with stories from their exciting careers with NASA and what their work entailed; whilst former director of the Kennedy Space Centre, Jay Honeycutt, described the group as “fine young people, the brightest young students I’ve ever met.” The students greatly enjoyed meeting the astronauts, and having the amazing opportunity to have a personal conversation with people of such stature and eminence in the world human space programme.
The Indian students were just as complimentary, when asked what they thought of their experience so far, described it as “amazing” and “awesome.” They are finding life in America quite different to that of home, which in itself is a learning curve, as they are noticing some cultural differences between life in the two countries; such as differences in driving and road systems.
Also on the scene was rocket scientist Kevin Mellett, who joined Chris for a delightful dinner at Port Canaveral’s waterfront seafood restaurant, ‘Fish Lips.’
Astronauts to giant rockets, a tour of Cape Canaveral was next on the agenda, where we explored the legendary launch pads that first sent humans into space and that still sends probes into our solar system. This momentous site is responsible for many ‘firsts’ in the space exploration programme and provided an exciting opportunity to indulge in a slice of history; the inquisitive students learnt about the Apollo 1 tragedy, the different significant launch pads and the running of a site at the forefront of rocket development.
One such rocket being the Saturn V, which at 300 feet long, is the largest object to have left the surface of the Earth.
A week into their trip so far, highlights include a thrilling ride in the shuttle launch simulator, discovering all the ins and outs of shuttle construction at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy, and finally getting the chance to check out the deals at Wal-Mart!
The group also got the chance to meet Dr Jaydeep Mukherjee, the director of the NASA Space Grant Consortium at the University of Central Florida. The Consortium, founded in 1989, is a network of colleges and universities across the state that supports the expansion and diversification of Florida’s space industry through grants, scholarships, and fellowships to students and education. Dr Mukherjee talked to the students about how to make something of themselves with a career in space and scientific research in both the US and India.
Shirish Patel, a NASA rocket engineer who has worked on projects for the International Space Station, also gave an inspirational talk on how to become a rocket engineer or scientist for world space agencies.
But there’s still plenty more to come, including a visit to Sea World and an almighty storm, so stay tuned for week two of their American adventure in Washington…