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Experience a Shuttle Launch!
My secret ambition would have been to be an astronaut … one of my favourite films is Apollo 13. Having grown up as a young child watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon I guess my opportunity has long gone! ! ! But the Shuttle Launch Experience gives everyone a great opportunity to experience a shuttle launch. Don’t expect a thrill ride – NASA has made it as realistic as possible. Waiting to enter the 6 floor high building you walk the gantry where you’ll see boards with facts to read and TV screens with astronauts explaining what and how they felt during lift-off – some who have flown more than once may have varying experiences. Not long and you’re in a large room where Space Shuttle Commander Charlie Bolden explains what happens during a launch and what you’ll feel. He has a very animating style keeping you interested and wanting to know more. The presentation is very effective - screens come life, lights and colour are vibrant creating an excitement of what is to come.
Charlie explains how you’ll be strapped in and moved to the position the astronauts wait for launch in – he emphases you’ll only be there for a few seconds – ‘real’ astronauts may have to wait two hours or more in this position. As the engines start you’ll feel a twang. This is when the shuttle moves forward slightly and straightens up as the engines are started. Then you feel the thrust of launch and the shuttle rolls (don’t worry – this is not a scary thrill ride as I’ve said). You’ll feel G-force, rattles and MaxQ when the shuttle needs to throttle back. I learned this is very important as the shuttle slows down as it can’t continue at such great speed in gravity without crushing (like an aluminium can being crushed). As you leave gravity they throttle up again, have solid rocket booster (SRB) separation, main engine cut off and external tank separation. As you reach space and all tanks have left there is a very calm sensation when you feel yourself going forward and ‘floating’ in space. The payload bay doors open and you pass over Europe.
It’s well worth the wait. No bags are allowed on the experience - lockers are provided – 25 cents which is returned when you get your bags back.
I have heard astronauts describe lift off as riding a wild animal or like a roller coaster that never comes down. Other astronauts have said when the shuttle speeds up again, after going through max-Q, its like being in a sling shot pulled back and then let go.
…. Not quite being a real astronaut but as close as I think I’ll get!
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