A trip to Florida is usually all about the theme parks; after all, Orlando boasts two of the biggest – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure! So, what better way to start the trip than a behind the scenes tour of Island of Adventure, followed by the opportunity to get a head start on the queues. However, as you will have guessed, this trip obviously wasn’t all about theme parks. The Kennedy Space Center was next on our itinerary, and it was definitely impressive.
Nothing quite says NASA more than being greeted by the sight of a dozen rockets which are all in fact genuine! However, as we entered the Atlantis complex, we were greeted with an even more awe inspiring sight – the Atlantis Shuttle. Despite having seen countless pictures and models, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer size of the shuttle, a masterpiece of engineering that has become the image that embodies space travel. As we continued down beyond the shuttle, we had the opportunity to practise our coordination on various astronaut training simulators, as well as the chance to experience the incredibly realistic shuttle launch simulation; an experience that quite literally leaves you unsure which way is up! After an amazing morning in the Atlantis complex, it was time to meet for lunch, and an opportunity to meet Wendy Laurence, an experienced NASA astronaut, and to put forward any interesting questions we had. Following this we embarked on a bus tour around the various launch sites, ending up at another building of the complex – this one containing a Saturn V rocket (a personal favourite of mine), which were used for the Apollo Missions.
The next day was an early start. We were heading over to the Everglades, for a chance to ride one of the airboats. It was brilliant! The feeling of moving so fast, that the words are ripped away before you can speak is one of the incredibly strange, and difficult to describe. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic ride, and we were lucky enough to spot some alligators. Then it was back for a quick look around a local science museum before returning to the hotel – the next day would see us return to the space center, but this time for our very own astronaut training!
Back at the Space Center, and our training had begun! The first hour saw us facing off on the shuttle landing simulators, each pair competing for the chance to command and pilot the shuttle in our actual simulation. With our commander and pilot chosen, and the rest of the crew assigned we were ready; our mission, to put a satellite into orbit. After a tense 20 minutes we successfully completed this mission, with only one moment of panic when the bay doors failed to open, and the alarm set off! Despite this mishap we succeeded, and proceeded to our next section of training – the antigravity wall. Nothing can actually simulate the feeling of weightlessness on Earth, but this was the closest we were going to experience without going into space ourselves. As you can imagine the feeling is hard to describe, as you genuinely feel unaffected by gravity, and the smallest jump sends you rocketing skywards. Unfortunately, our next activity was not so enjoyable; it was time to experience the human gyroscope. During training, astronauts are subjected to 45 minutes of uncontrollable spinning at a time! Thankfully, we were only given two minutes in the gyroscope, although this still left many of us feeling jelly-legged and nauseous! With our training complete, it was time to head back to the hotel, where our last activity of the trip waited for us just across the road: iFly! This was genuinely one of my favourite parts of the trip, a sentiment held by many. We went into the wind tunnel one at a time and couldn’t keep the grins off our faces at the thought that we were actually hovering, with nothing but air beneath us. It was an amazing end to a fabulous trip, that had been such a great first experience of America for me. I can’t wait to go back!
Tom Ehlers, Year Ten