Space Holiday 2014

My Space Holiday fulfilled my life long dream to visit aerospace centers in the US and Europe and meet some of the people who work there.

On this trip, I saw the first three Mercury-Redstone capsules, two of the three remaining Saturn V moon rockets, and all three remaining Space Shuttles (not counting Enterprise which never made it to space). Since I love unmanned (robotic) exploration of the solar system, my personal highlight was the opportunity to visit JPL on three separate occasions on the same day and to meet some of the amazing people who work there, including some of my personal heroes.

Locations visited

Between 6 Sep and 5 Oct 2014, I visited:

  1. Los Angeles, CA (California Science Center, Mt Wilson & Griffith Observatories, JPL, Caltech, SpaceX),
  2. Mountain View, CA (NASA Ames Research Center),
  3. Houston, TX (Johnson Space Center),
  4. Titusville, FL (Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral, Astronaut hall of fame, and launch of SpaceX's CRS-4 mission to resupply the ISS),
  5. Washington, DC (Smithsonian National Air and Space Musem, Udvar-Hazy Center, Goddard Space Flight Center; also some government sights),
  6. Friedrichshafen, Darmstadt and Berlin, Germany (EADS/Astrium, EOSC/European Space Operations Center, and DLR),
  7. Noordwijk, The Netherlands (ESTEC/European Space Technology Center for it's Open Day).

Rough review of US aerospace centers visited

The big centers in Houston (Johnson Space Center) and Florida (Kennedy Space Center) are very well equipped to handle the influx of visitors and have some of the best tours and historical hardware (KSC is the only place where you can see both a Space Shuttle and a Saturn V). The downside is that they commercially cater for relatively nontechnical tourists: their tours are expensive and their big souvenir shops almost exclusively sell tacky stuff such as I need my space and Failure is not an option T-Shirts.

While they don't have as big pieces of historic hardware, both JPL and SpaceX are serious engineering porn. While JPL only had two very small stores and SpaceX had none, I found their products more appealing because I liked how they celebrated proud engineering/science milestones. Unlike KSC/JSC, you'd still feel good wearing them if you worked there. Caltech as a university doesn't cater to visitor, but it's fun to go in and see the names of all the famous scientists on the doors.

Lastly, NASA Ames Research Center and Goddard Space Flight Center are not open to the public and each only have a small visitor center. Don't bother visiting unless you're already passing through.

Photos (US portion of the trip)

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