My behind-the-scenes tour of the Kennedy Space Center

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — By the time the countdown started, all you could hear was a NASA employee over an intercom … “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …”

Smoke shot from the SpaceX rocket and within seconds the cargo delivery flight departed Cape Canaveral with a roar from the Falcon 9’s Merlin 1D main engines, producing 1.7 million pounds of thrust to dispatch the 213-foot-tall rocket toward the northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

There is nothing quite like seeing a rocket launch headed toward the International Space Station (ISS) in person and watching a SpaceX mission hauling nearly three tons of supplies, hardware and experiments into orbit.

It was an experience I will never forget. Growing up I watched NASA Space Shuttle launches on television and I have tuned into Facebook to watch past SpaceX rocket launches.

NASA invited me to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look of everyday operations and to witness the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch on Monday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

I was among hundreds of social media journalists to apply for 30 front-row seats.

The purpose of my trip was to share my experience through social media with Idaho students and teachers to get them excited about space exploration.

Here is how my day went:

7:00 a.m. I checked in at the NASA press office and got on a bus that took me to the NASA News Center.

 

8:00 a.m. Dan Close, a scientist with 490 Biotech, gave a presentation about his company, which sent human kidney cells on the SpaceX rocket for growing experimentation to the ISS.

Dan Close

9:30 a.m. I got back on the bus and we headed to launch pad 39B where several Space Shuttle launches occurred. The launch pad is currently under construction for NASA’s new deep space exploration plans, including a manned mission to Mars scheduled for 2020.

10:30 a.m. We departed for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch pad. Wow, was this cool. I got to see the rocket before it headed to space. Over the intercom at the launch pad a SpaceX employee announced that all personnel needed to leave the pad by 1 p.m. in preparation for the launch. A surreal moment for me.

 

1:oo p.m. After lunch, we headed to the massively large Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), a place that isn’t open to the public. The 526-feet tall VAB covers eight acres. The building is used to assemble space vehicles, such as the Saturn V and the Space Shuttle. Future space launch mission rockets will be assembled here.

Three photos of a Space Shuttle inside the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Signatures are displayed on the wall for every person who has worked on the Space Shuttle program. The program accomplished routine transportation for Earth-to-orbit crew and cargo from 1981 to 2011.

2:00 p.m.  I headed back to the NASA News Center. NASA had a surprise guest ready to speak with us. Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, who works in Washington, D.C., was in town for the launch. He spoke to our group for 30 minutes explaining the future of NASA and the focus on Mars 2020. He shared his message for young kids.

“Find what you love and become the best at it, and be able to work on a team,” Lightfoot said.

Robert Lightfoot

3:00 p.m. One of my favorite tours was at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF). I got a tour of a plant laboratory where scientists study how plants can survive on Mars and in deep space.

Potatoes are growing in this refrigerator which is using soil similar to Mars.

4:30 p.m. Launch time! The best part of my day at NASA. Check out this video of the launch and see how close I was to the rocket. 

This was an opportunity I will never forget and I want to thank Idaho kids and teachers who have graciously invited me into their experiments and classrooms to showcase their innovation and expertise. If it wasn’t for you, I would not have had this great experience. I realized how important space is for generations to come and why science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is more important than ever.

If you have any questions or thoughts, send me an email to [email protected].

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