Artificial limbs. Baby formula. mobile cameras. Cordless tools. Ear thermometers. Freeze-dried food. Invisible braces. MRI and CAT scans. Intensive care life support systems. Sports shoe insoles. Smoke detectors. Water filters. Scratch resistant lenses. And the list goes on.
What do these everyday items have in common? Surprisingly, every one of them is a spin-off product developed by NASA.
On a recent day trip to the Kennedy Space Center, we were moonstruck to learn that since NASA's creation in 1958, many technologies developed for space missions have been adapted as products for everyday use. Many of these are life-saving medical devices. And that's before we launched into the history of NASA's space program itself.
Kennedy Space Center is a great place to spend a day. It's just over an hour's drive from central Orlando if you've got a car. We chose to do a bus tour package which enabled us to sit back and relax as the bus driver entertained us with facts and trivia about NASA and showed videos of some of the historical space missions as we counted down to take off. The bus tour was $99 which included entry to the Space Kennedy Center ($50) and most of its attractions and exhibits.
On arrival, we joined the general bus tour (included in the entry fee) which gave us an overview of the whole complex. It's a hop-on hop-off bus so you can spend as much time as you want at each stop. There's a lot to see and it's unlikely you'll be able to do everything in a day (especially if you've got kids). We prioritized a selection of exhibits and launched ourselves into their orbit.
Over the Moon at meeting a real Astronaut (Don Thomas undertook 4 missions on Space Shuttles Columbia and Discovery)
The Astronaut Encounter was great. Visitors have the chance to hear first-hand from a space shuttle astronaut about the journey to becoming an astronaut and the missions he/she has undertaken. The talk and visual presentation had the kids (and adults) riveted and our kids were over the moon with their chance at having a photo taken with the astronaut afterwards!
There are two 3-D IMAX movies on offer. We chose the Hubble Telescope movie which was absolutely magical, the 3-D experience giving the viewer a real impression of reaching out and touching the stars.
At the Rocket Garden, you can see the Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts into space. Head into the Apollo Saturn V Center, and you'll experience what it would have been like to sit at mission control during the Mercury launch and also see the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury capsules. You'll be amazed at the small space the astronauts had to squeeze into!
The kids insisted on visiting the Angry Birds Space Encounter exhibition. There's not much here for the adults but it does provide the opportunity to keep the kids entertained in a manageable space while you sit and have a quiet coffee or drink from one of the cafes in the complex.
The main highlight for us was the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibition. This exhibition, where we spent over an hour and a half, gives visitors the opportunity to experience the amazing Atlantis Space Shuttle which is suspended as if in flight. Visitors can get up close to this vehicle that launched like a rocket, flew in orbit like a spacecraft and landed on a runway like a glider. It's truly out of this world.
This exhibition also celebrates the history of NASA's five space shuttles – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The information and displays are fascinating as is the story of how the shuttle program has paved the way for NASA's next generation of manned spaceflight programs. The kids (big and small!) were completely moonstruck as they immersed themselves into the 60 interactive exhibits that bring the shuttle technology to life.
Get Lost in Space with the many interactive activities
The Shuttle Launch Experience was on our list but time had disappeared into a black hole and we had to re-enter the earth's orbit. If we ever get back we'll make our way to this exhibition which our bus buddies told us was amazing. They shared their experience of this realistic simulation of the space shuttle's eight and a half-minute ascent into orbit, with custom-designed crew cabins, high-definition audiovisual and seating effects to maximize the sense of "being there".
The other Orlando theme parks are undoubtedly fun and often the main reason for going to Orlando but the Kennedy Space Center offers so much more. It too offers fun with the added benefit of being educational and inspiring. The kids left with stars in their eyes and a greater interest in science and technology. Yes, that interest included Angry Birds and a discussion on whether NASA technology was behind the iPod, Nintendo DS and other gaming technology! However, they are now eager to learn more about the different areas of science relevant to NASA's space program. We might find it's the launch pad to encourage our own little astronauts to reach for the stars and make some significant contributions to our wonderful universe.
For more information on the Kennedy Space Centre check out the website.