🚀 Space Shuttle Astronaut Talk

Meet Astronaut Bruce Melnick
Talking about space with an astronaut is a thrilling experience. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, we got to chat with Space Shuttle commander, Bruce Melnick. He flew on 2 Space Shuttle missions and knows a lot about the space program. He met us at the front gate and escorted us to the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction. We set up the shot right in front of the full size solid rocket boosters. The exhibit was amazing. We got to spend an hour with Bruce before the park opened, and he enjoyed telling us all about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. We got a full tour from Planet Play to the Rocket Garden to Heroes & Legends to the Vehicle Assembly Building and concluding at the Saturn V Complex. We really enjoyed our day at KSC but next time we are taking two days to see everything.

Watch the full RV There Yet? episode - Vacation Paradise featuring our visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Click the video below to watch the full interview with Astronaut Bruce Melnick.

If you don't watch the full interview, here's the transcript for you read. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex - this place is awesome. I mean you can only see a very small percentage of what this place has to offer, but I tell people when they come here that you need to take at least two days here. You can't see everything that's here in just one day. This is where the Space Shuttle Atlantis is which is kind of like our marquee exhibit here. It actually houses the Space Shuttle Atlantis that flew in space 33 times, and out here in front of it, that's a full-scale external tank with solid rocket boosters, and of course, that's what gives you all the propulsion and all the fuel for the Space Shuttle to go fly in addition to the three engines on the Space Shuttle. But that exhibit right there, when you go inside and take a look at Atlantis. It'll put a tear in your eye. When you walk up the ramp Kevin, you're going to go through a show that's going to talk about the development of the Space Shuttle and how it all came to fruition, and then you're going to go into another room and go through. Some of it's almost like a three-dimensional shuttle launch experience inside, and then you're going to see the shuttle behind a curtain, and then when the curtain raises, you're actually going to be right in front of Atlantis. And when you walk in there's not just the Space Shuttle which is what you're going to focus on but there's a Hubble Space Telescope in there. There's a lot of exhibits where you can see inside the cockpit of the Space Shuttle. There's simulators downstairs where you can actually dock the space shuttle to the Space Station. There's a lot in there.

Space Shuttle Atlantis
I did not fly in Atlantis. I flew on the 11th flight of Discovery back in 1990. Very short mission just a four-day mission. We deployed a satellite called Ulysses that went into a polar orbit around the sun, had to go to Jupiter first but they're smart people to figure that stuff out. And then in 1992 I flew on the very first flight of Endeavor which was really cool. I was a helicopter test pilot and to be on a test flight of a Space Shuttle. That's a whole different critter, and we were on what was scheduled to be a seven day mission but we had some trouble in capturing this satellite and attaching a new rocket motor to it so we ended up extending the flight for nine days. Two great flights, this has been the workhorse. There's never been a spaceship like it and when you think about something that takes off and then can land like an airplane, I don't know that we'll ever get there again because the most efficient way to get to space is a capsule but when you need to carry huge payloads up and back to space the Space Shuttle was the machine to do it. And to have one here. One of only three ever is really special and the way it's displayed here. There's another one up in Washington DC. There's another one out in California but this is the best.

Planet Play
We have Planet Play here which is an exhibit that was built especially for the kids. Kids love this place. They love to see the astronaut here which we'll have an astronaut here every day that goes ahead and does what we call the Astronaut Encounter. You'll get to ask astronaut questions. We have a facility where you can have lunch with an astronaut. But Planet Play is just for the kids where they can climb on these cargo nets, and there's things in there for them to do to keep them entertained throughout the day and give the parents a break. Matter of fact, there's a place in there for the parents to relax while the kids are just off and playing, and one of the neat things about Planet Play is when the kids get in there you know they're into video games and a lot of things like that these days, but there they can get into some hands-on things and get inspired about flying into space. When I was a kid we didn't have things like that you know. We didn't have video games, and if you wanted to see what it was like in space you had to go fly so that inspired me. But now we've got something like Planet Play that can inspire this next generation.
Astronaut Bruce Melnick
Tell us about the Rocket Garden?

That there is the history of human space flight. You start with a Mercury Redstone which is the first rocket that Alan Shepard flew on which is the one that I first heard about when I was in the sixth grade which inspired me, and I said man I'd really like to do that. Then you've got the Gemini Titan. You've got a Mercury Atlas there. You've got one of the experimental early stages of the Saturn 1b there so pretty much the all of the rockets that led up to human space flight are all there. There's even some earlier flights that were just unmanned rockets that Mercury Vanguard or Atlas Vanguard. There's other rockets there that led up to us feeling like we were safe enough to fly humans in space.

Tell us about the Vehicle Assembly Building?

The VAB is legendary. Matter of fact it is so big it used to be the the largest by volume building on the planet, but then Boeing, I think, passed them up when building 747s, but it is so large and so much volume that it actually creates its own weather in there. You can go inside the VAB which is where we stacked the Saturn V rockets, and then we converted it to stack the Space Shuttles in there and now we're stacking NASA's new space launch system in there, so it's been a very versatile building. But it's huge. I've actually seen fog form in there. I've seen rain form in there. It's just a really neat building.

Tell us about the Saturn V Complex?

One of the things you need to do is hop on the bus here and take the tour out to Saturn V. And one of the amazing things when you get to the exhibit is you go through a show that talks about the space race and finally getting to the moon, and then you can sit in the actual launch console, the launch complex, the firing room with the consoles that actually launched man to the moon, and go through the launch sequence, and then when you walk out through the doors, you walk out right behind the bottom first stage of the Saturn V. It's got its engines right there and you look up, and it's like huge. We think the Space Shuttle external tank and solid rocket boosters is huge, you look at that Saturn V. And then you walk along the first stage, and then you walk the second stage, and then you walk the third, I mean you walk forever till you get to the final tip top. And you get to this little bitty capsule which is the only part that took three men to the moon and back and that was the only part that came back and to land in the ocean.
I stop whatever I'm doing whenever I know a launch is going up. It's just such a dynamic experience and of course you can't get real close to them and what to me Kevin is amazing is how you'll sit there and you'll see the candle light, and you'll see the rocket go up, and you don't hear anything, and then all of a sudden you start feeling this ground rumble, and you feel it and you hear it and you just experience a whole launch and just watch it through staging. It's exciting especially the human space flight launches you know I still get a tear in my eye whenever I see one of those and I think us talking to Patrice earlier about how you know I've had a tear in my eye for every launch that I've witnessed except for two and that was the two I was sitting inside of. But what blows my mind is that people don't even realize that we've had human beings permanently living in space for 21 years now. I mean the space station has been permanently inhabited since you know the year 2000, and the work that they're doing up there and accomplishing up there, and the way they're getting up there and the way we're sending cargo up there and people don't even know that's going on and to me it's just amazing. I talked about the international space station when I was selected as an astronaut in 1987. I thought that I was going to be in the first group of space station commanders. Well, as we know there's a lot of delays in the program but I was excited about getting the space station the bad news is I was there from 90 to 92 and we hadn't even flown to the Space Station Mir yet.

Would you go up to the Space Station?

So the short answer is yes. I'd love to go up and do a stint on the space station. I think I could easily spend a year up there. It's not having been there that's easy to say, but yeah I'd like to be doing that again. That blows my mind that we can send something to Mars have it land and now not only have it land but explore the surface of Mars but now we're flying drones on Mars come on. I mean that's something that to me is still science fiction, but it's amazing the brilliant people we have in this country that can pull programs together like that and just be successful all the time.

What is there to do for RVers on the Space Coast?

This whole area has got plenty for RVers. If you're going to watch a launch, there's no place better than Jetty Park to sit on top of your RV. Here at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, we've got RV parking so you can just drive your RV right here to the visitor complex and park your RV and enjoy everything we have to offer here. We've got the whole Space Coast here where there's plenty of fine dining. You've got surfing down in Cocoa Beach. There's a lot to do here when you bring your RV and stay for a while.