Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Center Offers New Astronaut Training Experience

By Michelle Colesanti

After 31 years, the Space Shuttle program ended on July 8, 2011. Since then, many exciting things have been happening in front of and behind the scenes as NASA works with companies such as SpaceX and Boeing, working on rockets that will bring crews to the International Space Station and beyond. NASA is currently working on Orion, the next generation of space craft, which will eventually carry astronauts to Mars.

Astronaut Jon McBride recently visited the Osprey Observer office, along with Rebecca Shireman, Public Relations & Communications Manager at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). McBride may be of retirement age, but he has not slowed down in his quest to keep the passion of the space program alive. On any given day, you will find him or other astronauts at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex greeting visitors.

McBride currently lives in Titusville; a stone’s throw away from all the action. We learned that Kennedy Space Center is not only thriving, but still growing with many exciting new things taking place.

McBride, who originally hails from West Virginia, is a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy. He was a navy fighter test pilot and was selected by NASA to join the space program in January 1978 and was in the first class of shuttle astronauts.

His interest in space began as a young boy. In junior high school McBride began building rockets. While a senior in high school, he got to spend about 10 minutes with John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie during Kennedy’s campaign run for President; the first of many U.S. Presidents he would meet throughout the years. During his career he worked directly with Reagan and Bush (H.W.).

He was the pilot on the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-41-G mission) in October 1984. This mission had seven crew members. Notably, he was joined by Sally Ride (her second flight) and during that mission, Kathryn Sullivan, became the first female to walk in space.

When asked what excited him most during the shuttle trip, McBride smiled, remembering that it was his first vision of Earth. “The engine cuts off and you enter into weightlessness,” noted McBride. About 45 minutes into the flight, his job was to open the payload doors, which is done in the first orbit. “I could see land; could see Australia after leaving Florida 45 minutes earlier. I was looking at Sydney.”

McBride was supposed to commander his second Shuttle flight on the Columbia in March 1986 to study Haley’s Comet, but it was cancelled due to the Challenger disaster a month earlier. He never got another opportunity to return to space because he was summoned soon after by President Reagan to serve as Assistant Administrator for Congressional Relations in Washington, DC at NASA Headquarters.

He now wants to share his enthusiasm and passion, especially with the younger generation, and KSC is the perfect place to do that. There is so much to see, and the many interactive exhibits there make learning about the space program not only educational, but fun. To see everything, you should plan to spend more than one day at the facility.

In January a new Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) will begin on select dates each month.

Families will spend a half-day immersed in astronaut training with realistic simulators and launching rockets. Work together with a veteran NASA astronaut to perform a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station in a full-scale orbiter mock-up and fully outfitted mission control facility. It is also offered for student field trips and scout groups, but it is not just for kids; as businesses should consider this great opportunity for corporate team building. To make reservations, call 855-433-4210 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

During your KSC visit, check out each ‘flown’ vehicle from every American space program including the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle (Atlantis) missions.

Another exciting offering is a four hour ‘Fly with an Astronaut’ program where you can explore KSC as part of a small group with a veteran NASA astronaut guide, and then enjoy lunch together. It is offered around three times a month all year long and expanded during the holiday season to include dinner with an astronaut. Check the website for more details.

Astronauts are an elite group – there are only 400 to 500 around the world since the space program began. In the U.S., there were 12 astronauts in the 2017 graduating class. Thirty-five nations now have astronauts, and in the U.S. there are about 50 currently active.

Come and meet one. Visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com to plan your visit.