Watch It Made Blog

To Boldly Go
Thursday, February 28, 2008 | Posted By Karen Axelrod in Factory Tours

We like to think both big and small about factory tours in the pages of Watch It Made in the U.S.A.—from tiny glassmaking studios to the giant manufacturing sites of heavy industry. Sometimes when we think big, we really think, well, BIG. This is why we chose to cover two tours of NASA facilities in the 4th edition of our book. We sketch them out below, but for the full coverage and all the information you need to take these tours, pick up a copy of Watch It Made.

Far out in Florida

No manufacturing operation in the United States is more ambitious than NASA's program for manned spaceflight at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral (near Orlando) in Florida. Visitors get a detailed view of our past, present, and future technology for propelling astronauts into orbit, to the moon, and perhaps one day even to Mars. In some ways, it's the ultimate factory tour.

The basic tour, which you take on a bus, is available every 15 minutes and makes three stops. The first, Launch Complex 39 (LC 39), is where the space shuttles take off. A nearby observation platform, rising 60 feet high, gives visitors a fine view of the two immense launch pads. You can also see the Launch Control Center and the vast Vehicle Assembly Building, perhaps the biggest hangar in the world. Another stop is the facility in which NASA prepares parts of the International Space Station (ISS). You can walk through a mockup of the interiors. You also visit the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This cavernous facility preserves memories of the Apollo program, which culminated in the moon landings. The centerpiece is one of the original giant Saturn V rockets, the size of a building.

You can also take exciting special tours of the Kennedy Space Center. For details on these, see our full writeup in Watch It Made in the U.S.A.

California dreaming

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is the Cape Canaveral of unmanned space exploration. Its teams of scientists and engineers, who have included the venerable Carl Sagan, work in numerous departments to plan, design, and build the spacecraft and satellites that probe our solar system. Among JPL's famous projects are the Viking Mars landers, the Voyager deep-space probes, the Galileo orbiter that explored Jupiter, and, more recently, the Mars rovers and the Cassini trip to Saturn. JPL also creates and commands satellites for monitoring Earth and its atmosphere and for studying the cosmos beyond our solar system.

The research and operational areas of JPL sprawl over a large campus. Depending on the interests of visitors and the focus of current missions, tours may visit any of several sites. After a multimedia presentation on the history of JPL, visitors see models of past NASA spacecraft and interactive exhibits which illustrate related science and engineering. Other areas you may visit include the mission-control center: the revealing images of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn's moons that stunned the scientific world were received here. Given NASA's recent activities on Mars, you may also see the area where JPL tests new vehicles for exploring the Martian surface.

Amazed already? For the full details, consult Watch It Made in the U.S.A., where we also cover factory tours involving aerospace and aviation for use on Earth.



Posted By Karen Axelrod at 1:00 PM in Category:Factory Tours


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