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Saturday, January 05, 2008

My Trip to Florida

(* Chris Read has some happy memories of Look and Learn to share. Back in the summer of 1962, the magazine ran what must have been one of the most exciting competitions ever organised by a children's magazine. Usually you'd win some paints or a Parker pen for drawings or neat handwriting. Not this time... but I'll leave it to Chris to explain.)

My Trip to Florida

by Chris Read

I could hardly sit still. I was going to Cape Canaveral in Florida and my Mum & Dad were exhausted with my excitement. Mr Lowe of Look and Learn had been to see me at home and John Sanders the Editor had confirmed it by letter and I wanted to tell everybody!

I had entered a competition from issue 27 of Look and Learn for two of its readers to win an all expenses paid trip to Florida and the Bahamas, including a visit to Cape Canaveral. You had to answer eight general knowledge questions and think of a name for a space ship that would land on the moon. The name LUNALANDA won me one of those competition places, and at 12 years old I was heading for one of those destinations that young boys dream about. Rockets and astronauts. Wow!

There were ten boys and girls in the party, accompanied by Mr Noel Whitcomb of the Daily Mirror, who had sponsored the competition.

We flew from London Airport on Friday, 21 September 1962, refuelling at Idlewild Airport in New York and landing in Nassau, Bahamas at 11.30 p.m. First time on a jet, first time I had left the UK, first time separated from my family, and all I could think about was the next seven days.

Our first night was spent at the Emerald Beach Hotel on Nassau before being flown to West Palm Beach in Florida, where a magnificent lunch was followed by a cruise on the Paddlewheel Queen taking us past all the millionaires’ homes on the waterfront. Many ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ and ‘would you look at that’ from everybody. A superb dinner was followed by an overnight stay at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge.

After an early breakfast the next morning we were whisked off to the Cypress Gardens (billed as America’s Tropical Wonderland) in the heart of Florida, travelling in air-conditioned cars at high speed on big, wide roads. We were given another excellent lunch whilst sat under striped umbrellas (it was boiling hot and sunny) overlooking a lake where an amazing aqua show was being performed by ski-jumpers and synchronised water skiers. We were then taken on a guided boat tour of the gardens and exotic plants before we left to motor across to Orlando. Here we overnighted at the Cherry Plaza Hotel, where another superb dinner included something I have not eaten since - caviar (and by choice, I might add!).

The next day was the highlight of the tour - our visit to Cape Canaveral. No cameras were allowed in, and we were given special passes to allow us access to some of the more restricted areas. It was a great honour that we were the first children to be allowed into the Space Centre. The guided tour took us into Mercury Control, and from the observation room we looked down on a hive of technicians working at their consoles, with the wall before them covered in a huge luminous green map of the world, lights and symbols flickering on and off.

From there we were taken to see a white room in one of the hangers - where no fresh air or dust enters the room - and watched the technicians as they carefully checked components before putting them in place in the space capsule they were building. Fantastic!

We were taken to the giant hangers where the Apollo and Gemini Spacecraft stood, our minds boggling at the power needed to get them off the ground. And then we were clamouring around an actual space capsule, trying to imagine what all the knobs and buttons were for and what it would feel like to be an astronaut alone in space in such a small container? Unfortunately, there was only one astronaut on the base at the time we were there, Walter M Schirra, but he was being put through a simulation flight and wasn’t available for us to talk to.

For the last part of the tour we boarded an official US Navy bus and were driven round the various complexes that make up the launch pads for the Titan, Jupiter, Gemini and Atlas rockets. We got off the bus at Complex 34, where a huge Saturn rocket was being assembled for launch, and watched spellbound from about 200 yards away as the nose cone was winched slowly from the ground towards its final destination. We were unlucky to find out that we were a few days too early to watch this particular rocket being launched. We were taken down into the blockhouse - another control room full of complicated machines and designed to withstand the blast from rockets thrusters - and watched the activity on the ground through the specially designed periscope. Before we knew it, it was time to go.

What a cracking day! We should have been exhausted, but were buzzing with what we had seen. When we got back to the cars, talking all over each other, the 190 mile drive down to Miami Beach and the luxurious Carillon Hotel seemed to take but minutes. After all the excitement of the day, I think we managed to get to sleep sometime in the early hours of the morning.

The following day, Tuesday, was spent at Miami Seaquarium being entertained by the many tricks taught to the dolphins and porpoises, and watching the sharks being fed raw meat for their meals.

Wednesday morning was free time. Some of us spent it in and around the hotel pool, others to see what they could find in the shops. In the afternoon, we were received by the Mayor of Miami at the Torch of Friendship Monument, and we were each presented with two scrolls. One was a ‘Scroll of Friendship of the City of Miami’, and the second to make us an ‘Honorary Citizen of the State of Florida’. The Mayor then invited us to a sumptuous banquet in our honour that evening at the plush Columbus Hotel.

The following day, Thursday 27 September 1962, we were packing our bags and preparing to fly home via Nassau (where we were able to spend a few hours shopping for souvenirs) and New York. As the Boeing 707 thundered down the runway in Nassau and lifted us over the clear blue waters, I realised that I had had a holiday that in all probability would never be matched.

(* My thanks to Chris for sharing his memories and photos of his holiday of a lifetime.)

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post.

    The bell shaped space capsule with United States on the side of it in the third illustration is a Mercury capsule. This was the then current American capsule with Wally Shirra flying the Mercury Atlas 8 mission only five days after their visit and in the process becoming the fifth American astronaut and the third American in orbit. Not really surprising that he has too busy to talk to them. He would go on to fly the Gemini and Apollo capsules, becoming the only astronaut to fly in all three spacecraft.

    The rocket that the Look and Learn group are standing in front of in the fourth picture is a Saturn 1, specifically SA-3, which eventually launched from Launch Complex 34 on 16 November 1962, perhaps delayed by the Cuban Missile Crisis in mid to late October 1962. LC34 was where the Apollo 1 fire killed three astronauts in 1967.

    Saturn 1
    SA-3 Mission
    which links through to this excellent NASA photo of the rocket with
    the gantry pulled back

    It certainly seems that they were treated to the holiday of a lifetime.