Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is open and ready to inspire the next generation of astronauts

Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Depending on your age, a visit to Kennedy Space Center in Florida can either ignite new dreams of being an astronaut or revive old ones that never really went away.

Those of us old enough to remember the grainy TV footage of the first astronauts walking on the moon, can relive those memories when we tour the popular Florida attraction, but for younger guests, a visit to KSC can be a lot more profound. For many, it will inspire a lifelong interest in space and science and some of them may even be lucky enough to become astronauts themselves.

“We want young students to come to the Kennedy Space Center and try the Shuttle Launch Experience, visit our Mars galleries and get a feel for what we’re doing, because I want them excited, just like I got excited as a young boy to go into space myself,” said Don Thomas, a former astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle Missions in the 1990s. 

“We always tell the students, ‘we need you,’ said Thomas during an online appearance at this year’s virtual version of Florida Huddle, the state’s official travel trade show that showcases the Sunshine State to international and domestic tour operators, wholesalers and media.

“We’re building these new rockets and designing new spacesuits at NASA and habitats for Mars, but we’re going to need our next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts ready. That’s why it’s so important to get our young students excited.”

Located just an hour from Orlando, KSC is one of the state’s premier family tourist attractions and while it was closed for a brief period at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it reopened in May 2020 with strict health protocols in place and some modifications to its operations. For example, the bus tours and Apollo/Saturn V Center remain closed, but there are many other elements that remain open such as the popular Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit that lets people get up close to the famous spacecraft.

“You can almost reach out and touch it,” said Thomas. “You can get that close so that you really get a good view of how huge the Space Shuttle. Atlantis flew on 33 missions so you can see the discolouration from the burning as it’s coming in through the atmosphere. It’s quite emotional, even moving, to see it in person.”

Astronaut Don Thomas
Former astronaut Don Thomas hopes a visit to Kennedy Space Center will inspire kids to want to become astronauts in the same way the space race inspired him when he was young.

Visitors can also participate in a simulated Space Shuttle Launch which Thomas says is pretty close to the real thing, minus one important element. 

“You can get a pretty good feel for what a launch is like on the Shuttle Launch Experience. They’ll strap you in your seat; it’ll rock and roll; you’ll hear the roar of the engines. I tell people the only difference between the Shuttle Launch Experience and the real mission — that is that fear factor.” 

There are several other simulators scattered throughout the centre that visitors can experience along with attractions like the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Heroes and Legends hall which explore the early days of space exploration, but Thomas thinks the NASA Now + Next zone is the most exciting. This is where visitors can immerse themselves in the science of the International Space Station and what NASA is planning for the future, including its imminent return to the moon and eventual journeys to Mars. The centre-piece of this exhibit is a full-scale model of the Orion capsule which will take astronauts to those distant destinations. 

Thomas spoke about the timeline of the Artemis missions to the moon and thinks that if all goes according to plan, Artemis 3 will land two astronauts on the south pole of the moon in 2024. 

“Fifty years ago, we landed 12 Americans on the moon. They were all men and this mission, just four years away, we’re going to land the first woman on the moon, and also, the next man,” said Thomas. “Just four years away from the first woman on the moon. I think that’s incredibly exciting. I know I’m going to be down at the Kennedy Space Center to watch that launch as they leave for the moon.”

For more information about Kennedy Space Center, visit https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com

During this travel pause, let’s rethink how we interact with animals from now on, says celebrated scientist Jane Goodall

A lot of us are feeling helpless in the middle of the worst global pandemic to hit civilization in more than a century, but famed scientist and activist Dr. Jane Goodall thinks we shouldn’t be frustrated by it, but to instead use this time to reflect on the decisions we make going forward, especially concerning our interactions with wildlife as travellers.

“Never forget that every single day you live, you make an impact on this planet and you have a choice as to what kind of impact you make,” Goodall reminded us last week during an online appearance hosted by G Adventures.

It was the second of the company’s Retravel Live events aimed at discussing topics of concern to travellers and the theme of the latest seminar was tourism and animal welfare. From an office in her childhood home, the 86-year-old Goodall shared her thoughts with an online audience of about 1,000 people as she answered questions posed to her by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip.

“I think it’s very fortunate that there is this pause,” said Goodall during the video call. “We need to do things differently. As the world got wealthier and more and more people began to travel in so many instances they were destroying, by sheer numbers, the very places that they wanted to go and see because they were wild.”

Find the right balance of visitors for each destination

When Poon Tip asked her what we should do differently with regards to our interactions with wildlife as tourists, she suggested that there be more mechanisms to limit the number of people going to wild places, but didn’t want those experiences to become something that only the elite could afford.

“You don’t want to ban people of lower income brackets from going out and seeing a wild animal but on the other hand those people then go on package tours, which means there’s many of them,” she said. “I know from being on the ground the effect that it can have when you get too many people and if you only have a few then it’s much more expensive, so I don’t know.”

Goodall told the story of a man who met her and told her that he had saved up for years to visit the Serengeti and was disillusioned by an incident where his guide took him out to see a lion and by the time they got there, 22 other combis full of tourists had gathered in a circle to watch the animal devour its kill. He said he never wanted to travel again.

“So many of the operators never talk about the negative side because they want the customer so they paint a very rosy picture and they don’t really tell the people who might not go if they realize that their going would be distressing to the animal,” she said.

Poon Tip said that it was not just over-tourism of wild places that had an adverse effect on animals, but travellers should also consider attractions they visit that offer animal encounters like elephant rides, dolphin swims or tiger orphanages. Not only do many of those businesses mistreat their animals, he said, but they don’t do much, if anything, to benefit conservation of wildlife and natural places.

He noted that G Adventures, with the assistance of the Jane Goodall Institute, World Animal Protection and World Cetacean Alliance, undertook an audit of its animal-welfare guidelines not long ago and found some of them to be severely lacking and cut them from their programs.

“We thought we were this ethical company that looked at communities and culture and cultural preservation poverty alleviation but when we just took an audit of animal welfare we realized we had so many problems and it uncovered so many things and we were so grateful to be able to work with you on that,” he said.

We can put unethical animal attractions out of business

Goodall noted that not all attractions that offer animal encounters are necessarily bad, but said travellers should inform themselves about the ones are ethical and the ones that aren’t and those that aren’t can be put out of business if we stop supporting them.

“Tourism can play a major role by saying ‘well, if you continue to treat them that way then we’re not going to come and you won’t get our dollars.’” she said.

Both Poon Tip and Goodall noted that the tourism pause caused by the pandemic has not been good to animals in some places as the lack of tourism has led to increased poaching. The lack of money means governments can’t pay rangers to protect the animals so cartels swoop in to kill wild game and other local people who rely on the tourist economy can’t afford to buy food so are killing the animals to stay alive.

You can help, even if you’re not travelling

Even though they can’t go to those places to support them with their tourist dollars right now,  Goodall noted that those of us stuck at home can still help by sending donations to pay park rangers in the world’s most precarious places.

“Donations are really what’s keeping some of these parks going,” she explained. “People can donate to the ranger forces through the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Association.”

Goodall conceded that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by events in the world right now, but urged us to make small changes around us that could affect positive change for everyone.

“I think the reason that more people aren’t actually rolling up their sleeves and trying to do something is because of their feeling of helplessness,” she said. “There are so many problems and you always hear ’think globally, act globally,’ but if you think globally, you don’t have the energy to act locally and that’s why I began our youth program, Roots and Shoots.”

The global organization with chapters in more than 140 countries was founded by Goodall to empower young people to affect positive change in their own communities.

“My biggest hope for the future is the young people,” she said. “Once they understand the problem and they are empowered to take action it’s incredible what they’re doing.”

Pondering travel’s future while questioning the ethics of travel today

Everyone wants to travel again like they did before the pandemic struck, but just how ethical is it to be visiting other countries and even regions of your own country in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak?

That was the first question posed to a trio of travel journalists by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip who participated in an online discussion he moderated from his Toronto office last Wednesday entitled Retravel Live: An important discussion about travel.

Juliet Kinsman , the sustainability editor of Condé Nast Traveller, U.K. and the author of The Green Edit: Travel: Easy tips for the eco-friendly traveller, thought it was a question that few people were actually asking and felt it was an important one, but her answer fell short of providing a clear recommendation.

“I personally have tried to park my judgment throughout this time,” said Kingsman. “I cannot tell you whether you could or should travel to that destination. You do what’s right for you. As with anything in life, you just think if you are ever putting anyone else in danger and therefore making a decision that they’re not complicit with well, I guess you shouldn’t do it.”

Poon Tip thought that people should think of travel as a privilege and not a right, but didn’t think that it was necessarily the best time to be exploring the world.

“I think everyone agrees that non-essential travel right now is not something that anyone would suggest, but if they’re talking about when borders start to open and when people are allowed to travel and there’s inherent risk prior to a vaccine, I think it’s your choice and I do think you can do it an ethical way,” he said.

Another of the panelists, Elizabeth Becker, the author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, felt that it was okay to visit other places during the pandemic, but to scrupulously follow whatever health guidelines those destinations have put in place and that we need to be mindful of the safety others, no matter where we go.

“I would like all of us to think that we’re citizens of where we are and where we are going to visit so if you’re visiting somewhere, you follow those rules. You may not like them; you may argue with them; you may think you can avoid the two-week quarantine. No, that’s not ethical, as well as not legal,” she said.

Helping tourism destinations from home

Becker reminded people that whatever place they live in is also a tourist destination for others so if you can’t travel, then consider frequenting restaurants and other tourist attractions in your own home town in order to support them during this downturn. If you have a favourite faraway place that is reliant on tourism, then consider making some kind of donation that will help people there, she added.

“That’s all I can do,” she said. “I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I feel much better thinking of my own city and of the place that I love.”

George Stone, the editor of National Geographic Traveler U.S., said that during the pandemic he has personally been donating $100 each month to a different charity and suggested travellers think about places that have been special for them and find ways to give money back, especially if it can help hospitality workers or others who work in tourism-related businesses that have been hard hit by the lack of visitors.

“It’s not a fortune, but it’s actually been really fun for me and then when a new month happens, I’m like ‘oh, what am I going to do?” he said. “I spent some time in North Carolina so I gave to Appalachian Mountain Conservancy. So (look for) things that touch you… recollect some of those memories and then do a little something (for that place.)”

Predicting where travel will be in five years

Much of the rest of the 75-minute conversation dealt with the future of travel after the pandemic and the importance of reinventing an industry that accounts for 10 percent of the world’s GDP. The consensus was that the status quo is not sustainable and that the pandemic may be a blessing in disguise as it gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate how we want to travel in the future.

Becker spoke about the environmental degradation caused by our globetrotting ways and could even see there being no-fly days in the future in order to curb global emissions. She hoped that industry leaders become more political, not to get favourable handouts from governments and looser regulations, but to be at the table, fighting for a greener future.

“I want to see the travel industry as political as anybody else about protecting the planet,” she said.

Stone said he believes that we are going to see a better sort of traveller after the pandemic, someone who is more engaged in the conversations that are relevant to places and has a more nuanced sense of the layers that go into a destination.

“In this period of racial reckoning, I’m someone who really is thinking more critically about communities and identity,” he added. “I don’t see how we can go through this and not come out touched and moved and changed so, aspirationally, I really want to see travellers at their best in five years asking tough questions and then that’s going to lead to the impacts and the bigger changes that both Julia and Elizabeth have pointed to so my goal is to try to support that.”

Poon Tip said that he and the leadership of G Adventures are using the opportunity of the slowdown to reinvent how they do business, thinking like a startup with 30 years of knowledge of experience.

“I’m of the mindset that travel wasn’t in a great place before this forced pause and so there’s great opportunity for us to rethink and restart,” said Poon Tip, a topic which he also touched upon in freely available instabook Unlearn – The Year the Earth Stood Still.

“If we get anything out of this pandemic, I hope that that a small group of people understand the power and privilege they have when they decide to travel,” said Poon Tip. “There are so few people on this planet that have that luxury to say I’m bored with my present community environment and I want to travel to somewhere else to see another community environment. This is a luxury that we have. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege that we have in the developed world.”

G Adventures plans to host similar conversations about the future of travel. The next one will be October 15 at 12:30pm EDT when world-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE will join Poon Tip to discuss travel’s impact on wildlife around the world and how travellers can do their part to help protect the creatures that we share our planet with.

Join the conversation by signing up at https://retravellive.com/.

Exploring the best of Turkey with G Adventures

When I told friends and family that I was travelling to Turkey, they worried that it wasn’t safe, then when I got there, the headlines back home spoke of the country’s military incursion into Syria, but the fighting might well have been on another continent, because I was 1,500 kilometres removed from it and in this land that has witnessed conflict for millennia, it had virtually no effect on everyday life.

I was in Turkey with G Adventures on their Best of Turkey itinerary, a small group tour that spends eight days exploring the country, first arriving in Istanbul then motoring around the western reaches of Turkey for the next week before returning to Istanbul for a final day of exploration in advance of the flight back to Canada.

It’s amazing how much we were able to see and experience in such a short time. Here are some of the highlights:

A pilgrimage to Gallipoli
The battlefields of Gallipoli are hallowed ground for the people of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey alike.

Our first stop was to visit the First World War cemeteries of Gallipoli, sacred ground for not only Australia and New Zealand, but Turkey as well. The skies were grey, the wind was cold and the clouds threatened rain, fitting weather for our visit to ANZAC Cove, where we saw the forbidding cliffs overlooking the initial landing beach of the Allied invasion force. We learned about the doomed military campaign of 1915 and 1916 that cost the lives of more than 100,000 soldiers on both sides with hundreds of thousands more wounded.

As we walked through the graveyards of white marble tombstones, I heard Australian and New Zealand accents of other visitors as they commented to each other on how young the dead were that lay before us. For them, this land is what Vimy Ridge is to Canadians, a First World War battle that stirred the first feelings of national consciousness, as we began to break away from our colonial past. They were in this distant land to make a pilgrimage to honour that sacrifice.

We also toured one of the sombre cemeteries that housed Ottoman war dead, complete with patriotic statues and slogans as victory at Gallipoli is seen here as a pivotal moment in the creation of the modern nation of Turkey as it was where their founder and first president Kamâl Atatürk came to prominence as a field commander.

The news about Turkey’s incursion into Syria remind us that the repercussions of the First World War are still with us.

This is an excerpt. To read the rest of the story, please visit Canada.com.

The past comes to life in these 10 Canadian living history museums

Most museums feature static displays of artifacts and maybe a few interactive screens, but living history museums really make the past come alive by having costumed re-enactors walk among visitors in historical places to explain and demonstrate what life was like in times gone by.

There are numerous locations in Canada where visitors can experience living history museums. They can see how their ancestors lived and often get some hands-on instructions on how to do things the old-fashioned way, something that children are especially fascinated by.

From east to west, here are 10 Canadian living history museums that you won’t want to miss. Some operate all year, others only during the warm weather while some close during the fall and winter, only opening for special events, especially around Christmas, so be sure to check their websites for the latest info.

Norstead, Newfoundland

If you journey to the northern tip of Newfoundland, you can visit L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site to see the remains of the only Viking settlement known to have existed in North America. There’s a sod house on site with costumed actors that is a lot of fun, but for a more expansive Viking experience, visit nearby Norstead, a recreation of an entire Norse village. Learn how to forge iron, get your fortune told and see Snorri, a massive replica of a Viking ship that has actually sailed across the Atlantic, proving that Leif Erikson could have done the same.

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Nova Scotia

The 18th-century Fortress of Louisbourg sits on a windswept stretch of Cape Breton, welcoming visitors to step back to a time when France and England battled for supremacy in North America. Walk through the immaculately-restored walls of this stone city and chat with people that live there like soldiers, bakers and craftsmen, most of whom will remain in character as you interact with them. A new virtual reality experience, The Messenger, will bring you back to 1744 as you race against time to deliver a message to the fortress about English spies.

Kings Landing Historical Settlement, New Brunswick

Kings Landing boasts one of the largest collections of historic artifacts in eastern Canada which is on display at the site’s museum, but visitors really come here to interact with costumed characters from New Brunswick’s colourful past to experience life in the 19th century. You’re encouraged to step into their homes to talk to them, help them with their chores on the farm or in the village and imagine you are in another time. Kids love it, but so do their parents.

This is just an excerpt. You can read the rest of the story on Canada.com.