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We haven’t been to Kennedy Space Center for approximately eighteen months so just recently we decided to venture out and see what’s going on at the Space Coast.
As always, a visit to Kennedy Space Center is a fascinating experience and one where you can stand back, take a breath and just contemplate all the things that mankind has achieved. Frankly, it’s one of the best trips you can make on a visit to Florida.
As you arrive at KSC, the new visitor entrance greets you. It’s very impressive with an expansive forecourt that offers multiple photo opportunities. Once you enter the complex you immediately find yourself in the Rocket Garden.
The Rocket Garden features an outdoor display of historic rockets that put Americans and satellites in space. Visitors are able to walk up to and around the base of the rockets. The Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas, and Titan II rockets launched astronauts and the Juno I, Juno II, Thor-Delta, and Atlas-Agena rockets launched satellites from Cape Canaveral. These are mounted upright whereas the largest rocket, a Saturn IB, is mounted on its side. Saturn IB rockets launched Apollo Command / Service Modules into Earth orbit for Apollo, Skylab, and the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project.
Near the Rocket Garden a new area is also being created to accommodate the new, high-tech “Heroes and Legends” Next Generation attraction. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, previously located just a few minutes away from KSC, has just closed it’s doors and the Heroes and Legends will now become the place that visitors can experience early space missions and virtually interact with almost 100 astronauts who have been inducted into the center’s U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Visitors to the complex can then go on to explore a variety of attractions including the 3-D film “Journey to Space”, an interactive “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted”, “Lunch with an Astronaut” and the fabulous new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.
In the 3-D “Journey to Space” film, visitors learn about future NASA plans, such as capturing asteroids and sending humans to Mars. Superbly narrated by actor Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: TNG fame, the film features interviews with the commander of the last space shuttle mission, Chris Ferguson, and with newly-selected astronaut Serena Aunon. The film also discusses NASA’s past accomplishments, its current activities as well as its future plans for space travel to Mars.
“Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted” exhibit provides hands-on simulation and interactive activities to show visitors the challenges the first humans on Mars will experience. A live show, “Explorers Wanted”, also presents real-time updates on spacecraft now in development that may someday visit the Red Planet, such as the Orion capsule and the Space Launch System. Also included are displays of the various Mars rovers and of a full-sized Orion heat shield.
“Lunch with an Astronaut”is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to hear personal stories and meet and greet a veteran NASA or international astronaut while enjoying a delicious buffet meal.
One of the highlight’s of a trip to Kennedy Space Center is undoubtedly the chance to see Space Shuttle Atlantis inside it’s relatively new $100 million dollar building. Upon first seeing Atlantis, a space shuttle that’s been to space and back 33 times, it’s not uncommon for visitors to be in a state of awe. The presentation is really that good as the retired orbiter is magnificently displayed at an angle, with its cargo bay doors open and robotic arm outstretched.
Space Shuttle Atlantis features state-of-the-art multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive exhibits and high-tech simulators that bring to life the complex systems and components behind this incredible feat of engineering. One of the most complicated and sophisticated pieces of equipment ever built, the shuttle is a vehicle that launched like a rocket, flew in orbit like a spacecraft and landed on a runway like a glider.
The immersive experience also shines a spotlight on the astounding achievements made over the course of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program, most notably, the building of the International Space Station and the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The whole display is superbly built and visitors can spend along time simply looking at Atlantis before trying out the Space Shuttle Launch Experience also housed in the same building. Here, guests can experience what veteran NASA astronauts call the next best thing to an actual space shuttle launch!
The experience will give you a feel of the g-forces as they push you back into your seat as you hurtle toward the heavens at simulated speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. Then as you begin to wonder if you’re really cut out for space flight, you suddenly reach orbit and the sensation of weightlessness takes over. For a brief moment, you feel as light as a feather, as if you’re floating in your seat. That’s just one of the incredible moments that astronauts live for –you’ll experience another as the shuttle’s payload bay doors open and you get a breathtaking view of Earth through an astronaut’s eyes – as a serene, cloud-covered blue marble set against a black, starlit sky.
Another not to be missed opportunity is the Kennedy Space Center bus tour. Previously KSC offered a choice of two bus tours and that confused guests as they didn’t know which one to take in order to see everything. Today, that problem has been cured as the tour now takes in a ride by visit to the Vehicle Assembly Building and the historic Launch Pads before arriving at the amazing Apollo / Saturn V Center.
The Apollo / Saturn V Center is a huge building that recognizes the start of the space race in the 60’s. Essentially, this is where it all began. On July 20, 1969, millions of people all over the world held their breath while a single man put his foot onto the moon’s surface. You are able to recapture the wonder and excitement of that day inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center – the one place in the world where you can reach out and touch a moon rock!
It is entirely possible to feel the space race come alive as you stand under the largest rocket ever made – the mighty Saturn V. The monumental 363-foot rocket was America’s lunar transportation for 27 brave astronauts who traveled to the moon and back, fulfilling the dreams and imagination of people around the world. The same sense of awe still overwhelms visitors today.
Finally, before you depart Kennedy Space Center, take a moment to visit the Astronaut Memorial. It’s the place where NASA’s fallen heroes are remembered. Those among the elite astronaut corps who gave their lives in the pursuit of knowledge that lies beyond our Earth. The massive 42½-foot-high-by-50-foot-wide black granite monument is emblazoned with the names of each of the 24 astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice, including the crews of Apollo 1, STS-51L/Challenger and STS-107/Columbia, as well as seven other astronauts who died in jet and commercial plane crashes. Their names are reflected by the shining granite as if to be projected into the heavens.
Dedicated in 1991, The Astronaut Memorial also was designated as a national memorial by Congress and President George Bush. The monument was created by The Astronauts Memorial Foundation and was paid for by Florida residents who purchased Space Shuttle Challenger automobile license plates.
Close by the memorial is a replica T-38 jet. The T-38 was a primary training tool for space shuttle astronauts because of its incredible speed, agility and ability to mock the space shuttle’s steep descent upon landing. It was also the primary mode of transportation for astronauts traveling between Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center during the week of launch.
The mission of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is simply to inspire the minds of all ages through memorable space experiences. KSC achieves that and so much more!
Make sure you allocate a full day for a visit to Cape Canaveral. It really is a once in a lifetime experience.
More photos from our day at Kennedy Space Center here.