Now while a resort park was on our agenda (we did Disney!), we also tacked on a few days at the start of our trip to do a little exploring of Florida’s Atlantic coastline.
We wound up spending two nights in Cocoa Beach, famous as the setting for the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie – but much to the disappointment of my pop culture heart, there is no actual home of Major Nelson to go see! Anyway, Cocoa Beach has lovely beaches and lots of great fishing, and it was also the perfect location for us to go and check out NASA over at Kennedy Space Center.
What person – child or adult – hasn’t been fascinated by astronauts, rockets and space?
Taking a cue from its surrounding amusement resorts, Kennedy Space Center is entirely oriented to family visits, and it certainly does thrill, inspire and educate visitors with the history of the space program and the future of space exploration!
Kennedy Space Center is the only place in the world where visitors can walk under the largest rocket ever flown, touch moon rock, meet a NASA astronaut, experience the International Space Station and stand nose-to-nose with Atlantis all in one day!
The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour is the only way to see the entire working space flight center. You get a drive-by look at KSC’s headquarters, operations and checkout buildings, the massive windowed launch control center; a mobile launch pad; a crawler transport and the three-mile gravel path to the two active launch pads as well as the hangars for Space X, the first commercial space program.
For me, the most iconic part of the bus tour seeing the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The VAB is that famous NASA building where all the rockets, capsules and space shuttles were assembled from the Apollo/Saturn V moon rocket through the Space Shuttle missions. It is the world’s largest single story building standing at 525 feet high and 518 feet wide, covering eight acres of land. It’s enormous doors take a whopping 45 minutes to either completely open or close! As a kid I remember watching so many shuttles roll out of that enormous building on a crawler transport to make the very slow (1 MPH) ride to the launch pad and blast off into space!
At the end of the Bus Tour we were dropped off over at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. After viewing a short video and a simulated take off of a rocket mission we got to walk beneath an actual Saturn V rocket. The Saturn V Moon Rocket was the most powerful rocket ever built and was used to launch all the Apollo missions into space. It spans 363 feet long…which is longer than a football field from end zone to end zone. The kidlets burned a lot of fuel of their own running underneath the entire length of the rocket!
I couldn’t stop imagining what the astronauts must have been thinking as they sat atop that enormous candle in a tiny metal capsule getting ready to be blasted into orbit. It’s amazing the confidence they had in the space program and yearning they had to find out what was beyond our tiny planet to put themselves at risk like that.
From there we looked at astronaut equipment, including how their space suits and helmets evolved. We also saw an actual space capsule and a lunar rover that was used on the moon before getting the chance to touch an actual moon rock.
Since the kidlets were starting to get restless, we opted not to stay to see a movie about the first moon landing and instead headed back towards the main Visitor Center to check out the Space Shuttle Atlantis®.
We were greeted at the Space Shuttle Atlantis building by a full-scale, 184-foot vertical replica of the space shuttle’s external tank and two solid rocket boosters, illustrating the magnitude of power needed to get it into space as compared to the Saturn V rocket.
After viewing a short film on a giant screen on the origin and history of the space shuttle program, the giant screen lifted to reveal Atlantis. I know I gasped at the sight – seeing the shuttle up close like that was awe-inspiring. The orbiter, which flew in space 33 times, is displayed titled on its side, just as if it was floating in space with its payload bay doors open and robotic arm extended, offering visitors a nearly 360-degree view of the shuttle.
I loved that they had a NASA engineer who was stationed right across from Atlantis. He had an actual shuttle tile, known as a high-temperature reusable surface insulation (HRSI) tile. It was a hands-on exhibit, so the kids got to pick it the tile and check it out. We were all amazed at how light the tile was. Such a big and important job for a little tile!
We had fun exploring the many interactive shuttle displays throughout the building. There was a replica of a NASA shuttle orbiter cockpit – where you could sit in the pilot seat and push the many buttons on its dashboard. There were several simulators that let visitors experience what it’s like to repair something in space (very difficult), land a space shuttle (even more difficult) and dock the shuttle to the International Space Station (the most difficult). We also checked out the Shuttle Launch Simulator, which gives you a pretty good idea what the first three minutes of any shuttle launch was like for astronauts.….
There was also a miniature space station to explore – my kidlets were oddly fascinated by the bathroom portion of that exhibit….
There was also a memorial called “Forever Remembered” to honor the 14 men and women who lost their lives on Challenger and Columbia’s ill-fated missions. It includes portraits of the fallen crew members and a selection of personal items provided by their family members. It also incorporates some of the recovered debris from each accident which is both a powerful and touching tribute to these heroes.
By this time, we had been at Kennedy Space Center for most of the day and we needed to take a little break. We headed over to KSC’s IMAX 3D Theater and watched a fascinating 45-minute film on the Hubble Telescope. The images from the Hubble are incredible – and made me realize just how tiny we are in relation to the rest of the universe. There is still so much out there in the universe to explore! If we had more time, we would have also checked out the other film they were showing, Journey To Space.
We wound up spending about eight hours at Kennedy Space Center and our day was packed, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see the History of Space Exploration, Astronaut Encounter, the US Astronaut Hall of Fame® or really explore the Rocket Garden. That will have to wait for another visit….
It was amazing how much there is to see, touch and experience at Kennedy Space Center and how fast the day went by. It is well worth the admission price of $50 per adult, $40 per child which includes access to the Space Shuttle Atlantis®, Shuttle Launch Experience®, Meet an Astronaut, the general KSC Bus Tour, both IMAX 3D films and other various shows & exhibits including Journey to Mars®: Explorers Wanted. You can also “upgrade” your experience for an additional fee for more in-depth bus tours and experiences such as “Lunch with an Astronaut.”
Spending time at Kennedy Space Center was a great experience for both the kidlets and us adults. It was educational AND fun and helped to pique the space bug in both my kids. We’ll definitely be back to visit and it would be great to try to time it to an actual rocket launch!
So just as every successful launch demands a pre-launch checklist of key information, so does every successful visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Here are a few of my tips and suggestions when planning your trip:
- Expect to spend anywhere from six to eight hours visiting Kennedy Space Center.
- Check out the Kennedy Space Center website before your trip to figure out which exhibits are on your must-see list.
- Order your tickets to Kennedy Space Center in advance so you don’ t have to wait on line upon arrival.
- Get there early, before the first scheduled bus tours which are at 10 am, to explore KSC’s front exhibits such as the Rocket Garden and Astronaut Memorial.
- Take the first bus tour so you can explore the Saturn V/Apollo exhibit before it gets too crowded
- Keep an eye out of NASA employees at various exhibits who give mini-presentations or demos to guests who ask.
- What your NASA/Kennedy Space Center “Go Bag” should include:
- A bottle or canteen filled with water
Save a little time out of your day to head over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge located on the KSC grounds. It includes 25 miles of undeveloped beach that forms the Canaveral National Seashore. More than 500 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are found here. Some of the animals such as the American bald eagle, sea turtle, wood stork, alligator and the ponderous manatee, are on the endangered or threatened species list.
Now it’s your turn to share. What is your favorite vacation memory?
For Full Disclosure: The Harried Mom was provided with press passes to Kennedy Space Center to facilitate this post. This blog was not compensated for this post and it does not contain any affiliate links. As always, the opinions expressed in this post and on The Harried Mom blog are all my very own and are not influenced in any way. Please do your own research before purchasing any products or visiting any location as your opinion may differ.
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