Our family recently had a very rewarding trip to the NASA Kennedy Space Center. This article is an attempt to share why we found it rewarding and to provide tips for others to a successful trip to this Florida educational attraction.
The Kennedy Space Center website now shows the park open from 9 AM to 7 PM. However, when we were there, I recall the park open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Perhaps the hours were different because it was late December. Or, maybe they heard me grumbling because it closes so early.
We arrived at about 9:30 AM with tickets in hand, purchased in advance, for the 12:00 Lunch With An Astronaut and the 1:50 NASA Up-Close Bus Tour, with the latter being a 3 hour tour. We purchased these in advance on the web, which I would recommend to anyone as these apparently frequently sell out.
As we arrived, we had a little time to blow before the beginning of an IMAX film we planned to view, so we strolled around Rocket Garden. This is a collection of rockets and lunar modules arranged in an outdoor area. With our children, ages 4 and 6 respectively, this was a hit, and provided for some good photo opportunities. There are a couple of lunar modules that have been converted for people to sit in while a friend snaps a photo – pretty cool.
Soon thereafter, we strolled over to the IMAX theater to see “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D”,which is narrated by Tom Hanks. This is awesome. The 3D movie contains rare footage from the Apollo mission and is quite successful at making you feel as if you are on the moon. Do not miss this.
After this movie, we sat in the outdoor seating area for the Astronaut Encounter, a program wherein an astronaut stands up and talks about his experiences as an astronaut. On this day the astronaut was Charlie Walker, who has been up on the Space Shuttle an impressive 3 times. We were going to have lunch with him later via another event, so we were perhaps less interested that we would have been otherwise, but he kept our attention nevertheless. He did a particularly good job of describing, in detail, what it is like in the early moments of take-off.
With a bit of time to burn until our scheduled lunch with an astronaut, we strolled over to the Robot Scouts attraction. This was a hit with our younger children, but it should be noted that it is really for children. The attraction is designed to educate people on how NASA uses robots to do things physically impossible or at least difficult for humans to do.
We then went to our scheduled Lunch With An Astronaut, which we had purchased tickets to in advance. This turned out to be a quite nice buffet meal, certainly the best food at Kennedy Space Center. The aforementioned astronaut Charlie Walker stood in from of the group, spoke again about space travel, then held a brief question and answer session. I have to admit at being disappointed at the brevity of the Q&A, especially given that they did not get to my eagerly raised hand. All at the lunch received an autographed photo and were allowed an opportunity to take their photo with the astronaut afterward. This was well worth the money. Note that the group ranges in size from 40 to 50, or so they tell me. The day we were there I would guess 40 total attendees were in the room.
After lunch, we had a few minutes to burn, so we wandered around an adjoining room with different space exploration displays, which I believe is referred to as the Early Space Exploration exhibit. There were some interesting displays in this exhibit, which is well worth at least a short visit.
After this, we rushed over to the bus depot for our scheduled Up Close Bus Tour, a 3 hour bus tour that allowed us to get to areas we otherwise would have missed.
The first stop on the bus tour was the International Space Station Center, which is where parts are received from subcontractors for final preparation before shipping to the International Space Station by way of the Space Shuttle. We were able to view parts being prepped via a balcony level window.
The next stop, which lasted an hour, and was the highlight of the day, was the Apollo Saturn V Center. This is where you see an actual decommissioned Saturn V rocket, the most powerful rocket yet created, and which was used to take astronauts to the moon, laid on its side and suspended from the ceiling. If you have ever seen the picture from Kennedy Space Center of people standing below the back of 5 rocket engines, with each of the engine exhausts being about 2 human body lengths in width, this is where the picture was taken. The first half hour or so is a simulated Apollo launch, as viewed behind a simulated command center. This is also where one can touch a piece of the moon. An hour flew by here.
The third stop was at a viewing area for 2 rocket launch pads formerly used for Saturn V launches but since converted for Space Shuttle launches. This is an interesting but quick stop.
Along the way, we drove by the Vehicle Assembly Plant and the Space Shuttle Landing Runway, both interesting, but viewed from the bus as it goes by, which is adequate for these sites. After all, one is a big building, the other is a runway, and that is about it. Most interesting, all along the way the driver and our assigned guide talked about the history of rocketry, the history of NASA, the experience of space travel, how rockets work, etc. They talked all the time and EVERY minute was interesting. This alone made the bus tour quite worthwhile.
As Kennedy Space Center was closing we rushed into the Space Gift Shop. The store was great and the merchandise was cool and likely unique to Kennedy Space Center. However, the check-out lines were painfully slow, so after choosing several interesting and unique gifts, we abandoned the process after waiting 10 minutes in line out of what looked to be a 45 minute wait.
We then quickly ran over to view the Space Shuttle on display, which is set alongside a ramp that corKennedy Space Centerrews up to the 2 decks of the shuttle, allowing for entry and exploration, within confines. This is certainly worth the short walk. This quick walk also takes one by the Astronaut Memorial, a nicely designed memorial honoring those who have died in the pursuit of space exploration.
Regretfully, we ran out of time, and were not able to experience the Mad Mission To Mars, which appear to be a show highlighting efforts to get to mars. Consequently, I can’t say much about it, other that to say that I suspect it is worthwhile.
While we were there, we stayed in Cocoa Beach, which is known for its great surfing, and which is quite close. We looked for other interesting things to do in the area but frankly nothing grabbed our attention. You might check out the website forCocoa Beach to see if anything interests you. However, for anyone staying in Orlando, note that it is only about a one hour drive to Kennedy Space Center, sufficiently convenient to avoid relocating.
We did not make it to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is an associated attraction just a few minutes away. This stays open a couple of hours later that Kennedy Space Center itself, seemingly to allow people to spend the late afternoon and early evening there. It sounded interesting as we read about it, but we were frankly worn out after a quite full day of Kennedy Space Center.
This trip was great for children. It arouses healthy curiosity, develops an interest in science, and reinforces the value of education. I strongly recommend the visit and would encourage those doing the Disney World thing to take a quick one hour drive to this more education oriented attraction.