This is a family trip you just can’t put off! We added this to our Disney Trip, and boy do we regret it! I mean we only put a one day visit aside for it and this is easily a two day experience! I went with my boys, years 4 and 8, my wife, mother and step father who is like me, a bit of a space buff.
The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the U.S. launch site that has been used for every NASA human space flight since December 1968. Today the KSC is very different. The main Visitor Center is an expansive complex that resembles a modern-day amusement park. It’s attractions feature an Early Space Exploration exhibit, Rocket Garden, children’s playspace, 2 IMAX shows, an Astronaut Hall of Fame and Astronaut Memorial, youngsters enjoy hands-on exhibits, cafes, gift shops, and much more. A bus tour will take you outside the Visitor Center to catch views of the legendary launch pads and up to the Apollo/ Saturn V center. The website recommends some sample itineraries, but I can attest that it is easy to spend eight hours at KSC without seeing everything. If you haven’t been there recently, it’s time to go again!
KSC offers many different types of tours and experiences, so we checked out their website prior to departure to see what options are of interest to my family and fit into our budget. I purchased the KSC tickets for my family online to avoid the lines on-site.
If you really want to splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), which includes a half-day of astronaut training including riding simulators, and building your own rockets. It is only offered on weekends but you can still try the Atlantis flight simulator. Alas, this is a bit on the expensive side and well we’ll have to add it to our next visit.
When you arrive at KSC, you will probably want to head in one of two directions, the Atlantis exhibit or the terminal for bus tours and the Apollo/Saturn V — as these are the biggest attractions at KSC.
Once we entered the gates, we made a b-line for the launch pad buses. This is one of the items that you NEED to plan because the tour is a total of 90 minutes and the buses stop running at 3:30pm. I wanted to be sure that we didn’t miss this opportunity.
Once we were on the buses, they took us past the giant facility that holds the rockets and ships until launch day. We drove right past that old four story stand and got to see all the launch pads up close from the comfort of the bus. As Florida tends to be a bit hot at times and walking can wear you down, the cool bus tour is a nice experience. The machines that drive those rocket ships down to the pads are huge even the rocket path is something you just have to see in person.
The tour dropped us off at the Apollo/Saturn V center, where we stood under the largest rocket ever made, 363-feet long. When we first entered, we viewed a short multimedia presentation about JFK’s goal to put a man on the moon. From there, we entered into a viewing area overlooking the control center for the Apollo 8 mission and saw what it was like to manage the mission here on land. You can easily spend at least an hour at the Apollo/Saturn V center, taking in the show, touching a moon rocks, and examining the Saturn rocket. Once you take the bus back to the visitor center you can fill your time with some of the other exhibits.
Another thing you might want to look at is whether or not a launch is scheduled. When we visited, a SpaceX launch was scheduled for that week. We did catch a distant glimpse of the rocket on the active launch pad from our Launch Pad Tour, although the SpaceX rockets are so narrow it was nearly indistinguishable from the tower next to it.
We were bummed we couldn’t visit the day of the launch but in turn it made a great follow up to our visit to view the livestream of the launch a few days later.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
Do you remember the Space Shuttle Atlantis? The 90,000 square-foot, marquee Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, is the $100 million home of the historic spacecraft. The really cool one first launched in 1985 that was made to land like an airplane and the backside opened up? Yeah, that’s suspended from the ceiling and you can stand next to it. I will not ruin the way you are introduced to it, because that is an amazing and surprising experience that will give you chills!
On approach, you are greeted with a full-scale, 184-foot space shuttle stack, including external tank and two solid rocket boosters. We were lucky enough to walk right through to the first multimedia exhibit without a wait. KSC does a great job of moving people through, by starting with a short-film and then moving you on to another area to finish telling the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program. The Space Shuttle Atlantis features state-of-the-art multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive exhibits and high-tech simulators. We had fun using touchscreen monitors to find the right speed to attaining low earth orbit, using Microsoft Kinect technology to accomplish a spacewalk mission, and operate simulations of the space arm. It was easy to spend two hours in this exhibit alone…learning about the Hubble telescope, International Space Station, what life in space is like, and about all the decades of shuttle missions and astronaut heroes. We could even crawl through a space station model and kids can zoom down a slide that showcases how the shuttle glides in for a landing.
Interactive Exhibits in the Atlantis Exhibits
The kids and I had a blast with the Shuttle Launch Experience simulator. This is the crown jewel of the Atlantis exhibit. It looks like lines can sometimes be long, but again we were lucky and walked right up to the entrance. As throughout the exhibit, they do a good job of keeping waiting crowds entertained with interviews from actual astronauts. They did such a good job of convincing us that the launch simulator is very like the real thing that grandma got too nervous to go through with the simulator.
Before I was a parent I never really paid attention to hands on stuff. Because taking a kid anywhere leads to them wanting to touch everything it can cause you to spend your whole visit stressed out about them climbing on or breaking something. Kennedy Space Center does and amazing job creating tons of hands on and interactive exhibits just for kids. They can climb, crawl, touch, slide, move and play all day if they want! This is a chance to learn about history, expose them to new ideas and have fun, the casual visit is great but I definitely plan on returning for a pair of days to take our time in the future.