About an hour east of Orlando in Merritt Island, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex cannot be called a theme park or a museum but it has elements of both. Like any healthy attraction, it’s constantly evolving and offering something new for visitors. And coming soon, the Complex will be the home for the just-retired Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Even though the shuttle isn’t ready for viewing yet that shouldn’t stop anyone whether they’re a space buff or not from visiting the Complex. There are plenty of displays, exhibits and fantastic presentations. It’s hard to see everything the Complex offers in a single day visit. This was not so in its past and it’s a testament to how the place has grown as a viable attraction.
The basic admission includes the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Tour, IMAX presentations (many of which are in 3D), the nearby U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Complex’s grounds.
A popular attraction is the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulates a shuttle launch for visitors. It’s a lot like the Mission: Space ride at Epcot only without the nausea, but it’s still a rough ride and according to many astronauts an authentic recreation of a shuttle liftoff. Next to the facility that houses the Shuttle Launch Experience is a well-detailed mock up of a shuttle called the Explorer. Visitors ascend a winding staircase to get into the craft’s hangar and further up for the cockpit. And next to the Explorer are mock ups of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank and boosters, those and the shuttle make for memorable photo ops.
Other places to get photos include the Rocket Garden, an outdoor showcase of the rockets and capsules used during the ’60s. These include the Titan and Atlas rockets (plus a huge Saturn IB) and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. In fact, visitors are allowed to climb into the claustrophobic. Nearby is the Early Space Exploration facility that features the actual capsules, artifacts and mission control consoles from the ’60s.
But the highlight of any visit is the KSC Tour. Although in-depth guided tours are available for additional fees, anyone can get a thorough visit with the KSC Tour. Buses at a terminal located off to the right of the Complex’s entrance plaza leave for the tour every fifteen minutes. A short ride will take visitors to the shuttles’ launch pads at the LC-39 Observation Gantry and even glimpse off in the distance the air force’s rocket launch pads. The next and final stop of the tour is a grand finale indeed. The Apollo/Saturn V Center boasts an overhead, mammoth 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket which rivals any giant dinosaur fossil display in a museum. There are also space suits, tools, a moon buggy and even a piece of moon rock that can be touched. Visitors can stay as long as they like in the Center before taking a bus back.
But the Complex isn’t just a place that looks at NASA’s past glories, there are many exhibits and attractions devoted to today’s space exploration. At the Astronaut Encounter Theater, visitors can meet and question guest astronauts. The Theater is also playing through December Star Trek Live, an engaging stage show featuring science facts and a time-travel themed storyline. Elsewhere, visitors can see up-close images from the Hubble Space Telescope or be part of Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted. An interactive, multimedia presentation on the possible future of space travel. There are even play areas in the Complex for children, a nature exhibit, an Astronaut Memorial, an art gallery and of course, souvenir shops.
To see everything at the Complex in one day is very difficult and not practical. So consider returning for a second visit. In fact, visitors who get their tickets validated when leaving can return for a second visit within a week. The admission prices are very favorable when compared to Orlando’s theme parks and the experience is much more educational and inspiring especially for future generations.
Article and Images by José Soto