Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

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

Advertisements

Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center

The traveling exhibit Star Trek: The Exhibition is currently running through this summer at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as part of the Center’s Sci-Fi Summer. Showcasing the world of Star Trek, the Sci-Fi Summer program presents how the science fiction world of Trek helped to influence the development of our technology. It’s a great place to go if you are a Star Trek or science fiction fan not just because of the Trek-themed exhibits and attractions but because it melds that sci-fi aspect to NASA’s real life world. You get to see where we’ve been and how far we have to go.

Star Trek: The Exhibition features a scale model of the Enterprise, and the actual props and costumes used in the Star Trek shows and films. At the KSC, the exhibit is broken up into two different buildings. One where IMAX films are shown (and is currently presenting Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 3D) has a room dedicated to the original Star Trek series, though props and costumes from the Kirk-era films can be seen. The highlight is a well-detailed replica of the original Enterprise bridge complete with dedication plaque, consoles and the captain’s chair that anyone can sit on for golden photo opportunities.

At another building near the tour bus terminal is a larger exhibit room dedicated to Star Trek: The Next Generation,  as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. This exhibit displays a mock-up of the Reman Scorpion fighter craft seen in Star Trek: Nemesis and partial recreations of the Enterprise D’s sickbay and engine room. There are models,  numerous props and costumes worn and used by the actors and a Klingon chair that you can sit on (there are also captain chairs from the Enterprise B and D but those are roped off). Additionally one side of the exhibit’s wall has a mural with a detailed timeline of NASA and Trek history. The opposing wall displays the costumes. A nice touch to this exhibit were two actors dressed as Vulcans from the far future who stayed in character and interacted with visitors. The uniforms they wore were the ones worn by 29th century Starfleet officers as seen in the Voyager episode “Relativity.”

The KSC has Trek costumes and factoids peppered throughout the facility with several famous delta shield symbol on the grounds that act as arrows to guide visitors to Trek-related exhibits and attractions. For example one path lead sto the rocket garden where a floor painting shows how large the Enterprise ships are in comparison to the horizontally displayed Saturn 1B rocket. It’s staggering to consider how large the Trek ships are when you walk the length of the rocket. There was so much to see at the KSC that one could easily spend an entire day on the grounds. Continue reading