November 19, 2017

Taking off: A Tour of the Kennedy Space Center

Recently, our travels found us in southern Florida. Our prime goal was to escape the snow bound north, but we also had a much loftier ambition: to tour the Kennedy Space Center.

I had lived in Florida for about two years back in the nineties, but had never actually made it down to the Cape. To differentiate, Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center are actually two distinct and separate facilities; the Cape, properly referred to as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is the site for unmanned satellite and deep space probe launches. The Kennedy Space Center is a NASA owned facility and home of the space shuttle program. It’s amazing to think that this sprawling complex was and continues to be the site of so much modern American history.

We departed our hotel in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:30 PM for the three hour drive north. Our party consisted of myself, my wife Myscha, and our good friend Donna. Donna is Canadian and currently teaches in Ecuador; an instant message to my wife stating “how bout we meet in Miami for Easter break?” instigated the whole adventure. Unfortunately, the Shuttle Atlantis had just gone into orbit the week before in a spectacular night launch; I had hoped in vain for it to slip about a week.

We definitely did the right thing by arriving when the doors opened at 9am; the crowds were huge even on a work day. The throngs soon dispersed, however. NASA engineers have obviously studied the pedestrian traffic flow at the KSC and come up with a pretty novel solution. Several buses leave from the main entry point, but visitors are able to stay at each stop as long as they want and simply join another bus. This promotes exploration and doesn’t keep you tethered to a large group.

This isn’t your father’s Space Center…our friend (and rental car driver) Donna noted that the complex and tour had much expanded since her visit in the mid-70′s. Then, the Apollo program had ended, and the big educational push was Skylab. The first Space Shuttle piggy back flights had yet to even occur! Now the tour boasts several museums, a walk through of the original launch control center, a shuttle launch simulator, and multiple IMAX theaters, which were really highlight of the trip! We saw both “Journey to the International Space Station” and “The Moon: Magnificent Desolation” narrated of course, by Tom Hanks. I liked “Desolation” slightly better; it really gives you the feeling of being on the Moon. After years of 1950′s type planetarium slide-shows, I’m glad to see that educational science vid’s are finally reaching the production value of what kids are used to seeing in things like “Shrek”.

Also, don’t forget to catch one of the afternoon briefings in the Launch Status Dome dome near the Shuttle Plaza and Astronaut Memorial. Status briefings include whatever might be going on (usually at the ISS) that day. When we were there, the shuttle was docked at the ISS. They also had some interesting info on the upcoming Constellation/Aries program to the Moon and onward to Mars; check out this short video.

Wildlife lovers will note that much has been done to preserve much of Florida’s unique coastal wildlife that inhabits the grounds; nesting bald eagles were spotted while we were there. The center also boasts a wildlife museum near the Rocket Garden.

All in all, a day at the KSC was well spent. Be sure to allocate at least a full day; we arrived at 9AM and didn’t leave until past 6PM, and we were on the move the entire time! Admission price is 38$ dollars for adults and 28$ dollars for children, and annual passes can be had for 50$ adults/30$ children. This does not include admission for launches. Call 321-449-4400 for launch viewing info and tickets. An actual person will answer! Price varies from launch to launch, but the quote for the next shuttle launch on May 31st was 40.28$ adults/29.68$ children. The ticket is non-refundable and good in the very real event of cancellation for subsequent attempts. For unmanned launches from Cape Canaveral Air Station, viewing is simply included in admission. A good observation point would be the LC39 observation gantry, which the tour buses cover. Nearby RV parks are also a good option for further exploration.

So load up and take off on the great American road trip to the Kennedy Space Center on sunny Florida’s Space Coast. Few places boast so much 20th century history in one spot. And kids love it… maybe the first person on Mars is walking the grounds of KSC today!

 

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