Space Is Still The Place

by Kim Buttons

IT'S NOT TOO OFTEN that you actually witness history being made, but that is still what happens every day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, located at America’s NASA Launch Headquarters on Merritt Island in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Think there is no reason to visit since the space shuttle program has ended? Think again.

Though the space shuttle program has ended, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is still alive and well. In fact, there’s a flurry of activity on the grounds as America and the world continue the further exploration of space, and the KSC continues to be NASA’s processing and launch center.

The Visitor Complex, located about four hours from Fort Myers, is actually in the midst of the Kennedy Space Center, a working NASA facility from where every American manned mission has been launched, from the earliest Mercury missions to the latest space shuttle launches.

There is a lot of history to be explored at the Visitor Complex, so upon arrival you must make some choices concerning how to manage your time wisely in order to see as much as you can. There is more than enough to fill an entire day, with learning about how and why we got to the moon, but what is really exciting is a brand new tour that highlights how we are going to get to Mars, Mercury and possibly the moon, again.

The KSC Up-Close Tour is an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at integral parts of America’s space program, including a visit into the famed Vehicle Assembly Building, the mammoth structure that towers over the island, where rockets and space shuttles were assembled before being moved out onto the launch pads. Visitors have never before been allowed in the building, which now houses the space shuttles as they are being prepared to be transported to museums around the country.

The Up-Close bus tour is a must for anyone who has been interested in America’s space program. Along the way, you’ll drive out to the NASA Causeway, passing former space shuttle launch pads while learning about new launch platforms being designed for future missions. The tour is being offered for a limited time,. Expected to run at least through summer 2012, it can be ended at any time due to operational needs.

Bus tours start at 10am and depart continuously every 15 minutes until 2:45pm. The two hour tour is broken up into smaller segments that allow you to hop on and off the bus to enjoy various sights and exhibits at your own pace.

First stop is the LC 39 Observation Gantry, where you will enjoy stellar views of the two Shuttle Launch Pads.

The next stop brings you a little further back in time to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This awe-inspiring facility brings to life the challenges and excitement that the entire nation felt when racing to launch a man to the moon. The interactive experiences allow you to relive the sights and sounds of those historic moments. You will experience a realistic mock countdown to send an Apollo mission to the moon and in the Lunar Theater, what it was like to land on the moon. You will see the scorch marks on the outside of the Apollo 14 Command Module and marvel at the actual spacesuits that astronauts wore. You can even touch a genuine moon rock. The Apollo/Saturn V Center is probably the only place in the world where you can enjoy a piece of pizza while sitting underneath a 363-foot Saturn V rocket.

Back at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you can strap into a seat on the Shuttle Launch Experience to feel what it was like to launch into space atop seven million pounds of thrust and to experience the unique sights, sounds, and shaking of a launch on this simulator.

If you are not in the mood for experiencing seven million pounds of thrust you can still enjoy stunning views of earth and space viewing the 3D Imax films screened throughout the day.

There is more to see and do at the KSC Visitor Complex, from space-themed artwork and photography to sitting in a replica of a space capsule to walking among the towering historic rockets. You can even meet one of the few astronauts who have flown into space through scheduled Astronaut Encounters.

Just when you think you have seen everything, you will want to hop back in the car and travel to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame a few miles down the road. Admission to the Hall of Fame is included with your KSC Visitor Complex ticket. The Astronaut Hall of Fame has the largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia ever assembled, including personal mementos from true American heroes such as Buzz Aldrin, Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard, as well as selections from the astronauts’ journals. The Astronuaut Hall of Fame is open from 12-6pm.

What changes are planned for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex now that the space shuttle fleet has been retired? A brand new 65,000 square foot complex created to house Atlantis is scheduled to open in 2013, giving visitors an up-close view of an actual space shuttle used for human space flight. The orbiter will be displayed as if it is in flight and working, possibly with robotic arms and other work-related features on display. The new facility will also feature interactive exhibitions exploring the major accomplishments of the Space Shuttle Program, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station.

The Kennedy Space Center is open 9am-6pm daily. Expect to spend a full 6-8 hours at the Visitor Complex •

May-June 2012

The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
features selections from
astronauts’ personal journals.
Think there is no reason to
visit since the space shuttle
program has ended?
Think again.

Kennedy Space Center
Visitor Complex