A Trip Report to Kennedy Space Center

During the 3rd weekend of January (2010), we made a 5-day trip to Florida on a mission to cover as much as possible of the coastal regions between Cape Canaveral and Key West along with a day-trip to the Everglades National Park. We gave Orlando and the Gulf Region a miss altogether. Our flight was into Fort Lauderdale – the other popular options are Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville.

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is located in Cape Canaveral. The approach road takes on a deserted appeal as you close in to KSC – security restrictions coupled with the fact that the 3-mile radius of the launch facility is strictly out-of-bounds explains this. En-route from the west is the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame building and the Indian River. Admission at Kennedy Space Center is around $40 for Adults and around $30 for kids – expensive compared to the pricing at Houston Space Center. But, this pricing also includes admission to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame which we missed out as our limited time allowed covering only the attractions in the main facility.

As an FYI, from 1968 to date KSC has been the launch site for all US manned space flights, while its neighbor Cape Canaveral Air Force Station conducts the unmanned civilian launches. Also KSC is considered as part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge which was established by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in its quest for space exploration way back in 1963 and as such it is illegal to kill wildlife within the facility.

The attractions at the main Visitor Center include:

a) The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour: There are three stops on this tour which starts at 10 AM and operates continuously every 15 minutes. Though forty four air-conditioned buses are around to accommodate everyone, there is still some waiting involved. We were in by 10 AM and headed straight to the tour boarding area when the line was minimal and the wait was only around 15 minutes. The tour is estimated to take between 2.5 to 3 hours per their brochure – from our experience that is on the optimistic side for it took us well over four hours which included the lunch at Moon Rock Café (Apollo/Saturn V Center stop). All buses are operated by well-informed, keen-eyed personnel and suddenly the tour is a blend of all sciences. We saw a variety of birds, alligators, and even an eagle’s nest! There are three stops on the tour and after each stop it is a different bus.
  • Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry – the main attraction here is the gantry, a rectangular structure with stairs and elevator to reach the top from which there are panoramic views of the shuttle launch pads, the Crawlerway, the vehicle assembly building, and the Canaveral National Seashore. It also showcases a shuttle engine. The views are amazing but the most interesting was the Crawlerway – a wide gravel road from the shuttle assembly facility to the launch sites. The weight of the shuttle makes it impossible to transport through normal roads and hence a layered gravel surface is specifically laid and a giant tank (crawler-transporter) - transports it. The journey typically takes upwards of six hours for the 3.4 miles – the transporter is powered by two 2750 horsepower diesel engines, but still manages a speed of only 1 mph loaded. The stop also has an interactive exhibit area, a briefing film, and a small facility that serves light snacks.
  • Apollo/Saturn V CenterThis is a full-fledged facility with two theaters, a 363-foot moon rocket, a well-stocked eatery (Moon Rock Café), and several other displays. The Firing Room Theater re-creates an Apollo Launch and features the original Apollo moon-launch equipment, complete with IBM T-shirts wrapped over circa-1950 chairs. The Lunar Theater depicts the first moon landing.
  • International Space Station Center – This is a tour of the real-life facility where all the Space Station Tour preparations happen. One gets to really appreciate the hugely complex endeavor of constructing the International Space Station.
b) Shuttle Launch Experience: This is a simulation of the shuttle launch where around twenty people are seated inside a capsule (restricted to participants taller than 48 inches, health based restrictions also apply) watching a movie that attempts to simulate the shuttle launch – the capsule moves and the seat tilts and shakes and there is also the 3G effect thrown in as a bonus. Bags and cameras need to be stowed away - lockers are provided just outside the entrance and a quarter is all that is required to access it. As this is the most popular attraction at the site the lines can get long. Our total wait was less than 30-minutes even though our timing could have been better – it was right after the bus tour around 2 PM when the line was substantially long and the wait time displayed outside showed 40 minutes. The experience consists of two sessions – a preparatory commentary with some simulations and a giant display that get you prepared for the “journey” and the actual simulation ride. Despite the popularity, we rate this experience below average for it was not much different from some of the rides we have experienced at other theme parks.

c) IMAX Movie – Magnificent Desolation – Walking on the Moon: A 40-minute wonderful experience that attempts to simulate a moon landing and moon walk using a 3-D movie and commentary by Tom Hanks. This was the first 3-D experience for our kids and we found them repeatedly trying to touch the projections, which reminded us of our first 3-D experience many years back. We rate this movie among the best IMAX movies we have seen so far.

d) IMAX Movie – Space Station: A 45-minute movie which show the day-to-day activities of the Space Station crew in 3-D with narration by Tom Cruise. While we adults were captive audience again, the kids found it a bit boring and long-winded.

e) Shuttle Explorer – This is a self-guided walk-through of a full-scale orbiter replica.

f) Others: There are many other attractions in and around the main visitor center and those include – Astronaut Encounter a 25-minute “Meet a Real Astronaut” event, Rocket Garden Tours, Launch Status Center with live briefings, a new gallery that showcase images from the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA Art Gallery, and a Children’s play dome (restricted to kids under 48 inches tall).

A day-trip is barely enough to experience what is on offer at KSC. Ideally, this should be absorbed in two days and that is probably why the tickets are valid for two days. Additional time should be set aside for exploring the other parts of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cocoa Beach.

KSC was very inspirational for our kids so much so that one of them has firmly decided to become an astronaut and the other into ground operations. President Kennedy’s famous words announcing the moon-launch “we choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard” has become choice words in our house hold. Overall, we rate KSC among the Top Five sights in the US and rank it first for inspiration for it made believers of our kids.





Related Posts:
  1. A Trip Report to Key West, FL.
  2. A Trip Report to Everglades, FL.
Last Updated: 02/2011.

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