For anyone fascinated by space exploration, a visit to the Kennedy Space Center is a bucket-list destination. Since December 1968, the KSC has been NASA's primary launch center of space flight. Launch operations for the Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs were carried out from here.
The 144,000-square-mile Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is located in Cape Canaveral on Florida's "Space Coast", midway on the state's Atlantic coast between Jacksonville and Miami, and 35 miles east of Orlando.
The Center is named for President John F. Kennedy, who committed the US to "race to the moon" in 1962:
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
By 1969, the moon race was over, but space exploration continues at the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers many exhibits and experiences, including a rocket garden, children’s play space, two IMAX theaters, Astronaut Hall of Fame and Astronaut Memorial, and multiple cafes, gift shops, and much more. The newest exhibition, "Heroes and Legends," opened in 2016 and is devoted to early space programs.
In other words, set aside a good chunk of time to explore. You can also take a bus tour through restricted areas used by NASA for space launches. You could easily spend a day here and still not see everything.
You can also purchase VIP experiences such as Fly With An Astronaut, special interest tours, or Cosmic Quest. If you plan to take advantage of these options, consider a multi-day ticket or annual pass to experience more than one tour.
The Kennedy Space Center is entirely oriented to family visits and intended to thrill and inspire kids with the history of the space program and the vision of space exploration.
A visit to the Kennedy Space Center has various aspects:
- A chance to see the real-life place where the Apollo moon missions were launched, and where space shuttles and other missions are launched today
- An excellent science-museum type of experience
- VIP experiences like Fly with an Astronaut, where you get to board the Shuttle Launch Experience and find out what it feels like to launch into space on a shuttle traveling 17,500 mph, with a veteran NASA astronaut at your side
- Cosmic Quest is a live gaming experience that lets you find out what it's like to launch a rocket, redirect an asteroid, build a Martian habitat, and perform scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station
Tips for Visiting
Allow a full day to visit. Much of your time will be taken up with a 2-1/2 hour guided bus tour of Restricted Areas that takes you past two giant launch pads; the Vehicle Assembly Building, the largest building in the world; the 3-1/2 mile crushed-rock "crawlerway" along which the Space Shuttle gets hauled to the launch pad; the gargantuan "crawlers" that do the hauling.
Buses depart every 15 minutes from the Visitor Complex, the point of entry to the KSC. The tour includes a stop at Launch Complex 30 Observation Gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
You'll want to get off the bus and spend a few hours in the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which has a cafeteria, one of several restaurants on-site. There is a fully restored 363-foot Saturn moon rocket.
Also at the Apollo/Saturn V Center are the Lunar Surface Theater and the Firing Room Theater, which bring to life dramatic milestones in the Apollo moon landing series.
Meanwhile, at the Visitor Complex itself, you'll find:
- Two I-Max Theaters
- Children's Play Dome
- A replica of a NASA shuttle orbiter that you can tour
- Programs such as Fly with an Astronaut, where families can find out what it feels like to launch into space
- Giant gift store, with space-themed Lego, K'nex, and lots, lots more
- Rocket Garden
Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher