Space Shuttle Atlantis is one of just three such shuttles on display for the general public in the U.S. // © 2015 Kennedy Space Center
Feature image (above): In Kennedy Space Center's Rocket Garden, visitors can hop into space capsule replicas to get a first-hand feeling for astronaut life. // © 2015 Kennedy Space Center
Located in central Florida, close to Orlando and Daytona Beach, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the only place in the world where visitors can walk under the largest rocket ever flown, touch an actual moon rock, meet a veteran NASA astronaut and stand next to the space shuttle Atlantis — all in the same day.
Indeed, there's plenty to see and do at this must-visit museum on Merritt Island, Fla.
Tiptoe Through the Titans
Almost immediately, visitors will notice the spectacular rocket garden near the main entrance. With spacecraft that represent the very first unmanned missions into space as well as the earliest Apollo missions that would eventually travel to the moon, these majestic rockets stretch as high as 100 feet into the sky.
Among the rockets in the garden are the 77-foot Juno, which was used to launch NASA’s first satellites and the 109-foot Titan II, which was used for 12 Gemini missions. In addition, visitors can climb inside replicas of capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras to see what it was like for America’s first astronauts to travel into space and walk the same launch pad gantry used by the astronauts of Apollo 11 who first landed on the moon.
The Majesty of Atlantis
Also included in the general admission ticket is the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. One of only three space-flown orbiters on public display (the others are Discovery at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and Endeavor at California Science Center in Los Angeles), Atlantis is displayed as only spacewalking astronauts have seen her: rotated 43.21 degrees with payload doors open and her robotic arm extended.
Among the most complicated pieces of equipment ever built, the shuttles launched like a rocket, flew like a spacecraft and landed like a glider. The exhibit features more than 60 interactive experiences, a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation and high-tech simulators that bring this incredible feat of engineering to life.
Holding Out for a Hero
For a truly memorable experience, guests can make reservations for Lunch With an Astronaut. Offered daily, this unique opportunity allows visitors to find out what it’s really like to launch, live and work in space from veteran astronaut. After a short presentation about his or her personal experiences in space, the floor is open to questions, giving everyone a chance to ask everything they have ever wanted to know about being a member of NASA’s elite astronaut corps.
In addition to a buffet lunch, this experience also includes an opportunity to take photos with the presenting astronaut. Travel agents should note that seating is limited, and reservations are required.
Make Time to Tour
In addition, to all the amazing exhibits and experiences at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, there are also several off-site tours available such as the KSC Bus Tour. Included in the museum’s general admission ticket, the tour takes visitors for a drive-by view of a launch pad and then to see the historic Apollo 8 launch site and a massive 363-foot-long Saturn V moon rocket at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where guests are free to depart the bus and spend time exploring.
In addition, guided tours led by trained space experts are also available for those who are interested in taking an up-close look at specific aspects of Kennedy Space Center. Agents should note that reservations are strongly recommended for guided tours as they frequently sell out. Guided tours cost an additional fee.
When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, "an astronaut" is usually a pretty common answer. It’s very cool to think about being able to travel into outer space. And, what’s even cooler is that only about 500 people in the world have done it. At the Kennedy Space Center, kids and adults alike can see exactly why being an astronaut is so special by learning about the history of space travel and about its future.