The road trip from Naples Florida to Cape Canaveral will take 4 hours and is a 250 mile trip.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Even before astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered those famous first words as he set foot on the moon, man has always been fascinated with space, and what lies beyond. That’s why it’s no surprise that the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Florida’s east coast welcomes more than 2.5 million visitors annually.
Serving as the gateway to Launch Complex 39, where NASA prepares and launches the space shuttle, the 70-acre Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex encompasses an awe-inspiring array of space artifacts, audio/visual presentations, authentic rockets, educational exhibits and spectacular IMAX movies. If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing the life of an astronaut, this is the place to make that dream come true.
The adventure begins one hour east of Orlando, six miles inside the Space Center entrance. After passing through Information Central, guests are only steps away from Spaceport Theater where two complimentary movies, “Boy From Mars” and “Apollo 13: Houston We Have A Problem” are shown throughout the day. Next is Satellites and You where guests take a 45-minute journey through a simulated future space station and learn how satellites work to improve life on Earth.
If the youngsters are getting a little restless, this might be the perfect time to visit the outdoor Rocket Garden and its collection of eight authentic rockets from past eras. Here’s a chance to view a Mercury-Atlas rocket, similar to the one used to launch John Glenn into space in 1962, when he became the first NASA astronaut to orbit the Earth. Nearby, the Children’s Space Dome lets junior astronauts explore the Visitor Complex’s space playground, complete with a scaled-down version of the Space Shuttle/Space Station Gym.
Recently there’s been a renewed interest in space exploration among children and adults, thanks to the recent mission undertaken by Glenn. >From October 29 to November 7, 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn made history once again as the oldest human to fly in space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Glenn was chosen to serve as a payload specialist on the crew of STS-95, a mission designed to conduct various research projects including deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, and investigations on space flight and the aging process. Since aging and space flight share similar physiological responses, such as bone and muscle loss, balance disorders and sleep disturbances, the study of space flight could help scientists interested in understanding aging.
But before NASA made the decision to fly Glenn, the U.S. senator underwent a battery of medical tests conducted by NASA physicians and independent consultants, who pronounced him medically qualified for space flight.
In his web site prior to the mission, Glenn stated, “I will be a test subject for what I believe will be an expanded effort by NASA and NIA to study the aging process in other older persons. At 77 years of age I will be the oldest astronaut to fly in space by 16 years and nearly twice the age of the average astronaut.”
The world’s oldest astronaut ended his nostalgic return to orbit with a smooth touchdown of the winged spaceship on Nov. 7 at 12:03 p.m. EST. Though Glenn appeared wobbly and worn as he walked to the runway following the landing, NASA said initial examinations of the crew found no significant or out-of-the ordinary medical problems among any of the astronauts. Balance problems are normal after landing, even for astronauts returning from short flights.
Glenn said that his shuttle mission was every bit as satisfying as his history-making ride aboard Friendship 7 back in 1962.
“I got great satisfaction the first time out of just being up there and being the first one to do this for our country,” he said. “And here I am all these years later.”
It’s no wonder that space, with its aura of mystery, is seeing a surge in popularity. With the tremendous amount of exposure Glenn’s second historic mission has received, people all over the world are focusing their attention on space flight and, in turn, the Kennedy Space Center.
Next on the Center’s tour is the Gallery of Space Flight, containing real spacecraft and other artifacts, including authentic Mercury and Gemini capsules that have orbited the earth. Inside the Mission to Mars pavilion, exhibits and films detail the ongoing robotic science missions to Mars.
Visitors can take a moment to remember the lives of astronauts lost in the name of space exploration by visiting the Astronaut Memorial. Dedicated on May 9, 1991, this Space Mirror monument tracks the movement of the sun throughout the day, using reflected sunlight to illuminate the names cut through the monument’s surface.
It’s just a short walk to the Shuttle Plaza where sightseers can climb aboard the Explorer, a full-size shuttle replica, and imagine how it would feel to “go where no man has gone before.” Inside the Launch Status Center, live mission briefings on a variety of space-related topics are offered on an hourly basis.
By this time, most guests will have worked up an appetite. Fortunately, it’s only a short stroll to Mila’s Roadhouse Grill, the Orbit Restaurant or the Lunch Pad Restaurant. Though early NASA astronauts had to eat food squeezed from toothpaste-like tubes, Space Center visitors fare much better.
The Lunch Pad offers breakfast and lunch entrees, the Orbit specializes in southern cuisine, salads, sandwiches and homemade pastas, and Mila’s Roadhouse is a ’50s and ’60s style diner open for lunch and dinner. For those who prefer to snack and go, several concession stands serve burgers, pizza, hot dogs, beverages and ice cream.
Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the world’s only back-to-back twin IMAX theaters. Three exciting, large-format movies are shown on screens over five stories high, accompanied by a thunderous sound system that makes visitors feel like they’re standing on the launch pad during a shuttle launch. Movie tickets are $7.50 for adults and $6.50 for children ages three to 11.
Though the Visitor Complex appears to offer an endless number of exhibits and attractions, this is only the beginning. Get ready for the thrill of a lifetime as you board the bus for a tour of Kennedy Space Center – the only way to tour Launch Complex 39 located within a secured area. Highlights of the tour include the new International Space Station Center, the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Visitors to the International Space Station Center have an opportunity to peek inside the actual facility where NASA processes the real components of the International Space Station. An elevated walkway brings guests to a viewing gallery, which overlooks bays where each space station module is checked out, processed and readied for its trip into orbit. Full-scale replicas of space station modules are also on display.
Many guests arrive at the Kennedy Space Center with one goal in mind, to catch a glimpse of the actual space shuttle launch pads. The LC 39 Observation Gantry makes it all happen, with its 60-foot tower located less than half a mile from one of two launch pads.
Through dramatic multimedia shows and hands-on displays, the Apollo/Saturn V Center offers an exhilarating look into the United States space program’s missions to the moon. A highlight of the Kennedy Space Center tour, this stop offers visitors a firsthand look at the monstrous 363-foot Saturn V rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built.
Tours of the Kennedy Space Center begin at 9:30 a.m. and depart every 15 minutes until two hours before nightfall. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for children ages three to 11.
Special “crew” passes – at $19 for adults and $15 for children ages three to 11 – include the Kennedy Space Center tour and one IMAX film. Admission prices may be inaccurate, so please call ahead of time and check latest rates.
The Visitor Complex offers every amenity imaginable, including free use of kennels, free strollers and wheelchairs (all exhibits and tours are wheelchair accessible) and special assistance for hearing impaired and physically challenged visitors.
Guests can purchase mementos of their visit at the Space Shop, which stocks over 8,000 space-related items ranging from clothing and collectibles to photos and videos. For those who can’t make the trip in person, mail orders are available by calling 800.621.9826.
The Complex opens daily at 9 a.m., and closes only on Christmas Day. Admission and parking are free. For more information about this fascinating look at space travel, phone 407.452.2121 or visit their web site at www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.