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A Day Trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

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It was my very first visiting the Kennedy Space Center and I was super excited to finally be going!  Here’s a quick rundown of my thoughts:

  • Pros:  A great place for space nerds, lots of photo ops, a fun learning experience.
  • Cons:  Much too boring for young children (and some uninterested adults), not enough seating areas during the mandatory showing of films in many attractions, one day was not enough to visit all attractions.
  • My Favorites:  Anything that had to do with the Challenger and Columbia disasters, especially the “Forever Remembered” memorial.
  • Conclusion:  If you have a great interest in NASA and humanity’s research into outer space, annnd you do not have young children with you, DO IT!!!  Otherwise, the ticket price of $50 plus $10 for parking may not be worth it.  I even think next time going alone, so I can spend some “me-time” taking pictures and geeking out about outer space may be a pretty good idea.
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The Rocket Garden

THE BUS TOUR

We headed to the bus tour first and were lined up by 9:30 a.m.  They had already loaded up one bus-full of folks actually, and there was a short line of people waiting to get on the next bus.  I would say that not even 5 minutes later, the line of people had quadrupled.

I have been advised on multiple forums to sit on the right side of the bus.  Everyone keeps saying that everything is best viewed from the right side.  So, that was sole my mission as soon as I stepped in – sit on the right side of the bus!  Come to find, this is subjective based on what you want to see.  The one huge thing you will not get a good view of if you are sitting on the right side is the renowned Launch Pad 39A, which launched every moon mission, such as Apollo 11 and Apollo 13.  For me, this is the most important thing I wanted to see during the bus tour, so I will always be sitting on the left side of the bus from now on.

From the right side of the bus, though, here are some of the things you can see:

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Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)
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Mobile Launch Platform

There was also a gator spotting x2 early in the bus tour, but I have no pictures of that due to being preoccupied trying to shush my kid (continue reading below).

The bus tour could have been fun, except for the fact that my 15-month-old son and 8-month-old niece found it to be the ultimate boredom experience.  My 15-month-old decided he wanted to sing and yell at the top of his lungs during the entire 45-minute ride.  In fact, the bus driver even called him out jokingly, announcing  “So, it looks like we have a singer on board today!”  Yep, that’s my kid.  And yes, he tried to sing over the tour guide’s commentary the entire time.  (Sorry to everyone who decided to board this specific bus.  Sorry!)

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It’s more fun to kiss one’s own reflection!  (Baby Cousin watches in awe)

APOLLO/SATURN V CENTER

After the screaming-kid fiasco (with the kid happening to be mine), I was more than happy to get off the bus tour.  The bus drops everyone off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  If you need a stroller or wheelchair, these are available once you get off the bus, first-come, first-served.  They then make you go into this big dark room and watch a film, which I found out is what they do for every attraction – make you watch a film or two first (mostly standing room-only), then you are free to roam about the attraction.

So, once you get off the bus, you enter a big and very dark room (standing-room only) where they show a film about the space race.  After that film, you are then ushered into the next room, a theater made to resemble a firing-room, where you watch another film on the launching of Apollo 8, with a 4D-ish experience happening as you watch the film (sounds, shutters banging, etc.).  Parents with strollers and those who are wheelchair-bound should sit in the very front as there are no stairs to maneuver.

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The Firing Room for Apollo 8

Side note, though the films are extraordinary and full of interesting information, the fact that 1) There is nowhere to sit during many of the films, making it wildly inconvenient for those who cannot stand for long periods of time, and 2) Kids find it boring and get antsy, made every film-viewing experience a nuisance.  Once again, I will repeat my conclusion that very young children will not have fun at Kennedy Space Center.  My son got bored, and my baby niece got scared by the loud noises during the films.

After the two films, they finally let you wander about the Apollo/Saturn V Center.  One of the most interesting exhibits here was “Ad Astra Per Aspera:  A Rough Road Leads to the Stars,” which is a tribute to the fallen astronauts of Apollo 1, including Astronaut Edward Higgins White.  I found this personally interesting as one of the very first jobs I had was working the night shift at Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and I still remember every day that I would pass a huge picture of Ed White in the main lobby near the elevators at the hospital.  Edward Higgins White, along with his co-pilots, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, were all killed in a cabin fire during a rehearsal test launch on January 27, 1967.  The “Ad Astra Per Aspera” exhibits pays tribute to these three men of Apollo 1 and displays some of their personal belongings.

Another thing I found interesting at the Apollo/Saturn V Center was “The Eagle Has Landed” film, shown at the Lunar Theater.  The film relives the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, and it is both very exciting and inspiring.  My son actually enjoyed this one, waving at the lunar module and “Neil Armstrong.”

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Touch a piece of the moon!

Once we were done, we followed the signs to the buses.  Return buses depart from the Apollo/Saturn V Center every 20 minutes, and they drop you off back at the Visitor Complex, right in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.

SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS

“Thirty-three missions, 26 years, over 126 million miles.  Atlantis, welcome home!”

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Outside the Atlantis exhibit

This was our second big stop, and there is a lot to do at the Space Shuttle Exhibit.  Expect to watch a couple more films before they open up the exhibit hall to you.  The films being shown here are pretty cool though!  You will learn all about how the space shuttle that “launched like a rocket and landed like a glider” came into being, which I found very interesting.

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Cool film effects before the Atlantis exhibit.

Once inside the actual exhibit, you will see Atlantis in its entirety.  The best place to take a picture is by going up the short flight of steps so you can capture the entire span.  After spending a few minutes here, there is plenty more to learn about.  My other favorite things to do here were crawl through a compartment of the International Space Station (beware those with claustrophobia and fear of heights!) and ride the Shuttle Launch Experience.  Small children cannot go on this ride, so Grandma was kind enough to watch my kid while I experienced “the next best thing to an actual shuttle launch.”  It is lots of fun, and definitely not as scary as they try to make it.  Some people do chicken out at the end after watching the film they show you before the ride.  It is not so bad, really.  However, if you have made it all the way to just before the ride and decide it is not for you, just tell the staff member and there is a waiting room you can wait in and watch the others “blast off.”

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Space Shuttle Atlantis

Of all the exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center, the one that I found truly touching was the “Forever Remembered” memorial, paying tribute to the 14 astronauts who lost their lives in the Challenger and Columbia disasters.  Make sure to visit this area and read about the lives of these remarkable men and women, who were waving happily as they embarked on their mission, not knowing the ultimate sacrifice they were about to make.  A couple of pieces of the debris from the disasters are also on display, such a somber and surreal experience.  President Reagan said, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.”  We could not have the advancements and knowledge we have today without the contributions of these brave men and women.

NOT ENOUGH TIME!

We spent a lot of time between Apollo/Saturn V and Atlantis, and of course the kids needed a break.  We let them play in the children’s play dome for a while, and after that there was just enough time to do a couple more activities.  Another cool spot at the Kennedy Space Center is Heroes and Legends, which is the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  Also, on a hot day, make sure to bring bathing suits for the kids because they have a splash pad near the Heroes and Legends building (and my kid will never turn down a splash pad!).

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Playing in the splash pad!

If you want to see everything, one day is not enough time at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex!  There is so much to explore, and we will be back soon!

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