Oftentimes when I come home after a long day of working, I look up into the sky with awe. What I typically see from my Southwest Florida home is a dark sky dotted with countless gleaming stars, the moon and on a good night a couple of planets.
Space exploration fascinates me and if you’re a regular reader, you already know this about me. It’s been a year since I last visited so I made my annual pilgrimage to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Brevard County, Fla., earlier this month. It’s an easy three-hour drive across the state and I made it a day trip, although, a visit to the Space Coast makes a fun weekend excursion, too, especially when Tuckaway Shores Resort is your home base.
Think this excursion is only for kids? I’m sure the little ones will enjoy it because visiting with my grandparents inspired me when I was 11 years old, but the KSC Visitor Complex is fascinating for adults, too. Rather than visiting solo, four friends who were all first timers joined me which allowed me to share in the spacey goodness that is NASA. And I admit, there were many moments throughout the day when I felt like a kid.
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking since the space shuttle program ended, NASA is dead, right? Heck, no! NASA and private industry, such as SpaceX and Boeing, are making things pretty much out of this world and there seem to be more rocket launches than ever before. Things are getting exciting with the NASA journey into deep space exploration to Mars.
A suggested itinerary was provided to me however if you’re not sure where to begin with your trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, stop in the Information Center at the entrance. They’ll provide you with the day’s happenings and can plan your day.
Take a Trip to the Red Planet
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers visitors the new, 10,000-square-feet interactive attraction called “Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted” to showcase what future astronauts and visitors can expect on a journey to the Red Planet. I’m told this is the only comprehensive and permanent Mars-centric exhibit in the U.S. and I have to say, it was pretty fun trying my hand at steering a rover over the Mars surface. At scheduled times throughout the day a space expert presents and interacts with visitors on how space exploration of the past and present will lead astronauts to Mars.
Afterward, my friends and I picked up some popcorn, grabbed our special glasses and enjoyed the new Journey To Space® 3D film which is narrated by Patrick Stewart. My little space heart was bursting with pride watching this film which is a takes a historical look at the Space Race and how scientists and engineers are preparing for deep space exploration.
Where They Grow Rockets
We wandered through what is probably one of my favorite attractions at KSC, the Rocket Garden. I’m simply fascinated with their combined power and beauty. For the record, rockets aren’t technically grown here, but they are built and during the Kennedy Space Center bus tour, we rode by some key NASA facilities including the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Pad 39-A which SpaceX is preparing for their rocket launches. They’re building their space craft horizontally vs. vertically, which is pretty nifty.
Dining at the Orbit Café
We had worked up an appetite, since we all had early starts to the day, and one of my friends read something about the Orbit Café having the best burgers in the galaxy! Hello bragging rights! The café had these nifty kiosks where we used a touch-screen to enter our order and paid with a debit card. We took our receipt to the counter and waited for our order.
Interestingly, in the waiting area there’s a display of lettuce being grown hydroponically. Of course this was inspired by research in space and according to the display, the attraction’s vendor, Delaware North, grows many of their veggies in that manner to serve at KSC. How amazingly cool is that? My lunch of choice was a black bean burger…with cheese…and bacon! Yeah, yeah. No judging, please. The burger was delish and to my surprise, moist. My friends, who ordered meat burgers, were happy with their meal choices.
Jiggle Like an Astronaut
Touring “Space Shuttle Atlantis” was next on the agenda and as always, seeing the orbiter took my breath away. It’s probably the fifth time I’ve seen it but I still get teary-eyed when that curtain is raised to reveal a retired orbiter sitting in her glory after having flown 125,935,769 miles.
My friends and I enjoyed the 60-some other interactive exhibits and simulators including the space toilet (it’s a display and not for actual use) and the feeling of weightlessness by crawling through a 22-foot-long clear tube suspended 25 feet in the air. Holy cow! I was scared the tube would break apart with me in it but all was well.
Once we were confident lunch had settled it was time to take off like a space shuttle astronaut in the Shuttle Launch Experience which is supposed to provide the closest feeling of a shuttle launch. Is it scary? Not really, but it sure gets the adrenaline pumping. One of my friends commented how she didn’t realize she had jowls until that ride!
Remembering and Paying Respects
The new “Forever Remembered” exhibit had me in tears probably because the space shuttle is representative of my generation. It honors the crew of Challenger and Columbia and the respective orbiters in a beautiful and respectful manner. A couple of friends missed it but when you visit, be sure to walk down the entire length of the corridor and turn right. It’s a dark room with a simple yet powerful display of Challenger’s left side panel to one side and Columbia’s cockpit windows to the other.
Hop on the Bus, Gus.
Rounding out the day was the Kennedy Space Center bus tour and although I’ve been on it countless times, it’s always different. Launch pads are being prepared for the next stage of space exploration and I always learn something new from the guides. The tour includes a stop at the Apollo/Saturn V Center to admire the monster Saturn V rocket, an early space exploration exhibit and display where touching a moon rock is encouraged.
Meeting a Space Rock Star
I must say, the highlight of the day was meeting astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D. who flew on four space shuttle missions. I’m looking forward to reading his book, Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir and be sure to read about my experience meeting him in this post.
I’ve visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex more times than I can remember and without a doubt, this was a perfect day. Not only did I learn and see something new but I was able to share and introduce NASA and the excitement of space exploration with friends. Visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com to plan your visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex! View additional photos from my trip on my Flickr account.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, however, they have not reviewed this post and opinions are my own.