Visiting Kennedy Space Center in a Post-Space Shuttle World

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Space Shuttle Astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski and Me Following Lunch with an Astronaut

Space Shuttle Astronaut Scott Parazynski M.D., and Me Following Lunch with an Astronaut

“…once NASA goes away…”

People! NASA is NOT going away.

If I had a nickle for each time I’ve heard that in the last three months, I’d be about $7.35 richer. Okay,that doesn’t seem like a lot but that’s more than 145 times! There’s this misconception running amok that just because the space shuttle program has retired after a 30-year run it means the end of NASA. Not true, not true!

Retirement of the space shuttle program meant the closing of one chapter and beginning of another in space exploration. If you’ve kept up with my NASA Tweetup posts, you know this.

And just because there are no more space shuttle launches does not mean excitement is over at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Oh no, definitely not over. Last month I was the guest of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and took in as much as I could during a day’s visit.

“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,” President John F. Kennedy Moon Speech at Rice Stadium, Sept. 12, 1962

Lunch with Space Shuttle Astronaut Scott Parazynski, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Lunch with Space Shuttle Astronaut Scott Parazynski, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Lunch with an Astronaut. Yes, Tang is Served.

NASA nurtures determined idealists and fosters innovators. The Kennedy Space Center is a reminder that anything is possible and nothing encapsulates that more than the Lunch With an Astronaut program. The presentation about living and working in space by an astronaut is pretty cool but more so is the question and answer period where attendees are invited to ask that burning question about life in space.

Lunch with an Astronaut at Kennedy Space Center Includes Tang

Lunch with an Astronaut at Kennedy Space Center Includes Tang

During my visit last month, I had the honor of hearing and learning from ScottParazynski, M.D. who is a veteran of five space flights, STS-66 (1994), STS-86 (1997), STS-95 (1998), STS-100 (2001) and STS-120 (2007), has logged more than 1,381 hours in space, conducted 7 spacewalks and traveled over 23 million miles. In addition, he’s a pilot, mountaineer, medical doctor and father and husband. He’s the first astronaut to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, too. Yeah, he’s a real life superman! Visit his website (www.parazynski.com) to learn more about his accomplishments and projects.

For $24.99 for adults and $15.99 for children 3 to 11 (plus admission into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex), visitors to Lunch with an Astronaut feast on a buffet where yes, Tang is served. Afterward, the astronaut is available for a meet and greet photo opportunity and signs autographs later in the day during Astronaut Encounter.

Entrance to Shuttle Launch Experience. Drop Your Bag in a Locker Around the Corner.

Entrance to Shuttle Launch Experience. Drop Your Bag in a Locker Around the Corner.

3…2…1… Liftoff with Space Shuttle Launch Experience

Although there are no more space shuttles launches, visitors can launch into space and orbit the Earth during the Space Shuttle Launch Experience. Strap in and immerse in the sights, sounds and feeling of a vertical launch and 17,500 mph journey. Designed with the guidance of veteran space shuttle astronauts and NASA, the experience is pretty awesome. And having seen a launch pretty close, I can tell ya the adrenaline was pumping as I waited for liftoff. Entry into the Shuttle Launch Experience is included with general admission into the Kennedy Space Center.

Tip: Loose items aren’t permitted. There is a bank of lockers to store your items near the attraction entrance, just remember to bring along a quarter, which you’ll get back.

Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

Float through Space with3D IMAX

I floated through the cosmos as actor Leonardo DiCaprio narrated Hubble 3D at the Kennedy Space Center IMAX theater.The 43-minute film features footage from the final Hubble repair mission which keeps you on edge. You know how it’ll come out but there are a few obstacles astronauts had to overcome during the spacewalks. The movie also shows the Hubble Space Telescope’s impact of how we view the universe.

Space Station 3D is a 45-minute film shown in the theater. It was filmed by 25 astronauts and cosmonauts and is narrated by Tom Cruise. It provides a journey of discovery from Planet Earth to the International Space Station.

Tip: Popcorn, beverages and other snacks purchased at the concession stand are permitted. Best of all, they aren’t at movie theater prices.

Remains from STS-107 Columbia Mission are Behind this Wall in the VAB, Kennedy Space Center

Remains from STS-107 Columbia Mission are Behind this Wall in the VAB, Kennedy Space Center

And Hot Off the Presses…

Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building Open Touring Beginning Nov. 1 for Limited Time

Here’s some exciting news, for the first time since 1978, guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will have the chance to disembark their tour buses and tour inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis, earlier this year.

During NASA Tweetup this spring I toured the VAB and wow! It’s pretty impressive. At 456-foot-tall, it’s the world’s tallest one-story building. Entering is like entering a powerful wind tunnel almost strong enough to hold you up when leaning forward. And contrary to belief, the VAB is not tall enough to have its own weather system but is tall enough for low hanging clouds to drift in and precipitate.

Inside the VAB, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Inside the VAB, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Here are the details about the KSC Up-Close tour. And scoot yourself down to Florida because the VAB tour is a limited engagement:

  • A limited number of Visitor Complex guests per day can visit the VAB as part of KSC Up-Close, a new two-hour, guided special interest tour.
  • Beginning Nov. 1, the tour will be offered eight times daily for $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11, plus the cost of admission which is $43 + tax for adults and $33 + tax for children ages 3-11.
  • For a very limited time, guests on the KSC Up-Close tour may see a space shuttle orbiter inside the VAB as they are being prepared for display in their new homes in Los Angeles, Calf., Washington, D.C., and Florida.
  • Guests will be able to walk along the edge of the Transfer Aisle, which is kept open to move behemoth elements of rockets among the four High Bays within the building. Tour communicators will provide a brief overview of the VAB and the work done there.
  • Colorful signage depicts incredible engineering feats that have taken place such as the work of the VAB’s two 325-ton bridge cranes that were used to lift the shuttle orbiters and mate them to their external tank and solid rocket boosters with pinpoint accuracy.
  • Signage also shows prospective operations that will take place within the VAB for NASA’s newest space exploration program, Space Launch System, or SLS. Banners signed by thousands of KSC workers showing support for each of the space shuttle missions proudly remain on display throughout the VAB.
Astro Van, NASA Tweetup, Kennedy Space Center, April 29, 2011

Astro Van, NASA Tweetup, Kennedy Space Center, April 29, 2011

Other stops on the KSC Up-Close tour:

  • View Kennedy Space Center landmarks including NASA’s KSC Headquarters, office of Center Director and four-time shuttle astronaut, Robert Cabana, and various KSC staff;
  • See the Operations & Checkout building (O&C), which serves as the astronaut crew quarters prior to each launch and where science modules and trusses for the International Space Station (ISS) were tested before flight. This is also the site at which astronauts boarded the Astrovan to ride to the launch pads.
  • Pass by the Space Station Processing Facilities (SSPF), where hardware and components of the ISS were processed and tested before flight.
Stop at the NASA Causeway, Kennedy Space Center

Stop at the NASA Causeway, Kennedy Space Center

And that’s just the beginning. Other highlights include:

  • Take in the panoramic view of the Banana River, Port Canaveral and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at the NASA Causeway.
  • Spot launch pads 17, 37, 40 and 41, which is still used for commercial and government launches.
  • Pass by three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs), the hangars where shuttle orbiters were processed and maintained between flights. Today, the OPFs are being used to decommission the orbiters in preparation for their retirement, including Atlantis, which will be displayed in a brand new $100 million facility at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in 2013.
  • There’s a whole lot more of groovy and cool stuff to see, trust me!

If the KSC Up Close tour is not available, no worries. There’s the Cape Canaveral: Then & Now tour highlighting America’s first launches of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Visit the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, and see the launch complex where Alan Shephard lifted off to become the first American in space, Pad 34, the site of the tragic Apollo 1 fire, as well as active launch pads used for commercial and government rocket launches.

Add an Insiders Tour when Visiting Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Add an Insiders Tour when Visiting Kennedy Space Center, Florida

How to Book the KSC Up-Close Tour

Visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com or call 866-737-5235. Due to the anticipated popularity of the tour, reservations are strongly suggested.

About Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Located less than an hour’s drive east of Orlando in Brevard County, the Kennedy Space Center is a must-see attraction when visiting Florida. (The drive is about three hours from my home in Port Charlotte.) It opens daily at 9 a.m. (closed December 25) and certain launch days. Admission includes the Kennedy Space Center Tour (not the tours mentioned above), Shuttle Launch Experience, 3D IMAX® space films, Astronaut Encounter, STAR TREKTM LIVE, Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted and all exhibits.

Admission also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame®, featuring historic spacecraft and the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia, open from noon until 6:00 p.m. daily. Parking, wheelchairs, strollers and pet kennels are free of charge.

Admission is $43 + tax for adults and $33 + tax for children ages 3-11. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Commander’s Club Annual Pass is $56 + tax for adults and $46 + tax for children ages 3-11.  For additional information, call 877-313-2610 or visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.

Thank you to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for providing an amazing day! Check out what fellow Florida travel bloggers had to say about the visit:

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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