This U.S. government shutdown is going to do a number on the tourism industry, since all national parks, monuments, and historic sites are closed. And while NASA, the space agency, is also closed, it’s important to note that Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, FL is still open. The Visitor Center Complex is managed and operated by a private concern, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, and not funded through public monies. There are a few services within the attraction, such as the KSC Bus Tours and the KSC Up-Close Tours, which won’t run until the furlough is over, but there is still a full day’s worth of activities you can enjoy.
This summer, we visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center because it’s home to three world’s largests: the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos; and the world’s largest store for space-related memorabilia.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
It’s a smart strategy to consult the visitor complex map to make a plan for your day. We scheduled our day around the astronaut meet-and-greet. One of the biggest highlights for us as a family was the chance to meet astronaut Rick Searfross following his presentation at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, during which he described his experiences piloting three space shuttle missions. Translating that from Geek to English, we met Santa Claus, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, all rolled into one.
We actually didn’t get the chance to see a movie in the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater, because we had two other priorities: Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Angry Birds Space Encounter.
Space Shuttle Atlantis℠
Space Shuttle Atlantis is a 90,000-square-foot attraction devoted to NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program. There are more than 60 interactive experiences which give you the perspective of what it’s like to be an astronaut. At the center of it all is the actual Atlantis shuttle, with its hatch open for viewing, still intact after 33 missions and 26 years of service. It is an emotional experience to watch the video describing the years of dedicated work which lead to the creation of the shuttle program, then walk into the giant hall to see Atlantis, with its scars and scorch marks still visible.
The Girl bounced from exhibit to exhibit, taking over a control panel, operating a robotic Canadarm, and climbing through a mock space station suspended from the ceiling. We all enjoyed the thrill of the Shuttle Launch Experience, which re-enacts the first two minutes of an actual launch. Strapped into your seat, you’re pitched every which way.
Angry Birds™ Space Encounter
Who hasn’t played Angry Birds? Anyone? This fun attraction includes five interactive stations, the highlight being the Eggsteroids Slingshot. Kids (well, grown-ups too) take their best shot at two Space Pigs. The Boy enjoyed the Red Planet Lazer Challenge the most, as he worked his way through a laser beam obstacle course on a timed mission.
U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
After meeting an actual astronaut, we were ready to check out the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame six miles from the Visitor Center, which houses the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia. Nearly 100 astronauts from the U.S. have been inducted into this Hall of Fame, and you can learn about their careers on the tall plaques lining the hall.
My kids, of course, were more interested in the hands-on exhibits, like the Mission Control panel and the shuttle lander simulator There are also rooms filled with thematically-displayed artifacts and displays which give glimpses into the lives and careers of these space heroes. You’ll see Jim Lovell’s Boy Scouts sash and Buzz Aldrin’s high school football jersey, for example. I got a kick out the old T.V. broadcast scripts from the NBC coverage of the Apollo 12 launch.
The Space Shop
When you have geekitude, you have no problem wearing a NASA T-shirt. At least, that’s what I tried to convince The Boy when I held a few different shirts up to him to see if they would fit. We finally agreed on one with the message “I Need My Space.”
We were at The Space Shop, one of a few different retail spaces within the Visitor Complex, but in itself, the world’s largest store devoted to space memorabilia and gifts. It’s two floors of clothing, gifts, toys and games, collectibles, and of course, a full assortment of dehydrated astronaut ice cream. Awesome!
Hey you! Go BIG!:
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
Only 45 minutes from Orlando, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens daily at 9 a.m. with closing times varying by season. Admission is $50 + tax for adults and $40 + tax for children ages 3-11.
Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted by Kennedy Space Center.