Top 7 Reasons to Visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral
The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is one of ten National Aeronautics and Space Administration field centers. Kennedy Space Center is one hour from Orlando, Florida and The Kennedy Space Center features exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, and a range of bus tours.
There is so much to do and see at the awe-inspiring Kennedy Space Center, and we planned to spend a full day there. My family was ready to discover the deep space history and all the excitement that surrounds the American space program with our day trip to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. This one day trip was so easy to plan from our base point in Orlando and super easy to locate as it is just east of Orlando on Florida's Atlantic coast.
Kennedy Space Center
Whilst on our Ultimate Family Road Trip Vacation to Orlando, we went on a Space Adventure! We decided to take a bit of a drive outside of Orlando and visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The drive from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center is quite a lovely drive along the coast. The tolls were a bit annoying and confusing, but the beautiful scenic drive made up for that.
The family-friendly activities and exhibits including IMAX films, the Shuttle Launch Experience, the Saturn V Rocket, and an astronaut training simulator were enough to get us up early to head out from Orlando to Cape Canaveral to spend the full day at the Kennedy Space Center. We wanted to be at the complex as soon as it opened at 9 AM so we could fit in all the activities. We arrived almost at the same time as the Kennedy Space Center opened and I would recommend this if you plan to complete all the activities at the center in one day.
Summer of Mars
This summer Kennedy Space Center is hosting the Summer of Mars. KSC is hosting new shows to highlight the advancement in space exploration of Mars. During the Summer of Mars, KSC is allowing all incoming 5th graders a FREE ADMISSION to inspire the youth to explore Mars. As a home educator, I like to think I have instilled a deep love of the sciences in my children. I'm happy to state we are all science geeks!
Plan to Spend the Day
We were all super excited to spend hours exploring the NASA world-class Kennedy Space Center facility, see the launchpads and the rocket exhibits. My kids let me know before we even left Chicago that they wanted to participate in the simulated Shuttle Launch Experience. We also wanted to see IMAX films and have an encounter with an astronaut. The KSC is laid out in mission zones and is super easy to navigate, but it is always best to have a plan before you go and KSC has a number of itineraries on their website to assist guests.
Here are my family's Top 7 Reasons to Visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral
Top 7 Reasons to Visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral
Tour the Rocket Garden
When you walk past the revolving Nasa globe, one of the first exhibits (or missions) you may be drawn to are the numerous rockets about. The Rocket Garden is filled with historic engine replicas and full-size Titan rockets. My kids immediately wanted to check out all the different rockets and capsules on display in the Rocket Garden.
We were able to view rockets such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, as well as Redstone and Titan, and some capsules. You also have the option to take a guided tour through the Rocket Garden. This is a great area to get up close, touch and even sit in the capsules. Allow about 15 minutes to walk through the Rocket Garden. Be sure to check out the Mars Experience Bus as well this summer, which is located in the Rocket Garden area.
Astronaut Encounter Theater
The Astronaut Encounter was my favorite mission at the Kennedy Space Center. At the Astronaut Encounter you are able to meet a NASA astronaut to listen first-hand as he (or she) tells what it was like to travel into space. There is time for questions after the presentation.
There is also the possibility to upgrade the tour for an unforgettable opportunity to have lunch with an astronaut! We did not upgrade, but I really wish we would have after listening to the 30 minute presentation by Norm Thagard - he has led a SUPER interesting life! I think my kids would really have enjoyed lunch with an astronaut and this add-on is $29.99/$15.99.
Norm Thagard is an American scientist, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer, a naval aviator and a NASA astronaut. He is the first American to ride to space on board a Russian vehicle, and can be considered the first American cosmonaut. Norm Thagard was very interesting and really, we would have LOVED to have a private lunch with him. My youngest had a list of questions to ask, but was only allowed to ask one during the question session after the presentation. This is a tip I would give to Kennedy Space Center -- offer private lunches in the future - I would totally pay for that add-on!
The Space Shuttle Atlantis
This 90,000-square-foot interactive Atlantis exhibit tells the story of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program and what lies ahead in space exploration. The Space Shuttle Atlantis features more than 60 interactive experiences. This area was both of my daughters favorite area and they had a great time getting to personally interact in the hands-on areas and exhibits. At the end, be sure to take the Space Shuttle Launch Experience - not to be missed!
The Atlantis was the fourth space shuttle constructed and the very last one to fly into space. Atlantis flew 33 missions it its 25 years of service, whilst it carried astronauts to and from space stations. The Atlantis launched several probes and sent many satellites into space. The Atlantis flew a final shuttle mission before it was retired in 2011.
Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted
This exhibit details NASA’s plans to explore deep space, including Mars. There are also plans to explore asteroids and once again to travel to the moon and explore it further. The Journey to Mars: Explorers exhibit includes a live presentation and highlights what’s happening at NASA right now. My kids loved the interactive games and simulators and exploring the mock-ups of Mars rovers. They also knew the answer to every single question in this exhibit about space! Journey To Mars reinforces that space exploration is not simply rockets, but it details how all of the people(professional from engineers and scientists to astronauts) involved in NASA make it possible for space exploration.
3D IMAX Movie
On hot days during the summer months, head to the IMAX 3D theater and watch stories as they are projected on gigantic 3D IMAX movie screens. There are currently two different movies and I would recommend one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Journey To Space gives an overview of NASA’s past space accomplishments, current activities and future plans. Journey To Space is narrated by Patrick Stewart. A Beautiful Planet features footage of Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) and is narrated by Jennifer Lawrence. Allow 1 hour per movie.
KSC Bus Tour
The first KSC bus tour begins at 10 AM and a bus departs every 15 minutes. This tour lasts about 2 hours and I was a bit apprehensive that this mission may be too boring for my kids, but am happy to say that it was not. The beginning of the bus tour was quite informative and packed with a wealth of information, but you really have to pay attention. For some reason, I really thought we would be able to unload from the buses and take photos, but we were not allowed. If you wanted photos of the launch sites, you had to snap them through the bus windows. Super bummed about this and I wonder if there ever are photo opportunities for this part of the tour.
The self-guided tour on the NASA buses highlight the space shuttle launch pads at the LC-39 Observation Gantry and the massive Saturn V moon rocket. The bus drops visitors off at the Apollo 8 launch called the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Here you will be able to watch Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, touch a moon rock, and get a close-up view of the giant Saturn V rocket by walking beneath the 363-foot rocket from the Saturn V mission -- which is pretty amazing! (see images)
Kennedy Space Center recommends to leave yourself 2 hours for the KSC bus tours, which includes the Apollo Saturn V Center. We were there for about 1½ hours and that was enough time for my kids to explore everything. While KSC was rather busy the day we visited, I imagine some days may take a bit longer and some may take a shorter amount of time based on the number of visitors in this section (on this mission). The buses do run continually back and forth to the Kennedy Space Center so you can hop on a return bus at any time. The return bus takes approximately 10-minutes.
Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
On your way to the exit gates(or alternatively, you could complete this mission first), be sure to pass through the Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and look at all the amazing astronauts who have traveled to space. My daughters were VERY disappointed that there were only 9 women astronauts that have been inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame! Presently, there are approximately 60 women astronauts who have flown into space, and there are currently 10 female astronauts who have yet to fly in space. These women have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. We hope to see many more women in space and on those walls in the future!
In the Heroes & Legends building there is a 4D multi-sensory theater and actual artifacts including a Redstone rocket suspended overhead along with the Sigma 7 capsule and a unique close-up look at the Gemini 9 capsule.
There are many other smaller exhibits, buildings, play areas, cafes, and restaurants to explore as you enjoy your day at the Kennedy Space Center. There is free Wi-Fi is available throughout the visitor complex, which made my teenagers very happy! There are also special experiences and packages that can be purchased. The experiences range from $19.95 for the interactive Cosmic Quest experience to $199 (adults)/$174 (kids) to a real astronaut guided tour through the space center. I highly recommend lunch with an astronaut!!
Visiting Kennedy Space Center: Things to Keep in Mind
» Admission is $50/adult, $40/kids 3-11, and $46/seniors & military. Two-day pass for $75/adult or $60/child. Admission includes main complex buildings, IMAX movie, bus tour, and admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame
» There are additional tours and experiences available for purchase, including three different “Up Close” tours, and the lunch with an astronaut experience.
» Parking is $10/ car or $15/RV.
We would have loved to view a live rocket launch and there was one scheduled on the day we were visiting KSC-- but it was postponed to the day we were leaving Florida! Viewing a rocket launch takes some planning and key information from The Kennedy Space Center. The Visitor Complex will give you the closest view of a launch but there are four viewing area options:
The main visitor complex outside of Space Shuttle Atlantis
Banana Creek viewing area at Apollo/Saturn V Center
The LC-39 Observation Gantry.
You can watch for upcoming launches on Kennedy Space Center’s official calendar.
You can find out more information, ticket prices and hours of operation at www.KennedySpaceCenter.com. Be sure to follow KSC on Facebook.com/KennedySpaceCenterVisitorComplex and Twitter at @ExploreSpaceKSC for up to date information, family deals, educational downloads and more.
Disclosure: I was provided two free passes to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and paid for two additional passes on my own as well as all our own expenses at the complex. I was not asked to review the complex and my views are 100% my own.