A Window on History, a Glimpse of the Future
Even the most blasé visitors become transfixed with pride and patriotism at Kennedy Space Center, a living monument to America’s indomitable will and technological prowess. Set amid 150,000 acres of marshland and mangrove swamps, this has been the headquarters of American rocketry and space exploration since 1950, when Bumper 8 was launched from the Cape. This is where Alan Shepard lifted off in 1961 to became the first American to be sent into space, where the first men left for the moon in July 1969 aboard Apollo 11, and where the crew of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia left the Earth in January 2002. Security is a lot tighter now than before September 11, with more sensitive areas off-limits to the public, but there is still plenty to be seen and experienced through multi-media shows, hands-on experiences, and a Q & A with a real live astronaut that leaves adults and kids alike galvanized to strive for excellence. Begin at the Visitors Complex, where the Rocket Garden traces the evolution of America’s space program, featuring eight authentic rockets including a Mercury Atlas, similar to the one used to launch John Glenn into space in 1962. At the other end of the plaza, twin IMAX 3-D theaters with six- story screens and seat-shaking sound systems immerse audiences in the exhilaration of a true journey of discovery, while a mock-up of the space shuttle sits near the launch control center where you can attend talks on current missions.
From the complex, grab a narrated bus tour that passes by the world-famous LC-39 launch pad and on to the Apollo/Saturn V Center to experience a narrated simulation of the Apollo 8 launch and marvel at a 363-foot Saturn V moon rocket, the most powerful ever built. Top off your adrenaline high with a visit to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, 6 miles west, where astronaut wannabes can buckle up in a G-force simulator, a space-station shuttle simulator that flips you 360 degrees, and a simulator that mimics the moon’s light gravity—thrill rides that are the only thing the Kennedy Space Center lacks.