Kennedy Space Center is in the heart of Central Florida, which receives almost 100 million visitors annually. The rockets launched from Kennedy Space Center get a “bonus” 914.3 mph head start because the southern latitude enhances the Earth’s rotation.
If you’re in the area checking out some of Florida’s best beaches, why not make a space tourism detour?
The next question is how to get the most out of your visit to Kennedy Space Center. No worries, we’ve got you covered with all the best tricks and tips in an easy, step-by-step formula. After all, not everything is rocket science.
Step 1: Identity What Type of Traveler You Are
Kennedy Space Center (KSC) attracts a wide range of visitors, from hardcore science nerds to curious kids. The question is, what kind of visitor are you?
KSC is fabulous for families with many interactive exhibits, but some — particularly the astronaut training — have age and height restrictions. Kids under 17 must be with a paying adult to participate in these sessions.
Also, be honest with yourself about how much time you have for space during your visit. It’s relatively easy to visit all of the “Must See” attractions in one day, but you should definitely plan on a second day if you’re doing add-on programs.
Step 2: Know Your Mission Zones
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is organized into five “Mission Zones” grouped by chronological era. You’ll travel from the dawn of space exploration to current missions, but you want to plan your trajectory to avoid unnecessary orbits.
Heroes and Legends
Everything starts at NASA’s Heroes and Legends. It’s the first zone you enter when you come through the gates. This exhibit recounts the early history of the U.S. space program. Learn what inspired these early explorers and discover the technology required to defy gravity.
NASA Now and Next
Your next mission is a quantum leap from the history of space flight to the near future of space exploration from the International Space Station to the Journey to Mars.
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other
This is the final Mission Zone at the main Kennedy complex. For thirty years, the shuttle was America’s booster supporting critical missions like the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. Even the Space Launch System — the largest rocket ever built that will take us back to the Moon, Mars, and beyond — is built on the lessons and components of the Shuttle program.
Race to The Moon (Apollo Era)
The Apollo program unified our country and demonstrated that even the highest dreams of humanity are possible. A short bus trip from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex takes you to the Apollo Saturn V Center, where you’ll learn about the people and machines that inspired a generation and gave hope to all that followed.
Behind The Gates
Another area accessed by buses that depart from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex gives visitors access to some restricted areas of America’s Spaceport, as KSC is often called. You’ll gain exclusive access to the historical and operational launch sites where you can learn about the past, present, and future of space exploration.
Must See Attractions at Kennedy Space Center
Each Mission Zone has a must-see attraction. These installations provide a natural physical, emotional, and contextual map to your Kennedy Space Center visit; don’t miss them during your visit.
Rocket Garden (Heroes & Legends)
Stand in awe of the sheer size and power of the vehicles required to escape Earth’s gravity. Though never flown, the Rocket Garden contains genuine artifacts from the space program. Be sure to admire the last remaining intact and flight-configured Saturn 1B that generated more than 1,600,000 pounds of thrust and the workhorse Delta II that flew over 150 launches over a 30-year program.
Space Shuttle Atlantis (Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other)
This is your chance to see a real spacecraft that has flown 33 missions and orbited the Earth nearly five thousand times. The mileage is as impressive as the missions, having traveled 126,000,000 mi.
Journey to Mars (NASA Now and Next)
Mars exploration is the now and next of space exploration. Rovers are exploring the Red Planet’s surface, looking for potential human habitats, elemental water, and extraterrestrial life. Journey to Mars explores the technologies and challenges of deep space exploration so that tomorrow’s generations can better study and travel to this planet.
Free Activities at Kennedy Space Center
There are many free activities included with your Kennedy Space Center admission. Some provide a comfortable air-conditioned seat to escape the Florida heat, and others offer interactive experiences to young minds with fidgety fingers.
NASA created more than 2,000 space spinoffs that don’t get as much attention as mega boosters but are equally important as KSC hits, like IMAX films.
Here are the free activities at the Kennedy Space Center arranged by Mission Group.
Heroes and Legends
It’s a Matter of Fact Show: An interactive live learning show inside the Universe Theater.
Astronaut Encounter: Meet and greet live astronauts and discover what makes them tick inside the Universe Theater.
Race to The Moon
Apollo 8 and the Firing Room: Experience the thrill of the space race from the firing room of Apollo 8, the first crewed Saturn V mission.
Path to the Moon: See the technology and accomplishments of Apollo missions 7-10 as man first traveled to the Moon.
Moonscape: A life-sized scene from the Apollo 11 Moon landing when man first reached the Moon’s surface.
Exploring the Moon: Interactive exhibits that let you explore the Moon like the Apollo astronauts.
Ad Astra Per Aspera: Latin for “to the stars through difficulties,” a tribute to the lives and memories of the three astronauts who died during Apollo 1.
Apollo Treasures Gallery: View an authentic Apollo spacecraft and many artifacts from the storied program.
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other
Astronaut Training Simulators: High-tech simulators for the essential functions of space shuttle flight.
Forever Remembered: A tribute to the astronauts who lost their lives during the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle missions.
I.S.S. Triumph of Technology: Explore the modules of the International Space Station.
Shuttle Launch Experience: Experience the sights, sounds, and sensations of blasting into space.
NASA Now and Next
Spaceport KSC: Choose from four fantastic journeys around the Solar System.
Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator: See the concept vehicle designed for the demanding Martian landscape.
IMAX Theater: Space-themed films featuring eye-popping imagery.
Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex immersive displays of the future of space exploration.
Astronaut Training at Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center has two different training paths available as an add-on purchase for space enthusiasts. These immersive and intense courses are designed for older children and adults who want to experience what it’s like to be an astronaut or go to Mars. You learn and train skills that are out of this world.
MARS BASE 1 is a 5-7 hour program simulating daily life on the Red Planet. You solve realistic science and engineering challenges as you:
- Harvest plants
- Optimize solar energy
- Adapt to unique Martian challenges
The Astronaut Training Experience is a series of immersive simulations aimed at preparing you for a mission to Mars. You’ll learn to:
- Navigate the Martian terrain with varying degrees of motion intensity
- Walk on Mars with an immersive VR simulation
- Train for a spacewalk in zero gravity
Individual training sessions may also be available on select days if you don’t have the time for the complete Astronaut Training Experience.
Other Enhancement Activities at Kennedy Space Center
If you crave more space, Kennedy Space Center offers additional enhancement activities that go above and beyond regularly scheduled attractions.
Kennedy Space Center Explore Tour
Takes you behind the gates with an expert guide and stops along the way for iconic photography.
Chat With an Astronaut
Goes beyond the large group astronaut encounter at the Universe Theater to a casual small group experience sharing snacks and conversation.
Fly With an Astronaut
Go on a guided tour behind the gates, eat lunch, and enjoy a Shuttle Launch Experience with a real astronaut.
Launch Director Tour of Space Shuttle Atlantis
Launch Director Mike Leinbach takes you on an exclusive shuttle experience.
Beaches Near Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center is on the Atlantic Coast of Central Florida, with easy access to many of the beaches near Orlando you might be familiar with.
Playalinda is next to Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island. You drive 40 minutes back through Titusvilles from Merritt Island to get there. It’s a wild and natural beach with miles and miles of empty dunes.
Cocoa Beach, immediately south of Merritt Island, is home to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop. World-renown surfer Kelly Slater is from the area, and though there is a regional surf culture, the breaks are finicky at best.
Daytona Beach — “The World’s Most Famous Beach” — is an hour’s drive north of KSC. It’s known for the carnival-like atmosphere on the boardwalk and pier.
Attractions Near Kennedy Space Center
Orlando’s attractions are the biggest draw near Kennedy Space Center. Since it’s also where the closest major airport is located, your trip will probably begin and end there.
Orlando is known globally as the Theme Park Capital of the World, but there’s so much more to do than enjoy the hospitality of Mickey Mouse. It’s a vibrant city with many more romantic things to do, like exploring I-Drive, local eateries, and public parks.
Eco-Tours Around Kennedy Space Center
Behind Merritt Island sits three massive back bays: Mosquito Bay, Indian River, and the Banana River. There are many ways to explore these biologically rich waters, but our favorites are kayaking through the mangrove tunnels and bioluminescent algae.
You can also try airboat tours, manatee viewing (best in the winter months), and biking on hundreds of miles of bike trails that lead from downtown Titusville and travel throughout Northeast Florida.
Plan a Space Adventure Vacation
Kennedy Space Center is a premier space adventure destination located near fun and friendly Central Florida. Millions of people visit the area each year as part of their Florida getaway.
It’s easy to visit Kennedy Space Center as a day trip from Orlando. However, space enthusiasts might want to take two or three days to explore all the exhibits and try an enrichment experience or additional training opportunities.
Take a minute to plan your visit and your space adventure. Know if you want to hit the highlights or mull on the minutia. With so many different ways to optimize your visit, you’ll be glad you did.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Featured image credit: NASA
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About the author
Jenn and Ed Coleman
Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman, and together we are Coleman Concierge. It is our goal to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure, even in your own backyard.
We deeply believe in the transformational power of travel. Our tagline is amazing adventures for ordinary people because we believe that you don’t have to be super rich, super fit or super anything to have an amazing adventure. Expanding your comfort zone and trying new things will pay huge dividends in both health and happiness.