I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over these United States of America. My parents and grandparents believed that no amount of reading about somewhere or something was the equivalent of seeing it first hand. Like a lot of Americans, once or twice a year we loaded up in the family truckster and headed out to see the sights.
We’ve been to all the major attractions: Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, Washington DC, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, Hawaii, and yes, even the world’s largest ball of twine. I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue the tradition with my children and this year we visited Florida. Ostensibly our trip was to visit Disney World but we had a couple of days with no specific agenda.
On one of our free days we decided to make the trek from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center. Everyone felt that getting away from the lines and crowds for a while would be nice. Disney World is great. Space Mountain is still one of my favorite rides of all time and I really enjoyed the Star Wars street show at Hollywood Studios. I’m usually more impressed by nature and human accomplishment than by roller coasters and impossibly high-pitched voices singing a single chorus over and over until it permeates every synapse in your brain and causes your eyelids to twitch. “It’s a small world…….”
When you first pull into the Space Center you’ll probably feel as though you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up at another amusement park. You enter on a gated drive that leads to a never-ending sea of parking lots and then proceed to a box office that Disney itself would be proud of. Once you buy your tickets, you’ll be stopped by the obligatory park photographer for a picture in front of a NASA globe that is the size of a small house. It wouldn’t surprise you to hear screaming people zoom by on a roller coaster. Everywhere else in Florida seems to have one.
However, after you make your way through security and enter the park; it will be immediately obvious that this place is something different. There are full size rockets on display just inside the entrance. Vehicles that have taken humans to space are everywhere. Some are small and others are huge. To someone who doesn’t care much about technology or space travel I imagine they are interpreted as boring metal tubes.
NASA knows that not everybody is in love with space and part of the reason the center exists is to help convince people that it is a worthwhile endeavor. They borrow from movies, games, and fun parks to gain and keep your interest. Museum displays are often preceded by a technologically enhanced show that explains the importance of the artifacts that you are about to see. They’re very effective. There are simulators, games, movies and gift shops. Of course there are gift shops, I mean how could you go on vacation without them?
If you find yourself short on time and trying to decide what to see, I have a couple of recommendations. Toward the back of the complex you’ll find a line that leads to a group of busses. Get on one. This tour is one of the best attractions at the Space Center. You’ll be taken on a narrated trip out to NASA’s and SpaceX’s launch facilities. The sites are historically iconic and the trip ends at the Saturn V “Moon Rocket” exhibit. If you doubt that human beings could make a machine powerful enough to reach the moon, go look at this thing in person and see if it doesn’t change your mind. American’s have seen this rocket in countless videos but they don’t prepare you for the scale of this monster. It isn’t a model, or replica this is the real-deal big boy and you can get up close to every square inch of it. The presentation beforehand is an experience all unto itself.
If the Saturn V and lanchpad tour was all the Space Center had to offer it would be well worth your time and the $60.00 adminission price. They aren’t done with you yet though. The Kennedy Space Center is one of the few places in the world where you can see an actual Space Shuttle. The Atlantis is on display in all her glory, scorch marks and all. Seeing the shuttle is proceeded by a presentation that will probably make you shed a tear with pride at the accomplishment of our scientists, country, and humanity in general. I’ve never felt prouder to be an American. Besides the Shuttle itself there are also several other features of this attraction that you won’t want to miss.
The Saturn V and Space Shuttle are the two most complex machines ever built by humans, period. You can see them both in the same place and much more to boot. If you’ve never visited the Kennedy Space Center I highly reccomend you put it on your bucket list.