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Kennedy Space Center: A Day Trip

There was a time, born of the Cold War, when space was, truly, the Final Frontier. Then President Kennedy championed outer space from his office and public speaking events.  The world stopped as we landed on that distant gray rock called the moon. Even in the 80s, I remember being thrilled to be missing math to watch this special new rocket fly into space, something they called a shuttle.

And then something happened.

Media realized how much we were watching. Star Trek glued us to the television; Star Wars thrilled us at the movies. Space Mountains popped up on both coasts. Space was imaginatively accessible for all us. We may not be able to go ourselves, but we could dream about it with the help of others. So we stopped looking to the sky. Ratings dropped.

The Cold War ended, to boot.

The concept of space was out there, but we were looking to our smartphones more than telescopes.

Even NASA toned it down a bit, ending the shuttle launches.  It was pretty much a commercial vehicle by this point, just carrying up private assets and military items.

But Kennedy Space Center stayed open regardless.  


So? Why go to Kennedy Space Center? It seems we can have the same experience over at Mission: Space and not have to spend the money on gas.

Kennedy Space Center is located a good hour beyond the Disney World environs, but is so much more than a world away. This is Florida before the Mouse ate the tourists. The island is a natural habitat; perfect beaches lie at Cocoa and Titusville that bracket the locale.

But I’m telling you, it is very much worth the visit. It offers something that Disney and Universal do not.


Yes, the space program’s face has changed as of late. Now, more and more private investors, like Elon Musk, are trying out the latest in rocket tech and using the facility-and pumping cash into-and making it much more attractive than I ever remembered it. Last year, they added an incredible display all about the orbiter Atlantis.  There are hands-on exhibits, as if a children’s museum met the Smithsonian.


I’m saying there’s something for everyone. There’s that moment of nostalgia that you and might experience, but enough digital and hands on stuff for the younger set.

However, there is only one ride, a brief simulator (ala Star Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios), but that, to me, is besides the point. The entire KSC location is small, so you’ll see everything worthwhile in one day. Two Imax movies also show there, in two separate theaters, with unique access that other moviemakers can only recreate on a movie set. The huge cameras were actually taken into space. Makes sense, given the weightless environment, so they are able to capture view that you cannot imagine.

I thought it was awesome.

The main attraction, is, like Universal Studios Hollywood, a bus tour (instead of a tram, a bus, given our heat) of the island and the launch pad. The bus tour takes one out to the Saturn V display, as well, and gives an up close and personal view of the launch vehicle, as well as, the nation’s largest single story building, the Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s pretty cool to see semi-up-close.  The building is so huge, it supposedly develops it’s only micro storm systems in its upper reaches.

If that sentence interested you, then you might want to give this place a visit. None of the Disney and Universal edifice is here. Presentations at KSC include Q-and-A with select astronauts and, if you’d like to pay some more, you can have lunch with them and talk more.  In fact, their tickets are a fanciful lot, with different personalized add-ons that are listed.  Longer bus tours, personal experiences with trainers of astronauts, and walking tours are all available.

Here’s the thing-however. There’s a certain appeal to individuals within a certain age bracket. That I’ve noticed on several trips. Kids are enlightened, yes, but I can’t help thinking this was not their first choice on a Saturday afternoon. Talk it over with the family. Me? As an educator? I’d make them go there before Disney, frankly. Let them know what spawned the dreams that we see on rides like Spaceship: Earth and the like.

Much of the exhibits are outside, and I do recommend, as with all touring in Central Florida, get there early and get to the good stuff. The buses hold huge numbers, there’s always a good seat. But if you want to see more of the exhibits without ton of interference, consider early morning touring. Besides, remember, this is Florida. There’s very little industry on the little island, but the groves mean for a steamy afternoon should there be any humidity.  I also noticed very little in terms of covering outside. If it rains, you’ll be stuck in the deluge. If there’s any suggestion of rain, pack those umbrellas and some sandwich bags for your phones.

Also, if you have been keeping a hard core pace at the parks, this location is a bit different. You’re out in the Florida environs now, and the clip out here in boondocks of the Sunshine state is slightly more subdued. Take a deep breath. You’re still touring, but you can see it all and without biting people. Think about it.

Lastly, as you drive across the flat sandbar we call home, you’ll see something those in the Disney/Universal bubble rarely do. There’s a world here in Florida, that, if you want to, you may visit. You can have a wonderful time in this state and never once set foot in the Magic Kingdom.  Nearby Cocoa Beach has a ton of surf side fun and a terrific beach. Downtown Orlando has theater and the arts just like other cities.

Enjoy. You are totally go for launch.

Joe Triggs-Smith

Joe Triggs-Smith


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