If you want to know where is the Kennedy Space Center then just head east out of Orlando, Florida and you’ll soon find this rocket scientist haven. With the ability to see the actual rocket launch sites, models of former rockets, a real Space Shuttle and more there is plenty to see in a day.
So where is the Kennedy Space Center?
The John F. Kennedy Space Center is located off exit 212 of the I-95. It lies east of Orlando and across the other side of the Indian River.
The address is:-
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Lying less than an hour away it is easy to book a day trip from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center. Tickets can be bought in advance or on the day.
What can you see and do there?
I visited for a day and it was a pretty busy time. The usual opening hours are 9am until 5pm although this may vary with seasons and special events.
As I entered the park I was given a site map and guidance on where to find the tour bus. The bus is what you need to move off the many Visitor Complex of the NASA Museum in Florida and be able to see the various launch sites. You will also discover the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the highly recognisable Vehicle Assembly Building.
On the bus tour you can even see the Cape Canaveral launch site in the distance.
Our first bus driver tried to be very friendly and engaging with everyone. I can’t fault him for effort but not all of us found his attempts at wit to be funny.
We drove past the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) which is where a lot of the rockets and shuttles were put together. Our driver kept telling us how tall it was yet the statistic I remember most is that it is one tenth of a mile high, so it is taller than the Empire State Building.
The VAB also has the largest painted flag in the world adorned on its exterior wall.
We also saw what are described as “crawlers” and a mobile launch pad.
When it comes to the rocket launches, particularly with the Apollo program and the Shuttle, the heat and the sound are supposed to be phenomenal. Even people a few hundred yards away can be killed by it.
As a result of their incredible size the rockets have to be transported to the launch sites. This is done by special vehicles to carry the space craft. These vehicles may only travel at 1 mile an hour and some of these launch sites can be 3+ miles away. So it takes some time.
The bus tour also drops you off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Like much of the day we began the exhibition with a video. To some extent this video was quite interesting since it showed the initial failed rocket launches by the US as they were falling behind the Russians in the space race. Then inspired by JFK the Apollo program sought to put a man on the moon!
Conspiracy theorists aside, we know this happened in 1969.
The exhibits at the Apollo Center talk about the various programs by missions called Apollo; of course Apollo 13 being one of the most famous due to life threatening complications on the mission.
You then enter the actual “firing room” which was used for the Apollo missions. This is where they all monitor the launch of a rocket and is the room you often see on TV.
The visit to Apollo/Saturn V Center concludes with a chance to stand under the Saturn V. At 363 foot long it is the largest rocket ever flown. It also probably the most powerful man made construction with 160 million horsepower.
I’ve been to the moon and back
What I particularly liked about this part of the trip was that you could touch an actual piece of moon rock. It was a small piece placed on display which you can rub your fingers over. It was a very smooth surface, but hey, I’ve touched the moon!
The Kennedy Space Center Launch Schedule
At the beginning of some of the videos and displays around the site is mention of days for upcoming rocket launches. It is a big attraction to watch a real rocket take off. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t good. However if you wish to find out about timings you should check the Kennedy Space Center launch schedule online. You will also find the designated safe viewing areas for a rocket launch.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
A bus ride returned me to the main complex area which holds most of the features of the day.
To the far left of the complex is the unmissable Rocket Garden! On display are various rockets or life size models of significant players in astronaut history. The actual Mercury, Gemini and Apollo rockets are here.
As with various areas of the site you can also see inside various model capsules.
I did find it quite interesting that the actual bridge used in 1969 by Neil Armstrong is here for you to walk upon.
Not far from here is the IMAX theatre. Watching a video seemed to be a big part of the day (which I think is unfortunate) yet for me this was one of the better and more interesting ones. (I love IMAX 3D films anyway so it was always going to be a must for me.)
There are 2 IMAX theatres and I managed to see the 45 minute showing about the International Space Station. It included a lot of actual footage taken in space so had some thrilling shots.
The beginning also seemed to be a feature which inspired the film Gravity as it demonstrated the training required if you were floating away into space.
Astronaut Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center
Whilst I’m too young to have followed the Apollo program in my life, I do remember the Shuttle program and the tragedies that have occurred. So the Astronaut Memorial was a respectful place to absorb how dangerous a life it really is as an astronaut.
The memorial wall seems scarcely populated, thankfully. I don’t know if they expect it to fill soon or hopefully it will be many generations before it becomes even close to half full.
Nearby there was also a T-38 Talon Jet. These jets were used to train pilots how to land on a runway, a skill related to the next and maybe major exhibit of the museum. That being the space shuttle!
Space Shuttle Atlantis
The Atlantis space shuttle exhibit is really difficult to miss, it is right by the entrance as you drive into this NASA location near Orlando.
A life size creation of fuel tanks that would support a real shuttle tower over the exhibit hall.
Once inside the exhibit hall you again had to watch another video. However you were rewarded in the end as the wall lifted to reveal the real thing!
It was an impressive site, especially with the cargo doors open.
Surrounding displays included ways to practise like an astronaut, crawl around space craft capsules and sit in a mock cockpit.
For some bizarre reason there was even a dual kids slide!
Shuttle Launch Experience
The shuttle launch experience is enough for anyone to want to know where is the Kennedy Space Center in my opinion.
This simulation is the closest thing on earth you’ll ever have of going over 25 times the speed of light! (There is a “no motion” simulation experience too if you are not comfortable with being shaken around in your seat.)
For me, I was surprised to find that I really found the vibrations concentrated on my neck rather than my whole body. Apparently the pilots who’ve actually flown on the shuttle missions say that this simulation is just like the real thing.
The site included a number of other exhibits which I partially explored but found of less interest.
The Exploration Space – Explorers Wanted was an exhibit with some interactive features which seemed geared to inspire children to become involved in space travel. Interactive joystick controlled features were present on numerous devices plus a speech was given to accompany a video on the future of NASA.
I must admit to being a little bit baffled as to why there was an Angry Birds themed building on site. Quite what throwing a bird at some objects has to do with space travel I don’t know, but I guess the sponsor money is welcome.
There was also a display about the impact robotics have on space exploration and in particular recent research on Mars. Admittedly, the context of it was very low brow and the exhibit seemed unpopular – I was the only person in there for a lot of the time!
There is a building dedicated to early space exploration where you can learn more about the Mercury and Gemini programs. Plus, the KSC is proud to boast the largest space shop in the world!
In fact there seemed to be shops at the end of every exhibit so plenty of chances to get a souvenir here.
I had a pretty full day with all of the above yet I still didn’t see it all.
Around 6 miles west of the KSC Visitor Complex is the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Your day ticket for KSC is valid here for the following few days so you can take your time.
This site also offers a half day experience of astronaut training!
There are some extras you can pay for during your trip such as having lunch with an astronaut or KSC Up-Close tour which includes the Launch Control Center and Cape Canaveral. You’ll need to check times and prices in advance though as you won’t be able to do everything in one day.
Unlike some people I don’t have a real passion for space exploration however I found some of the features here at KSC interesting.
The real highlights for me were seeing an actual Space Shuttle, the Shuttle Launch Experience and the IMAX theatre.
In terms of learning a lot of the science behind space travel, I think the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, which I’ve also visited is better.
As for seeing real space craft then there is little doubt that the Kennedy Space Center is out of this world!