Port Canaveral is now the second busiest port in the country, largely because of its proximity to several large cities, Disney World and other Orlando attractions. Those exciting theme parks are fun to visit but one attraction, located on the space coast only 15 minutes drive from Port Canaveral, is every bit as exciting as any I've seen. I am speaking of the completely renovated Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex.
As cruisers, we begin our voyage by land; then travel and vacation by sea. Why not do it all by exploring the final frontier - space? KSC Visitor Complex offers the most comprehensive opportunity to experience what it's like to be in space. Their newest project, just opened in May 2007, is called The Shuttle Launch Experience. How realistic is it? The Astronauts I interviewed who have actually left our planet say it's more realistic than their own NASA simulator!
This amazing pre or post-cruise destination site offers history, multiple interactive experiences, behind the scenes tours of our space program in action, and authenticity. For those of us old enough to recall the pride the space race and moon landings sparked in us, and for children who have a great imagination and an interest in science and space, this destination choice will thrill and delight.THE HISTORY OF SPACE TRAVEL
It was 1903. A paper entitled, Rocket into Cosmic Space, was written by Russian, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. This marked the beginning of mankind's vision of space exploration. The Cold War years spurred a race between two superpowers, the US and Russia, to be the first to break through our planetary atmosphere and put a man in space. By 1949 the US was launching rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an act creating NASA; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with the vision of manned space travel. In 1962 NASA started acquiring land to build the Kennedy Space Center and by late 1968, NASA moved its operation to this new site.
Russia was the first country to put a man into space while our space program was suffering tragic losses that forced our engineers to go back to the drawing board again and again. It was during this time that President John F. Kennedy created a vision and a challenge for those engineers. In 1961 he declared it was not enough for us to just put a man into space -- that the USA would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade! This was a lofty goal considering that when he made this speech, the longest time the Russians had achieved manned space travel was only 16 seconds!
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|Entrance to KSC||Catering to Several Languages||Explorer|
The rest is history. US astronaut, Neil Armstrong, was the first man to step onto the moon and in a few powerful words set in motion a vision for a united planet; "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".
If I sound a little insanely optimistic in communicating my pride in our country and a sense of importance about the space program, its because I am of the generation that watched President Kennedy's speech, and saw the first man land on the moon. I had forgotten how that felt and visiting KSC not only rekindled the spirit in me, I learned many things anew.
Unlike the fantasy experience that Disney offers, everything at KSC is real and offers multiple opportunities for interactive experiences that can open your mind and your perspective to a world we rarely think about; the world outside our atmosphere and mankind's place in the universe.OVERVIEW OF KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
Each year, more than 1.4 million guests from around the world experience their own space adventure by exploring the past, present and future of America's space program at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. This Visitor Complex opened on August 1, 1967 in response to public interest and demand to see our space program up close. This was at the time NASA was preparing to launch the first astronauts to the moon. In 1995 Delaware North Parks and Resorts, Inc. began managing the 70-acre facility. They have redeveloped and enhanced this facility to make it one of Central Florida's most popular tourist destinations. KSC visitor complex offers IMAX films, live shows, hands-on-activities, behind the scenes tours, lunch with an astronaut, and its newest attraction, The Shuttle Launch Experience. The facility offers great shopping, dining, education programs, and sometimes even launches, and it is entirely self-supported. It receives no taxpayer or government funding.
An unexpected treat is the opportunity to view a unique balance between technology and nature. KSC shares a common boundary with the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is home to 16 active bald eagles. One of the nests was pointed out to us on the tour. Not only did we see one of the eagles of this pair sitting on the edge of his/her nest as we drove by, but we were told that this pair has built its estimated 700 pound nest and has raised eaglets for 40 years in that spot! This refuge is home to 500 types of wildlife, approximately 5000 alligators, and 14 species on the endangered list. What makes this refuge so unusual is it coexists next to technology that is some of the most advanced on our planet with regular launches of rockets that will blow your eardrums if you are within three miles with no protection. It is very rare that any of the refuge wildlife is harmed. The rangers set off noisemakers and remove owls and other species as necessary three days in advance of a launch but most of the wildlife have learned what to do to protect themselves. The acoustic energy created by a Space Shuttle launch is the equivalent of eight million stereos. To absorb the energy 300,000 gallons of water are pumped onto the launch structure during liftoff. The launch of a rocket that produces six and a half million pounds of thrust amounts to little more than a slight inconvenience for the surrounding wildlife. That is pretty amazing.
Kennedy Space Center Tour: This tour is included with your admission and is a narrated, video supplemented bus tour. Highlights include the LC-39 Observation Gantry where guests enjoy a panoramic view of Kennedy Space Center and the Space Shuttle launch pads, as well as the rocket launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The bus drives by the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the Space Shuttle is stacked for launch and where the Apollo/Saturn V rockets were once assembled. The VAB stands 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide. It covers eight acres and encloses a volume of 129,428,000 cubic feet. It takes 45 minutes to open the buildings 456-foot-high doors. To say it is impressive is an understatement. The bus also drives by the Orbiter Processing Facility where the orbiter is examined and maintained after each mission.
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|Moon landing Control Room||Service Module||Moon Landing multimedia show|
|Inside the moon landing service module||Moon Landing Service Module||Lunar Rover|
The next stop is the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Plan on spending two hours here to see all this facility has to offer. As you enter this building you will be awed and inspired at an actual 363-foot long Saturn V moon rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built and one of only three Saturn V rockets in existence. You can relive the historic launch of Apollo 8 in the actual Firing Room Theater, and the Lunar Theater provides a rare look at the harrowing final moments before man landed on the moon. The Moon Rock Cafe is the only place in the world where guests can dine next to a genuine moon rock.
A separate bus will take you, at your convenience, to the International Space Station Center. Here you can walk through full scale mock-ups and overlook the actual processing facility where components bound for the Space Station are being assembled and readied for their trip into orbit.
A side note: I learned that 16 countries contribute to the International Space Station; a great effort toward the goal of united Earth cooperation.
Special Interest Tours: NASA Up Close Tour. Trained space experts guide this tour. They pride themselves in their in-depth knowledge so questions are welcomed. It gives visitors an insider's view of the space program from launch preparation to liftoff. The tour includes up-close views of the Space Shuttle launch pads, the VAB, the Crawler-Transporters, which move the Space Shuttle from the VAB to its launch pad, and the Shuttle Landing Facility. The tour stops in between the Space Shuttle launch pads, in front of the VAB, and on the NASA Causeway. It gives guests multiple photo opportunities. You even get to see the solid rocket-booster-recovery ships and lots of wildlife. It ends at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where you can catch the regular KSC tour bus back to the Complex with a stop at the Space Station facility mentioned earlier.
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|NASA Up Close Tour Guide||Vehicle Assembly Buiding ( V.A.B.)||Shuttle on the Launch Pad|
For $59.00 you can get tickets to this tour and your general admission. The NASA Up Close Tour bus has only two departures daily and takes approximately 2 and 1/2 hours. Consequently, you will need to do some planning to take advantage of this tour. It will take an additional hour when you pick up the KSC tour back to the visitor complex and stop at the space station facility.
We took this tour and found it fascinating and worth the extra money. This tour was extra special for us that day because we were within two weeks of a scheduled Shuttle launch. We were able to get to within a mile of the launch pad to see the Shuttle poised and positioned for its scheduled liftoff on December 6, 2007.
Cape Canaveral - Then and Now Tour: This tour is for the history buff. It is a narrated, in-depth journey through the Cape's 50-year history of space exploration. Highlights include Launch Complex 5/6, the site of the first two Mercury launches and the birthplace of NASA's manned space program. The Air Force Space and Missile Museum, the Mercury Memorial, and Launch Complex 19 is featured. It concludes at Launch Complex 34. This is the site of the 1967 Apollo 1 tragedy in which Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee died in a fire during a launch test. There is an additional charge of $21.00 adults, $15.00 children 3-11 for this special tour. You must have a general admission ticket as well.
Note: Photo ID is required for guests 12 and older!
Films: KSC Visitor Complex is home to the only back-to-back IMAX theaters in the world, showcasing two large-format motion pictures on five-and-a-half story tall screens. The two films currently showing are, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D, presented and narrated by Tom Hanks. This film features rarely seen NASA footage, Computer Generated Images, and live-action renditions of the lunar landscape. (40 minutes). The other film is Space Station 3D, narrated by Tom Cruise. The 3D technology enables the audience to sit inside the Space Shuttle during launch, "feel" a space walk, and float effortlessly through the Space Station. (45 minutes).
The third film can be seen when you visit the 300-seat Astronaut Encounter. It is an inspirational film illustrating the need for humans to search for life in this galaxy and explore the universe, called Quest for Life.
|IMAX theater complex||Actual Moon Landing Space Suit||The Rocket Garden|
|actual Gemini Space Capsule||Mercury Space Capsule||Lunch with Astronaut Sam Gemar|
Live Shows and Programs: Astronaut Encounter, one of KSC's most popular programs, offers an interactive half-hour question and answer session, mission briefing, and a highly personal perspective of space travel told by a bona fide member of NASA's astronaut corps. Mad Mission to Mars 2025 is a live-action stage show highlighting the principles essential for an astronaut to live and work in space. These two productions are included in your admission ticket. Leave time in your day to experience them.
Lunch with an Astronaut: Offered daily at 12:30 p.m. The setting is casual and intimate with space limited to fewer than 150 guests. Reservations required. Acquiring tickets for this special experience should be your first stop after entering KSC so as not to miss this opportunity. It starts with a lighthearted video highlighting "everyday life" on the Space Shuttle, followed by a delicious buffet meal. Then you get the real thing; an in-depth, personalized presentation by the featured astronaut. This includes a question and answer session and a personalized photo session taken with one of only 309 Americans to have left the boundaries of our planet!
There is an additional cost of $22.99 for adults and $15.99 for children 3-11 for this experience but I would highly recommend it. Our astronaut was Lt. Colonel Charles (Sam) Gemar. Some of his credentials include, pilot, engineer, graduate of the US Military Academy, and scientific mission specialist. He has flown three missions into space logging over 580 hours. His last mission was the second longest Space Shuttle mission to date (14 days) and at the lowest orbital altitude (105 nautical miles) racking up 5.8 million miles. You will get an autographed signed copy of your astronaut with all his/her credentials and statistics on the back. Sam Gemar was impressive. I learned that all the astronauts are true American heroes. I say this because with all the glamour that surrounds the life of an astronaut, its important to keep in mind that it is a dangerous job. One in 15 astronaut's have died in space flight. You might expect a person in a job like this to be all business and a little cold. To the contrary, I found all the astronauts I personally talked with (3) to very personable. Colonel Gemar came around to all the tables and shook hands. He was very approachable and open.
These astronauts can tell you the real story of the day to day experience of being in space. One of the questions which comes up most often from the audience is "how do you use the bathroom?" I learned that the astronauts actually have to go through training ahead of time so they can be efficient in zero gravity. I'd like to tell you about the "coffee can" but some stories just sound better from the men and women who have been there. More important than bathroom duties is the unique perspective these men and women can share of being in the selected few that have viewed our planet from the outside in. They can tell you of their personal and spiritual insights about mankind and our place in the world. Lt. Gemar shared with us that he was not prepared for the "overwhelming feeling of insignificance" that he felt from space. It opens your mind and heart. Hearing his personal experience in his own words was a highlight of my visit and one I will repeat when I visit KSC again.
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The Shuttle Launch Experience: In May 2007 KSC opened its newest ride/simulation. With the guidance of NASA astronauts and the experience, design and overall creative direction of BRC Imagination Arts, the Shuttle Launch Experience immerses you in the sights, sounds, and feelings of a space shuttle launch. It begins with pre-launch as you enter a gantry-styled walkway into the Shuttle Launch Simulation Facility. As you ascend, overhead monitors show film of 27 legendary astronauts describing their personal journey spaceward. Next is the pre-launch briefing inside a pre-boarding room where Charlie Bolden, Hall of Fame astronaut and veteran Space Shuttle commander, conducts an entertaining, step by step preparation complete with atmospheric steam, sound and lighting effects on large projection and plasma screens. This is designed to mimic the actual sounds and vibrations experienced during a real pre-shuttle launch. The exception is real astronauts spend hours in this phase in their full flight gear. The final step is entering the payload bay crew cabin and strapping in for launch. The countdown begins. For the next eight minutes you experience the engines firing up, the twin Solid Rocket Boosters ignite, lift off as you clear the launch pad, Max Q (the zone where enormous forces squeeze the Shuttle), Solid Rocket Booster separation, main engine cut off and External Tank separation. All is quiet as your Space Shuttle orbiter enters outer space. You feel the sensation of weightlessness as the crew module pitches forward. " Payload bay doors above open to reveal a breathtaking view of the Earth. Seen in all its beauty and fragility, visitors begin to understand why looking back at our home planet from space is one of the most profound experiences in the life of any astronaut."
As you exit the crew cabin you follow a spiral ramp on a symbolic journey from the edge of space back down to life on Earth. A fiber optic star field covers the walls and ceiling simulating the cosmos. In the center below the ramp are large, projected images of our home planet as it appears to astronauts orbiting space. Along the way are 100 plaques for each mission launched from Kennedy Space Center. I suggest doing this simulation twice; once for the overall effect and a second time to listen, read the plaques, and allow your self to take in the beauty and "feel" of space. Astronaut Dr. Tom Jones told me that when he rode this simulator he closed his eyes and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck because it felt so much like the real thing. Many of the astronauts who have been through a launch say it's better than NASA's simulators used in training! This is the closest all but a few of us will ever come to outer space. Take your time and appreciate how it feels to be united as people of ONE planet, if for only a moment.
Note: This simulator does NOT produce motion sickness. I am very sensitive and I had no problems. Anyone at any age can go on this ride, except there is a 48- inch height limit. You will experience heavy vibration, shaking, and loud sound but within tolerable limits for almost everyone. The last row of the crew cabin slightly limits your view of the earth at the end. From pre-launch briefing to the bay doors opening only takes 12 minutes. Enjoy every moment.
The Shuttle Launch Experience cost $60 million to build. It was financed entirely from Visitor Complex admissions. BRC Imagination Arts provided the concept, story master plan, all scripts, visual concepts and the creative concept design for lighting, audio and special effects. BRC has been honored with over 250 international awards for creative excellence including two Academy Award nominations and 11 THEA Awards. The simulation fabricator is Oceaneering Entertainment Systems, a leader in specialized ride and interactive systems for 15 years. Another division of the company, Oceaneering Space Systems, has been working with NASA for 29 years. Technomedia Solutions, responsible for audio/visual show control, boasts an impressive portfolio. The Wheel Thing, an alliance of engineers and creative professionals who have held key positions at Disney and/or Universal Studios, was the designer engineer on this project.
U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame: In 1984, the six surviving members of the original Mercury astronauts and widow, Mrs. Betty Grissom, established the Mercury Seven Foundation. Their goal was to preserve the United States' leadership role in science and technology by providing scholarships to outstanding students. Later they envisioned a site where space travelers could be remembered. Opening in 1990, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame featuring the world's largest collection of astronaut memorabilia, stimulating displays, simulators, and tributes to the heroes of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo became the answer to that vision. In 1995 the Foundation broadened its membership to include Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle astronauts, and changed its name to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame exhibit offers a large collection of spacecraft including the Apollo 14 command module. Don't miss this exhibit if you want to experience the thrill and pull of flight. It is here that you can ride the G-Force Trainer centrifuge taking you on a jet- fighter, training run, at "4 Gs" (three times the force of gravity). For the lighter of stomach, you can experience the lighter-than air ease of walking on the moon and ride a rover on the surface of Mars. If you just want to visit this exhibit and not tour the general KSC, you can purchase tickets for this alone. The cost is $17.00 for adults and $13.00 for children 3-11.
Astronaut Training Experience (ATX): This program is for those who want true immersion into the astronaut experience. It was developed with input from veteran NASA astronauts, and includes an orientation and mission briefing from a member of the U.S. astronaut corps, true-to-training simulator exercises, and access to rarely seen areas of KSC. It culminates in a team-oriented Space Shuttle mission from launch to landing in a full-scale Space Shuttle mock-up and Mission Control Center. The ATX package includes an ATX shirt, a class photograph with an astronaut and a graduation ceremony for successfully completing the program. This program takes a full day, the ATX crews are small, and advance reservations are required. The cost is $250.00 per person, for ages 14 and older.
Family Astronaut Training Experience: This program was launched in January 2007 and is similar to the regular (ATX) but with even greater intensity. It is designed to spark the imagination of children interested in being our future astronauts and be an interactive family experience. The Family (ATX) is two full days and includes lodging at the Hampton Inn on Cocoa Beach, a Visitor Complex Annual Pass, dinner, breakfast and lunch. The cost is $625.00 for one adult and one child (14 and older). An additional child or adult staying in the same hotel room is $275.00 per person. Obviously advance reservations are required.
Other Exhibits: Rocket Garden, Shuttle Plaza, Early Space Exploration, Exploration in the New Millennium, Robot Scouts, and the Astronaut Memorial. This memorial was dedicated in 1991 honoring the 24 U.S. Astronauts who gave their lives for space exploration. The 42.5-foot high by 50-foot wide "Space Mirror" brilliantly illuminates the names cut through the monument's black granite surface.
Other Points of Interest: Children's Play Dome, NASA Art Gallery, and Dr. Kurt H. Debus Conference Facility. This facility was named on behalf of KSC's first director.
An interview with Astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss.
To date, only 450 individuals have had the experience of leaving our home planet. Colonel Searfoss, at number 301, also has the added distinction of being part of a group of less than 100 who have commanded a space mission. He flew three missions for NASA. His last mission was one of the most complex scientific research space missions ever. This mission involved neurovestibular, cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, metabolic and musculoskeletal medical experiments on the astronauts as well as 48 rats. The results of these experiments have clinical applications on Earth as well as paving the way for long-duration human space flight. I felt very honored to be able to speak to him one on one and get his views on the future of space fight and his personal thoughts about seeing the Earth from above.
"Sublime Beauty" and "Breathtaking" are the words he used to describe our Earth. He said that in reality words are not adequate to describe the emotional and spiritual experience of floating in a weightless environment and seeing our home. "Seeing the curvature of the Earth gives one the sense of how small our planet is. It's a life changing experience that ranks with experiencing the birth of all three of my children". Can you close your eyes and get a sense or a feel for what he is talking about? Perhaps after visiting KSC and seeing the actual photographs taken from space of the Earth on a large screen format, you may. That's worth the price of the ticket right there!
Colonel Searfoss was a major contributor as a consultant for the Shuttle Launch Experience. Many of the things that make this simulator so impressive and realistic as well as the detailed information on the plaques that feature all of NASA's space missions, bear his imprint.
Colonel Searfoss no longer works directly with NASA. He currently works as a test pilot involved in the commercial end of development of sub-orbital space travel. He told me that the opportunity for individuals to travel around the Earth in a sub-orbital aircraft might be available as early as next year. Of course the cost will be prohibitive for most at around $200,000. He says that within 5-10 years that cost should come down to around $50,000. Colonel Searfoss is also a professional speaker. Because of his background he is uniquely qualified to engage groups about the essentials of leadership and teamwork. To learn more and check his availability go to: www.astronautspeaker.com.
The plan is to retire the Space Shuttle program in 2010 and to begin a new moon project in 2015. This moon project will establish a base on the moon where astronauts will live and work. From this base, the leap to manned missions to Mars becomes the goal.
It is some people's opinion that spending money on our space program should not be a priority. To those I would remind them that we have approximately 30,000 things that we use today that are a direct result of our space program. Transistors and miniaturization is really ancient news compared to adaptive optics, lasers, weather satellites, GPS, and I-Phones! Honeywell, a technology-based company, has the contract to provide avionics for NASA's newest crew exploration vehicle (CEV) the Orion. I spoke with a 23-year veteran of that company who works with technology everyday. He stated, "The space program is the best return on an investment that the government has ever made". NASA's budget is a modest 16 billion compared to other areas of government spending. I found it interesting that their programs are quite efficient and embody the principle of recycling. For example, they recover and reuse booster rockets approximately 10 times, they wash and reuse the parachutes, and the crawlers used to move the shuttle are 40 years old and still doing an incredibly precision job.
Our current administration is behind NASA and moving forward with funding for its vision of our country's space exploration future. None of the current republican candidates have weighed in on this issue. One democratic candidate is behind NASA; one is for cutting funding in half. It's important to ask where your candidate stands on this issue. From an education standpoint, few things are more motivational and inspirational than the science of space travel.PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Guest Information: 321-449-4444 TTY: 321-4544198. www.KennedySpaceCenter.com
Operating Hours: Opens 9:00 a.m. Closing times vary, 5:30-6:00 p.m. Open daily except December 25 and certain launch days. GET THERE EARLY, AVOID THE CROWDS.
Admission: $38.00 + tax for adults and $28.00 + tax for children 3-11. Children 2 and under are free. Includes the KSC Tour IMAX films, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, all attractions and exhibits and a SECOND DAY FREE. (We recommend two full days to see the Center)
Commander's Club Annual Pass: $50.00 + tax for adults and $35.00 + tax for children 3-11.
- Includes 364 day access to KSC
- $4.50 off admission for up to six guests
- Invitations to special events, exhibits, and ceremonies
- Complimentary subscription to the Annual Pass Newsletter (three yearly)
- 10% off at the Space Shop and Mila's restaurant and Orbit cafeteria
- 10% off ATX, Camp KSC and Special Interest Tours
Complimentary wheelchairs and strollers are available, as well as the use of pet kennels.
There are audio boxes for narration in all the major foreign languages except Russian. For some reason KSC gets very few Russian visitors.
Go early and avoid the crowds. Have a plan. Study the map. You will still need two days to do the Center justice. Luckily you get your second day free.
For cruise passengers, check early for your cruise line options for a package excursion. We traveled Royal Carribean. If we had a late flight, we had the option of a package that included transportation to KSC, admission, the Up Close Tour, six hours in total at the Visitor Complex, and transportation to the Orlando airport for $72.00 per person. That would be a long day but a good deal.
Surrounding hotels, such as the Marriott at Cocoa Beach, offer special hotel packages that include your admission to KSC, as well as reasonable transportation to and from Port Canaveral.
For those passengers looking for an exciting and memorable pre or post cruise experience and Disney is all too much, KSC is an excellent choice. Be sure to check their website for specials, discounts, and of course launch days.