Away from Orlando’s bumper line-up of theme parks, the Kennedy Space Center is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s also still a fully operational NASA launch center at the same time.

    The visitor's center here has plenty to keep the whole family occupied for the entire day, with highlights including the original Atlantis Space Shuttle, a Saturn V moon rocket, a 3D IMAX theatre, a launch simulator and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. There’s also the opportunity to see actual launches, with a full schedule available on their website.

    The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is about 50 miles from downtown Orlando, on the eastern coast of Florida at Cape Canaveral.

    Kennedy Space Center – a brief history

    NASA’s Cape Canaveral space station is best known for being the launch site of the Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon. The space center was originally built as part of the wider Apollo program, which began operations at the start of the 1960s and concluding at the start of the 1970s. The center was given its name following the death of US President John F. Kennedy in 1961, with the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touching down on the surface of the moon 8 years later in 1969.

    After the Apollo missions, the Kennedy Space Center evolved in the latter part of the 20th century with the introduction of the Space Shuttles, with modified facilities, testing areas and launch pads. NASA’s Space Shuttle program began with the inaugural flight of Columbia in 1981, ending in 2011 with a significant downsizing of the center’s workforce. The center is still fully operational today, with NASA currently focusing on designing the new ‘heavy launch vehicle’ called the Space Launch System.

    Kennedy Space Center – what to see

    Shuttle Launch Simulator – Think you’ve left Orlando’s plethora of adrenalin-filled rides behind? Think again! Kennedy Space Center’s answer to Universal Studios, the Shuttle Launch Simulator has been labeled ‘the world’s most realistic simulation of a launch’ by actual astronauts, so expect state-of-the-art visuals, audio effects and movement.

    Space Shuttle Atlantis – Stand nose-to-nose with the enormous Atlantis Space Shuttle, along with a whole host of other attractions including exhibitions and a multimedia presentation detailing the history of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

    Apollo/Saturn V Center – Home to an original Saturn V space rocket, which is as long as a soccer field, this section of the center is where you can learn more about NASA’s 10-year-long Apollo program that put mankind on the moon. Walk underneath the giant rocket and touch a rock plucked straight from the surface of the moon.

    IMAX Theater – Get the full 3D experience with 2 different IMAX movies that use original footage captured by astronauts on various space missions out of the Kennedy Space Center. There’s also a chance to see some cool images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope up on the big screen.

    Lunch with an Astronaut – This limited-seating experience allows you and your family to enjoy lunch with a veteran NASA astronaut. Ask anything you want and hear inspiring stories with multimedia presentations prepared by the behind-the-scenes team. Special bookings are needed in advance for these lunch sessions.

    US Astronaut Hall of Fame – This mini-museum is dedicated to all the US astronauts that have made it into space and features a vast collection of memorabilia, photo exhibitions and space exploration artifacts collected by NASA over the years.

    Kennedy Space Center

    Location: Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island, FL 32953, USA

    Open: Daily from 9am to 5pm

    Phone: +1 855-433-4210

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveler

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