Today we woke up ready to leave Orlando behind. After thirteen days we were eager to get back onto the road. Our first destination of the day was the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Yes, this is the wonderful place where the space shuttles launch into space. I knew that KSC housed the International Space Museum, but I didn’t know the extensive experience to be had there. It was almost like visiting another theme park.
The first theme park comparison came when we saw the prices. $38 for adults and $28 for children seemed a bit steep but we had a $5 off coupon from the Sunday paper and we decided to bite the bullet. Once we got inside, it became clearer as to why they charge so much. We found an ample variety of informational exhibits and shows with something for everyone. Additionally, on May 25th, they are opening a big expansion, featuring among other things a new state of the art Space Shuttle Launch simulator. I will have more on that later.
The main part of the experience is a bus tour, which has three stops and can last anywhere between two and four hours depending on how much is taken in. It took us almost four hours to complete this tour and I didn’t find one bit of it boring in the least. When we arrived at the first stop, it was exciting since we were really close to the space shuttle’s launch pad. Fortunately for us the space shuttle was actually on the pad since it is launching in less than a month. After exiting the bus, we entered a room where they showed a couple of videos and then we were able to view the launch site from a four story observation deck overlooking the launch facility. This part of the tour also brought us near the building where they marry the orbiter to the rockets in preparation for launch. It was definitely fascinating to see all of these things.
After spending quite a bit of time viewing the launch pad area and support buildings we boarded the bus headed for the 2nd stop. When we arrived, they shuffled us into a room which was the actual mission control for the original Apollo moon missions. In this room (most of which is still intact with all of the equipment) they simulated what mission control was like for the Apollo 8 launch. When the simulation got going and the rocket launched, the windows shook and it was very realistic. They definitely seem to go out of their way to provide unique and worthwhile experiences. After exiting the mission control room we entered a concourse in which an actual Saturn 5 rocket (the rocket used for the Apollo missions) hung overhead. This rocket is about as long as two football fields. I was truly humbled by this enormous piece of history hanging above. They also had the moon lander and moon vehicle (don’t ask me if this is the correct name) on display there along with quite a few other relics from the Apollo missions. After a few minutes of playing with some interactive exhibits on display, we got a quick bite to eat and then boarded the bus once again headed for the third stop.
The third and final stop was the International Space Station Center. This building is where they build the modules that comprise the International Space Station. Each space shuttle mission brings up additional modules that bring the station closer to completion. They are hoping to complete the modular structure before 2010 when the space shuttle is due to retire. In the building’s high bay we were even able to view the actual modules which are going into space next month on the shuttle. They also had a museum area that housed full size replicas of some of the modules used on the International Space Station. While walking through the replicas, we really gained a great respect for how little space the astronauts have to work up there. This was another area that was truly fascinating.
When we arrived, I was disappointed to find out that we were ten days early for the Grand Opening of their new attraction, a realistic simulation of a space shuttle launch. After boarding the bus from the 3rd stop back to the visitor’s center, the bus driver said that they were doing technical rehearsals for the grand opening and that guests were being allowed to ride. Shawn Reece and I became very excited! As soon as we hit the exit door from the bus we headed straight for this state of the art ride.
When we arrived the employees seemed very excited about this new attraction. They measured Shawn Reece with enthusiasm and allowed him through. We could definitely see that the employees are still figuring out how everything works, but the ride and overall experience was incredible. NASA definitely didn’t hold back anything in the design of this ride. I feel that it definitely tops Spaceship Earth Mission Space (thank you Shawn Reece for the correction) which is a similar attraction at Epcot.
After leaving the simulator we went inside the actual orbiter (space shuttle) vehicle on display right outside. Once again we were amazed to see how little space the astronauts have for themselves. The majority of the internal real estate is taken up by the cargo hold. The seven astronauts on a shuttle mission share a space about the size of a mini van. It is small. When we finished touring this beast we headed over to the “Astronaut Experience” where we viewed a presentation by a real astronaut about his experiences in space.
We spent almost seven hours at the Kennedy Space Center and only covered about half of what there is. Even if we had not been able to ride the simulator, I would still feel that Kennedy Space Center has an ample amount to offer. For this reason, we are planning on visiting for a 2nd day sometime in the next week on our way back up north. We missed a couple of small shows along with two 45 minute IMAX films. They also have several other displays and museums along with the Astronaut Hall of Fame which is a separate complex about six miles away. Not only was today educational, it was just a lot of fun. We left Kennedy Space Center at about 5pm as we still had a three hour drive down to Ft. Lauderdale ahead of us.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale at about 8pm. After heading to the hotel we found this great little Thai restaurant and had a very pleasant dinner. Tomorrow we are going to poke around the Florida Keys and Miami Beach before heading back up north on Friday to see a baseball game in the Tampa Bay area. We are definitely happy to be on the road again and driving around today felt good. I hope you enjoyed getting back on board as well. Talk to you soon!
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The Coomer Family