Kennedy Space Center, located on Merritt Island, Florida is absolutely brimming with energy from its hundreds of attentive visitors. Part of the reason for the turn out is certainly due to it being a tourist attraction in a warm climate, but that alone does not explain the excitement of the crowds. No, it is not the nice weather, but the living history that has the visitors packing the parking lots.
Museums are in general something I enjoy, but not my top choice for outings from the American Zephyr (Al’s Airstream travel trailer). I prefer national parks or trips with a little more physical activity. Museums rank a little lower for me. The reason for this is mainly that I was not alive for most of its history. It is difficult to relate to the stacks of information signs telling of the creation of the first automobile when all my life I have been riding in the back seat of a gray Honda Pilot. When I even think of the word “automobile” it often draws my memory back to my grandfather’s dusty Bugatti model collection, and then I sneeze.
Pro Travel Tip: Download the Kennedy Space Center App before your visit. It has a host of information including maps, times for attractions, and dining
You will have to imagine my absolute surprise when I found the KSC Complex to be closer in design to another local attraction, that being Disney World, than any museum I had been before. The main complex is spread between a series of buildings using an interconnecting open courtyard system, with each outdoor space serving its own unique purpose which we will touch upon later. As Al and I arrived our first mission was lunch, which was a quick success after looking over our choices for food on the KSC app. The center has a small plethora of options for dining all of which have the menus in the app. After a quick stop at the Orbit Cafe, we were off to the Space Center bus tour!
The tour consisted of a ride around Kennedy Space Center and the driver verbally bringing to our attention notable sites over the loudspeaker, and playing a video that went into more depth on seat screens. The visual presentations each started out with a bit of history concerning the certain structures we were seeing, such as launchpad 39A that Apollo 11 launched from, but went on to talk about the current updates and projects that are happening there now. That caught my interest because the projects being talked about were new advances in technology being developed by companies such a SpaceX and Boeing who are renting out space and launchpads at KSC. A lot of the focus of the tour was actually on future projects and how within the next decade we will be returning to manned missions from American soil. By the end of the tour, I was starting to understand the space excitement!
The bus dropped us at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which holds a full Saturn V rocket inside. There was a big line as we got off the bus going into the Firing Room exhibit, however, Al had more interest in the Moon Tree Garden off to the right. The little courtyard contains the statue of the Apollo 11 astronauts and was a nice spot to reflect on the information from the tour.
Pro Travel Tip: Restrooms are located off the back of the Moon Tree Garden, and are not busy since the crowds are in the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Extra Tip: If you are looking to skip the front entrance lines and are okay with missing the Firing Room exhibit, the Apollo/Saturn V Center side doors to the main exhibit hall are at the back of the Moon Tree Garden.
Upon entering the Apollo/Saturn V Center, we were greeted with the absolute scale of a full Saturn V rocket. The sight was an impressive one and we spent a solid thirty minutes discussing the different compartments as we walked around the rocket; both myself and Al discovering a few new details about how the lunar lander was accessed from the Command Module as we went. After a short trip into the gallery of Apollo mission artifacts, we exited through the gift shop and boarded the bus back to the main Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Back at the Complex, we decided the next stop would be the Atlantis Shuttle exhibit. To enter this exhibit you have to wait in line for a few minutes within its building until an attendant ushers your group into a little theater. We watched a short film on the creation of the shuttle, and then you are lead into a second room where another film is projected on the walls. That second showing is really a thank you letter to the Atlantis Shuttle for all its missions, and by the end of I was actually a little choked up. At the end of the show, the back wall opens up, revealing in front of us the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Pretty damn cool.
After just staring slack-jawed at the shuttle for a while, I finally peeled my attention away to look at the rest of the building that the shuttle was housed in. Within the two stories, there are quite a few artifacts and models based around the years that Atlantis was in service. The thing that started grabbing my attention was the hands-on exhibits. Later in the day, I poked my head into a few of the other buildings and realized this was the genius of the Kennedy Space Center, most of its attractions were geared towards a younger audience in an effort to engage their interest at a more fun level. There was everything from a space station play structure to advanced simulations of landing mechanics based around the lunar lander. There is, of course, lots of information-heavy exhibits as well, but the center has its bases covered for a younger audience.
In our final hour before heading back to FMG Basecamp, Al and I took a walk over to the International Space Station mural. It gave me a chance to reflect on this fantastic dream of so many; a dream to one day explore the stars. That vision of a future in space has transcended feuds, build alliances, and allowed for the advancements of quite a few helpful technologies. I hope that one day they teach more about the space race in history classes, show that at some point it wasn’t about “winning”, but became an effort of collaboration.
It was a long day, however, I left the Kennedy Space Center inspired by a subject that had not made an impact for me in my childhood, SPACE! I also went away with a great appreciation for museum design. All in all, a fantastic day on the road with Al.
About The Author: FMG’s guest explorer/writer Noah K. Parent is a blogger and author originally from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. He now spends his time traveling the United States, working in outdoor education and seeking stories of a simplified life. His current project is breakstasis.com, a blog about his nomadic lifestyle and growing beyond bad habits.