Visiting the Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

by Doug Ferguson

Now that you've experienced Mission:Space, maybe it's time you saw where the real astronauts start their voyage into space. The Kennedy Space Center is about an hour or so drive from Orlando and makes an excellent one day trip. You may also want to visit before or after your cruise that departs from nearby Port Canaveral.

Getting to KSC from Orlando is pretty simple. Take Rt. 528 (Beeline expressway) east. Unless you're from the Midwest, you've probably never seen a road as flat and straight as this. Also, the speed limit is 70 mph. Don't be surprised to have people passing you even at that speed:. You'll see signs for KSC as you near Route 1.

Kennedy Space Center


There are several different admission packages available. If you are staying at a nearby hotel, they may have discount tickets available. Here are the prices as of September 2006:

-- Maximum Access Badge: Provides access to the KSC tour, IMAX movies, all exhibits including the Apollo/Saturn V center, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. $38.00 for adults, $28.00 for children 3-11
-- Standard Admission: Provides access to the KSC tour, IMAX movies, and all exhibits including the Apollo/Saturn V center. $31.00 for adults, $21.00 for children 3-11
-- 12 Month Pass: Provides access to KSC tour, IMAX movies, all exhibits, and Astronaut Hall of Fame for one year. $50.00 for adults, $35.00 for children 3-11

There are also some additional tours and events that you can add to your visit. These prices are in addition to a standard or maximum access admission, which is required.

-- NASA Up Close Tour: Tour launch areas with a private expert tour guide. Extra stops include the A/B Camera Stop - the closest viewing for the Space Shuttle Launch Pads, the Shuttle Landing Facility and a stop outside the Vehicle Assembly Building. $22.00 for adults, $16.00 for children 3-11
-- Cape Canaveral Now and Then Tour: Tour America's first launch sites from the 1960s, visit the Air Force Space and Missile Museum and see today's active unmanned rocket program. $22.00 for adults, $16.00 for children 3-11
-- Lunch with an Astronaut: A lunchtime space program briefing with an actual NASA Astronaut. Enjoy a delicious meal and take home an autographed souvenir. $22.99 for adults, $15.99 for children 3-11

kennedy Space Center

Planning your visit

Prior to visiting the KSC, I would recommend visiting their website at to see if any special activities are planned during your visit. If you are lucky enough to be there for a shuttle launch, I would advise getting launch tickets well in advance. The visitor center and all tours are closed on launch day.

Special events in the past have included the Astronaut Hall of Fame induction, 40th anniversary of the base, and anniversaries of various missions. On these days, there are usually special events such as lunches where you can meet such notables as Buzz Aldrin, Scott Carpenter, and many of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts.

What to see and do

The attractions at KSC can be broken down into 3 groups:

-- Tours
-- IMAX Movies
-- Exhibits


There are 3 different tours offered at KSC. All the tours are taken on air-conditioned standard tour buses.

Kennedy Space Center Tour
This tour is included with your basic or maximum access badge. This tour will take you around the base using a video taped presentation. There are 2 stops on this tour. No reservations are required for the tour. Wheelchairs and strollers are available at each stop.

LC39 Observation Gantry
The Launch Complex 39 is the location for Pad 39A and 39B. These are the locations where all the Apollo flights were launched as well as all the Space Shuttle missions. At the LC39 Observation Gantry you can get a great view of both of the launch pads.

The gantry itself is a recreation of the base of the launch tower and includes stairs and an elevator to all 4 levels. There are a few exhibits here that show a typical launch operation.

Take as much time as you want here. When you are ready to continue the tour you can board the next bus for the Apollo-Saturn V center.

Saturn V RocketApollo Saturn V Center

If you visited KSC in the 70s or 80s, you might remember a Saturn V rocket sitting next to the Vehicle Assembly building. Well, it's not there any more. After years of being exposed to the weather and critter infestation, the rocket was restored to flight ready condition and a new site dedicated to the Apollo program was created.

As you enter, you will be shown a short film detailing the steps in the space race leading up to the Apollo 8 launch in December of 1968. Following this you will be led into a recreation of the actual firing room in the launch control complex for the Apollo 8 flight. This display includes the actual control stations used by the mission controllers during the Apollo program.

When you enter the main part of the complex, you are greeted with the business end of the Saturn V rocket, 5 large J-2 rocket engines. This is an actual real, Saturn V restored to flight condition. As a matter of fact, the engineers designing the next moon rocket, the Ares/Orion, have been here to look at parts of the rocket to see how they were put together.

Other exhibits in here include the lunar module (LM), lunar rover, and artifacts from the missions. The other show in here which is not to be missed is the Lunar Landing Theater. Here you will see a recreation of the lunar landing from the point of separation of the LM to ascent from the lunar surface. You will find out how close the landing was to not happening!

When you are done here, you can board a bus to take you back to the visitor center.

NASA Up Close Tour
This tour is an extra ticket over and above your maximum access pass. This tour includes a live tour guide instead of the videotape presentation. You will get up-close views and insider commentary on the operations of the space center. Your tour guide will usually be someone who has worked at the center. On our last tour our guide was responsible for escorting the astronauts to the pad on launch day. If you want to take this tour, reservations are strongly recommended. I recommend getting the earliest tour to avoid afternoon storms.

The tour includes the following stops:
" NASA Causeway launch observation site - This is the location where you will see a launch if you purchase launch viewing tickets. From here you can see the original launch pads as well as the launch pads used for satellite launches.
" Camera A/B stop - This is the closest location that visitors can get to the shuttle launch pads. If you come here when the shuttle is on the pad, you will get a great view of the "stack"
" Vehicle Assembly Building - You will get to stop in the parking lot of the VAB. Getting out here, you can get a feeling for how REALLY BIG this building is.
" Shuttle landing strip - The bus will make a stop at the shuttle landing strip, but you will not be able to get out. However, you will get a feel for how long this is in that you can't see either end of the runway from the center.

At the end of the tour, you will be dropped off at the Apollo Saturn V center where you can catch a bus back to the visitor center.

Exhibits and IMAX movies
If you've followed our advice up to know, you've completed your tour in the morning. This should help you avoid the storms and heat that can plague Florida in the summer. Now you can explore the exhibits and enjoy the IMAX movies available in the visitor center.

Kennedy Space CenterRocket Garden
As you entered the visitors complex, you may have noticed a large number of rockets on your left. This is the "rocket garden". Most of these rockets are standing up to give us a feel of how they looked on the pad.

There are several Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules that you can sit in to see how tight these were. Keep in mind that most of the equipment from the original capsules have been removed so there was actually less space then there is now!

I would suggest hitting the rocket garden right after you enter before your tour. There is usually an hour between opening and the first tour so go ahead and explore!

IMAX Movies
When you return from your tour, you should check the times for the IMAX movies to see when you need to be back to see the one you want to see. There are usually 2 movies showing. If you have to make a choice, I would recommend "Magnificent Desolation". It's a 3-D IMAX movie that makes you feel like you are really on the moon.

Robot Scouts
Robot Scouts is a lighthearted exploration of the work robotic probes do in exploring the solar system. It's a great show for kids and parents alike. You'll get to see the probes we've used in the past and those that are currently being designed.

Space Shuttle mock-up
When you entered the parking lot, you probably saw the full size shuttle and booster stack on your right. You can get in this and see what the shuttle looks like inside. It's pretty neat for the kids, but there are a lot of stairs.

Astronaut Encounter
Nearly everyday, NASA hosts the Astronaut Encounter. It may be a current Space Shuttle astronaut or possibly a former astronaut on a visit. It's a great opportunity to hear from someone who has actually "been there". A meet and greet for autographs and pictures is right after the lecture.

Astronaut Memorial
The Space Mirror Memorial honors the 24 astronauts who have given their lives for the exploration of space. Besides the 3 Apollo 1 crewman, the 7 Challenger and 7 Columbia astronauts there are 7 others who passed away during training or test flights. This memorial was constructed with funding from the sale of the Challenger memorial plates in Florida.

The Space Shuttle Experience
New in 2007 is The Space Shuttle Experience. This ride will give you an opportunity to feel what it is like to experience the shuttle launch from the shuttle itself. I have yet to see this exhibit, but from what I've heard, it's incredible!