My wife and I visited Orlando in May. We took advantage of that trip to visit the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), America’s gateway to space!

I’ve wanted to visit the Cape since I was a little kid. I remember when the “Space Race” was a big deal, when it was important that we beat the Russians to the Moon. In those days every flight was front page news and received a huge amount of coverage in the press. Today, while space flight is no less dangerous, it is so common, that the media hardly mentions it.

The full Space Center tour costs $42 per person, and you can purchase your tickets online.

It’s an easy drive from Orlando to Cape Kennedy: just remember to bring pocket change because the highway in the Orlando area is a toll road that seems to have a toll booth every three miles or so. Also, be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, you will do a LOT of walking at the Cape.

Parking lot at the Kennedy Space Center.
The parking lots at the Cape are all numbered and named after the 7 Mercury astronauts. We parked in lot number 5, which was named for Wally Schirra, the 5th American in space.
Rocket park  at the Kennedy Space Center.

As you enter the KSC, you see a display of the rockets used in the early years of the space race. The Redstone rocket on the left launched Alan Shepard into space in 1961. The next rocket is the Atlas, which was used for all of the Mercury program’s orbital flights. (click on photo for larger image)


Entrance to the Kennedy Space Center.


The NASA logo greets you as you enter the tourist area of the KSC. This is a special year to visit the Cape, it is NASA’s 50th anniversary. (click on photo for larger image)


After you enter the tourist center, you board a bus for your tour of the KSC. There are three stops along the way; since the buses run every 15 minutes you can spend as much time as you want at each location.

Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

One of the first sites you see on your tour is the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It is one of the largest buildings in the world and was originally built for assembly of Apollo/Saturn vehicles; it was later modified to support Space Shuttle operations. The VAB is 525 feet tall (160 meters), 716 feet long (218 meters) and 518 feet wide (158 meters). The Space Shuttle is mated to its solid rocket boosters, fuel tank, and cralwer-transporter in the VAB. (click on photo for larger image)


Crawler-transporter

The crawler-transporter carries the Space Shuttle to the launch pad, and serves as the rocket’s support during launch. It’s top speed is one mile-per-hour and uses 150 gallons of diesel per mile. The transporter weighs 2,721 metric tons (6 million pounds), is 40 meters (131 ft) wide, 35 meters (114 ft). long (click on photo for larger image)


view of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Your first stop is the Launch Complex (LC) 39 Observation Gantry, a four-story gantry from which you get excellent views of the KSC. The Vehicle Assembly Building is in the background, the crawler-transporter is in the foreground. (click on photo for larger image)


Launch pad 39A

KSC has only two launch pads, 39-A and 39-B. Both are used to launch the Space Shuttle. This is 39-A. The military has several launch pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of the KSC. (click on photo for larger image)


Launch pad 39A with the Shuttle Discovery

The Space Shuttle Discovery sits on launch pad 39-B, ten days before the start of its mission to the International Space Station. This is the closest one can get to the launch pads. (click on photo for larger image)


Apollo control room

The next stop on the tour is the Apollo/Saturn V Center that focuses on the Apollo missions to the moon. You begin in the control room that was used for the Apollo launches and go through a simulation of the launch of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. (click on photo for larger image)


model of the Saturn V

When you leave the control room you enter an exhibit hall that features a full-scal model of the Saturn V rocket, the rocket that launched the Apollo missions to the moon, and is still the most powerful rocket ever made. With the Apollo spacecraft onboard, the Saturn V stood 363 feet (111 meters) high. (click on photo for larger image)


model of the Saturn V

The five giant F-1 rocket engines at the base of the Saturn’s first stage used kerosene and liquid oxygen (Lox) as propellants and produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust. They burned for almost 3 minutes. (click on photo for larger image)


model of the lunar landing module

A model of the lunar landing module hangs above the exhibit hall, next to a model of the third stage of the Saturn V. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rode the Eagle to the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on the 40th anniversary of the landing! (click on photo for larger image)


model of the Apollo command module

The Apollo command module sat at the top of the Saturn V. The three astronauts traveled to the moon in the command module. Once they entered lunar orbit, two astronauts entered the lunar module for the trip to the surface of the moon. (click on photo for larger image)


Modules from the International Space Station

The final stop on the tour is the International Space Station (ISS) Center. Visitors can walk through a mock-up of the ISS Habitation Module where astronauts live when aboard the ISS. (click on photo for larger image)


Modules from the International Space Station

The interior of one of the ISS science modules. (click on photo for larger image)


Modules under construction for the International Space Station

Visitors are able to look down upon the ISS assembly area and watch as modules are assembled before being loaded aboard the Space Shuttle for the flight to space. (click on photo for larger image)


Full scale model of the Space Shuttle

After touring the International Space Station (ISS) Center, visitors board the bus for the return to the main tourist center at KSC. Visitors can enter a full scale mock-up of the Space Shuttle Explorer. Next door it the Shuttle Launch Experience where you get to experience the first 5 minutes of a Shuttle launch. (click on photo for larger image)


The tourist center offers many options for visitors including an IMAX movie theater (we saw a movie about the construction of the ISS), gift shops, places to eat, and a movie about the American mission to Mars.

Nothing can equal the Kennedy Space Center tour, I highly recommend it. Be sure to get there early, and expect to stay all day. It is an experience you will never forget.