Hello and happy holidays from the Sunshine State!
It feels good to say that, even though it’s been raining almost nonstop the past two days. But I’ll take it because I just miss hanging out with my mom; at 30 years old I’m not ashamed to admit that.
I landed in Orlando late Friday night and not 12 hours later my mom, dad, and brother-in-law and I were on the road to Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. I’ve been very into space and the history of our space program and NASA, so about a week before I arrived my dad bought us all tickets for a special bus tour and admission to the museum.
On Saturday morning after a quick 35-40-minute drive to the east coast, we got to the park and in line for our tour.
I hadn’t read up about the bus tours ahead of time, so I didn’t know what to expect. Would we drive by a graveyard of used and discarded spacecrafts like the defunct Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Would an audio-recorded voice pipe through the bus’s speakers telling us all about nondescript buildings we passed on NASA’s campus?
No. And definitely not.
Our two-hour live guided tour started at 10 a.m. at Kennedy Space Center (which is actually just a visitor complex and museum—not part of NASA) and drove us onto NASA’s grounds where we got a closer look at historic launch sites, working facilities, and even the bleachers where families and friends got to watch their loved ones launch into space.
^^^ Launch pad 39a where manned missions took off.
The grounds themselves are nothing too exciting, and the white, grey and beige buildings littered around weren’t very impressive. But as we listened to our guide tell us what’s inside each one and the role they all played in getting us to and around the moon, I started to see the past the dated architecture and paint jobs.
Two hours went by in no time and before we knew it we were back at one of the museums.
This one was all about the Saturn V rocket. It was developed and used between 1967 and 1973 to support the Apollo for human exploration of the moon; the Apollo 11 mission was the first that successfully landed humans on the moon. We watched a short video about Saturn V that really hyped us up…
^^^ The actual equipment crew sat at to monitor the launch and communicate with the rocket and astronauts.
…then when we walked through the doors into the museum, there it was hanging from the ceiling in all it’s glory. It’s 363ft tall—the height of a 36-story building—and weighs 6.2 million pounds.
I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe we as humans had built something so massive and so powerful; I felt proud in a strange way even though it had soared among the stars before I was even born.
The rest of the Saturn V museum was filled with information about the missions and relics of those decades like space suits, moon rovers, and the capsule that sat at the top of the Saturn V rocket that housed the astronauts.
There’s so much to see just in that one exhibit; you easily could be in there for a couple hours.
After Saturn V, a bus took us to the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. Just like Saturn V, we watched a short film about how the idea of the shuttle came to be. Essentially, the team wanted a ship that could launch like a rocket and land like a glider with people aboard. The moment the movie ended, the screen lifted up and you feel like you are nose to nose with Space Shuttle Atlantis.
It’s wide wings angled, one towards the ceiling and the other almost touching the floor two stories below. Even decades after the last launch, there is still debris damage from the shuttle’s reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. Again, I teared up; it’s truly one of the most beautiful things to witness. One cool fact is that the building was actually constructed around the shuttle because it’s just so massive.
The Atlantis exhibit also takes another 2-3 hours to explore. There’s an ISS (International Space Station) model that you can crawl around to get a feel for the dimensions astronauts are living in in space, a launch experience simulator (which I most definitely did not do), lots of equipment like helmets, boots, and jackets from previous missions, and a very touching memorial honoring the astronauts who lost their lives during space shuttle missions STS-51L Challenger and STS-107 Columbia.
^^^ Can you say claustrophobic?
There’s even a recreation of the Hubble Telescope, which was deployed in 1990.
I think I said “Oh my gosh!” and “Woah!” and “Look at that!” about 100 times. The museums and exhibits are beautiful, exceptionally laid out, and full of amazing artifacts and stories. They even have real NASA engineers around to answer questions about the rockets, launches—anything. I’m completely amazed at how smart and determined these people were to get us into space several times, and it’s just too bad the space program was shut down. There are plans to pick it up again in the future, so that’s encouraging.
We stayed for almost 6 hours and were completely famished, so we headed to lunch on the coast before making our way back home to Orlando.
I highly recommend a visit to the Kennedy Space Center—it is definitely a destination worth making a special trip for. I kept telling my parents that I would buy an annual pass if I still lived in Florida.
If you want to see more photos and videos, I’ve saved a highlight on my Instagram profile here:
Have you ever been? Favorite museum or exhibit you’ve ever visited?