For many years when I was growing up, my family's trips included Florida's Space Coast. We would wake early to watch rockets launch from the beach. My
parents would bring hot chocolate for the kids and coffees for the adults, and we
would sit on the beach in the early morning to watch the bright fire of rocket
engines fill the sky.
Whether it was the launch of a small rocket or a Space
Shuttle, the idea that there was a world beyond our own always fascinated me, as
it continues to do today. It's a tradition we have kept going with our own
the Pluto flyby and more access to images from space than ever before, I decided to take my space-crazed boys, ages
9 and 6, to Kenney Space Center on Cape Canaveral to be fully immersed. It has been 30 years since I had last visited as a fourth-grader,
and I remember it being a mind-bending experience at the height of the space
shuttle program's popularity.
Canaveral itself is a beautiful area. Because of the sensitive nature of the
work done at Kennedy, the 1,400 acres that surround the center is virtually uninhabited. According to NASA, Cape Canaveral was chosen as the space program's
base because of its remote location. It enabled them to inspect, fuel and
launch missiles without danger to nearby communities. The Floridian climate
also permitted year-round operations, and rockets could be launched over water
instead of populated areas.
first launch from the Cape was conducted by a military-civilian team July 24,
1950. The rocket, a modified German V-2 with an attached upper stage, attained
an altitude of 10 miles. By the late 1950s, the military services had elevated
their sights from missile testing to launching artificial satellites. On Jan.
31, 1958, America's first satellite, Explorer I, launched from Launch
Complex-26 at Cape Canaveral by a military-civilian team from the Army's
Missile Firing Laboratory.
the funding for NASA has been severely cut in recent years, they still use the
launch pads, conduct research, create new spacecraft and support the
International Space Station. But on the visitor's side, much has changed at
Kennedy since my first visit.
The changes are for the better.
Space Center has taken some cues from other Florida theme parks and has been
able to make the serious science behind space exploration interesting to
everyone by grouping its subjects into different areas of interest like early
space travel, missions to Mars, even the environment and history of that area
enjoyed seeing how space equipment has evolved over the years, roaming amongst a
collection of space suits, capsules and through the Rocket Garden, which is now
home authentic rockets from the past, including a Mercury-Atlas rocket. The
garden also features a climb-in Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsule replicas,
seating pods and informative graphic elements.
in the price of admission was the KSC Tour, which takes guests on a narrated
excursion with self-paced stops at the Launch Complex 39 observation gantry to view
space shuttle launch pads; the Apollo/Saturn V Center to relive the launch of Apollo
8 from mission control, walk beneath a massive Saturn V rocket and enjoy
"front-row seats" as a human lands on the moon.
can also feel what it was really like inside a space shuttle launch with the
"Shuttle Launch Experience" simulation facility. New additions to the complex
include "Eye on the Universe: The Hubble Space Telescope," a pathway where
guests can enjoy the powerful imagery taken by NASA's crown jewel; "Treasures
Gallery," an exhibit in the Apollo/Saturn V Center with artifacts from the
Apollo moon missions; and "Exploration Station," a 10,000-square-foot
interactive classroom that is always staffed with a member of Kennedy's
Educator Resource Center. Long-time favorites include the Rocket Garden and
particularly enjoyed a film on the Hubble Space Telescope at the on-site IMAX
theater. It made a massive impression, one they continue to discuss today.
also another side to the spaceport. All but the operational areas of Kennedy
are designated as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, including 25
miles of undeveloped beach that forms the Canaveral National Seashore. More
than 500 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are found here.
Some, like the American bald eagle, sea turtle, wood stork, alligator and the
ponderous manatee, or sea cow, are on the endangered or threatened species
list. Most of the refuge and all of the seashore is open to visitors during
daylight hours, except when space operations require a closure.
per adult and $40 per child, it is best to plan an entire day at Kennedy to get
your money's worth. When we return, "Lunch with an Astronaut" will be on our
$30, a buffet lunch includes a presentation
by a veteran astronaut, followed by a question and answer session.
the experience has ignited a great interest in space, science and exploration
in our children. And Kennedy Space Center is a place we will return with them
again and again.