If you have Kennedy Space Center on your bucket list (and you should), purchase 2 day passes. Just do it. You won’t regret it. Also, get there at opening. We bought one day passes, didn’t get there till after noon and probably saw less than half of it. We’ll go back one day.
I grew up an 80s child. The Space Shuttle Program was my childhood. It was magical and awe inspiring and science-fiction-y. Elementary school classes were stopped and kids were herded into the gym to sit around a massive tube TV on a stand to tune in to the news coverage of a shuttle launch. Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic be damned, a SHUTTLE was about to launch into space! This, of course, includes the fateful launch of the Challenger in January of 1986. I can still feel the chill in the air as we sat mesmerized by this fantastic machine full of hopeful, pioneering, brave men and women…including a school teacher! How magnificent. And then… It was hard to wrap my 10 year old brain around the tragedy, but I knew we all felt the heaviness of it deep in our naive, young hearts. So many other successful launches and so much amazing research and discoveries kept us all intrigued.
Kennedy is truly a marvel. We had the good fortune to attend a talk by Astronaut Jon McBride, who was part of NASA’s first ever class of space shuttle astronauts in 1978. He was the chase pilot for the first flight of the Columbia and he was part of the first crew of seven aboard the Challenger in 1984. He spoke not just of the facts around the shuttle program, but of the personal lives of the “shuttle families”. Clearly a brilliant man, his presentation was fascinating.
Callum’s Corner: We went into the Space Shuttle Atlantis building. Then we went into the theater and watched two 10 minute videos about the Atlantis. Then the screen lifted up and we were super close to the Atlantis Space Shuttle! Then we went to see and take pictures of the Atlantis and then we went up stairs and did interactive exhibits! It was so cool! We went downstairs and Quinn and Dad went down a slide while mom and me were watching. We went to see the Airstream that the astronauts used to get to their Shuttle. Then we went out of the building and got ice cream! Then mom went to the rocket garden to take some pictures.
The bus tour to all the not-so-secret, yet still restricted areas of the property was exceptional. We got to see the launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly building (where they literally built the shuttles—it’s the tallest single story building in the world, I think?) and the crawler-transporter, which is the vehicle that took the upright rockets and shuttles to the launch pad. Each crawler-transporter (there are two named Hanz and Franz…lolz) weighs in at a whopping 6 MILLION pounds and has 8 tracks (think military tanks) with two on each corner. Of course the rockets and shuttles designed and built by aerospace engineers are truly spectacular feats of engineering, but these crawler-transporters deserve some praises be sung for them as well. To keep the upright rocket/shuttle stable, the crawler-transporter travels ONE mph to the launch pad, taking 5 hours (only 3.5 miles between the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad!). There’s even a team of people that walk ahead of the transporter to shoo away gators or turtles that crawl onto its path. Good info here.
As Callum said, we went to the building housing the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Now, we’ve already been to the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum and seen the Space Shuttle Discovery and it was fantastic. But the way the unveiling of the Atlantis is set up at Kennedy is nothing short of spectacular. I’m not going to give it away, but my eyes may have been sweating when the curtain was lifted.
There was SO much more to see. There were hands on exhibits the boys enjoyed and a beautiful and moving tribute to the lives lost in the space program, including actual pieces of the Challenger and Columbia. Another sweating eyeballs moment. And there was the Airstream. Mad hearts for the Airstream.
We spent far too few hours there and we could have come back for more the next day. Callum was semi-interested and Quinn was enthralled. Whatever you do, GO to Kennedy Space Center…and take selfies.