“The sky calls to us” – Carl Sagan
Says the wall outside the visitor complex of the NASA launch pad, Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, the very place which launched the first man on the moon.
My holiday isn’t complete unless I get to see the milky way, this was way better. We spent a day at the KSC understanding what really happens at NASA, admiring the height of American achievement at the Atlantis Space Shuttle showcase and giving the kids (and ourselves) a chance to get up, close and personal with rockets, science and astronauts.
The day started with the 90 minute bus tour of the entire complex that showed us the actual vehicle assembly building where the rockets are assembled, the launchpad for the shuttles all the while explaining what goes into getting to space. We stopped off first to watch the history of the NASA space program and its progress over the years, followed by a visit to Saturn V.
The introduction was all about how the ‘man on the moon’ mission came about along with the speech from Kennedy, followed by the actual control room from where the first successful shuttle to the moon was launched, to live the ‘race to the moon’. With a countdown timer running on the side, the relevant controls lighting up in front of us and the realistic sound and light effect of a rocket launch, I could feel the euphoria the team must have felt at the time of the real launch and almost felt like standing up and cheering at the launch.
The exhibit closes with one walking into a large area displaying Saturn V, at 363 feet long, the largest rocket ever built. We spent close to 2 hours exploring the place – the rockets, moon rocks, exhibits one could walk through and feel like an astronaut in and lunching at the cafe. The food court here was a lot cheaper than the main visitor complex.
Next on the list, was a visit to the Space Shuttle Atlantis building. Along with the magnificent shuttle was American marketing prowess on display. One cant fail to be impressed with the full scale 184-foot space shuttle stack, including external tank and two solid rocket boosters, right at the entrance.
Inside, we saw an IMAX movie presenting the context, followed by a short 360 movie view of the rocket, closing with a a large screen with a picture of the Atlantis Space Shuttle…and then the screen lifts to reveal the beauty itself, the real spaceship suspended mid air with its cargo doors open. A showcase that is awe-inspiring as intended. We spent close to 45 mins admiring the ship and the multiple interactive exhibits that allow kids to feel like they are navigating a spaceship!
After making our way back, we went into the IMAx theatre to watch a movie about Mission Mars. The queue gets long, so getting there early would help. The way out lead us to a number of interactive exhibits simulating some space experiences including an air slide, a transparent tunnel suspended 20 feet above the ground, space toilets etc, which the kids really enjoyed.
We had limited time and had to head back after about 5 odd hours, but the place deserves at least a full day. The two other attractions we would have liked to visit were the Rocket Garden and the book signing by a real astronaut. Older kids are likely to enjoy the space shuttler simulator immensely.
Even without an engineering background I was much fascinated by the detail that goes into exploring beyond the earth – from the sheer energy required to propel a rocket into outer-space to the nuts and bolts of the launch pad. A trip to NASA is guaranteed to inspire awe and amazement. I left with a renewed feeling of wide eyed wonder at really how amazingly expansive the universe is, and how, despite all our breath-taking achievements, we’ve only gone so far…. and the sky calls to us.
Planning Tips with kids
- Plan to spend at least 7-8 hours at the centre, we were there for about 5 hrs and missed the astronaut meet and greet, rocket garden and space shuttle simulator
- Get there early, queues start lengthening after 10 am. Also, do the Atlantis Space Shuttle and Saturn V in the beginning to avoid long wait time.
- Use the loo; eat a snack before getting onto the bus tour since it is about 45 mins long and there may be long queues for boarding
- Try the space dots ice-cream 🙂
- Strollers are available for a nominal charge at the ($6) near the start of the Bus Tour, but if you get your own, parking is also available.
- While there is a children’s play dome with a NASA themed play area, we found the exhibits far more interesting and a better use of the limited time!