With NASA’s new Moon rocket - Artemis I - launching from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, 29th August, there’s never been more buzz about the Florida attraction. Yet this fun and educational centre has long been a favourite tourist spot for families. And here’s why it can be a blast during your next break too...
It’s less than an hour’s drive from Orlando
The Kennedy Space Center sits on Merritt Island, off Florida’s east coast. And while it’s technically not in Orlando, you’ll still see it topping lists of ‘things to do in Orlando’ because it’s so close. It’s usually less than an hour’s drive from Orlando, traffic permitting, which is an easy-breezy day trip – especially by American standards.
The center isn’t the only attraction on Merritt Island, either. It’s home to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which has the highest numbers of endangered species in the whole of the US. We’re talking bobcats, bald eagles, manatees, gators, and even the elusive Florida panther. In fact, there’s even a crew whose job it is to make sure the runway’s free of wildlife before rocket launches, as alligators have been known to use it as a sunbathing spot.
There’s so much to see and do
Try astronaut food, touch moon rocks, see the tech used in the Apollo missions – there really is something for everyone at the Kennedy Space Center. After all, it has been the main launch centre of human spaceflight since 1968. At the Apollo Treasures Gallery you can wise up on the Apollo missions, which put the first man on the moon. It’s also where you’ll find the Moon Wall, which is covered in moon rocks from all over the globe. There’s even a touch tank with the water from Buzz Aldrin’s lunar landing site, and little ones will love being able to touch the moon rocks inside. Alternatively, you can take a look into the future of space exploration, getting up close to life-sized Mars rover replicas and learning all about the so-called Red Planet with simulators and interactive games.
Other fun activities include taste testing what astronauts have to eat on missions. And you can even buy some of your favourite items, like freeze-dried ice cream, from the gift shop. If your family are astronaut-obsessed, it’s also worth paying extra for the Chat with an Astronaut encounter, where a real-life astronaut is on hand to tell you about their training and living in space, with the chance to ask questions at the end. Or, there’s the IMAX Theatre, where you can settle down for documentaries about space exploration.
Even the littlest of space explorers have somewhere designed with them in mind. At Planet Play, they can climb a wormhole, totter along Saturn’s rings and whizz through an asteroid field. We can almost guarantee they’ll be impressed by the Rocket Garden, too. It’s home to retired rockets that have been used in space missions throughout the years, and there’s even a model of the International Space Station so you can see it up close.
Sign up for astronaut training
There are a couple of extra-special experiences that aren’t included in your standard ticket price. But they really are once-in-a-lifetime. Budding space explorers can see what it’s like to be an astronaut in training, which gives you a taste of what it’s like to fly to, land and live on Mars. It costs $175 and is suitable for children over 10. You can solve NASA-inspired science and engineering challenges with a day at ‘Mars Base 1’ for $150. And you can join a live action gaming experience, based on real NASA missions. Build a Martian habitat, take part in experiments at the ‘International Space Center’, and launch NASA’s next rocket to Mars with the Cosmic Quest gaming experience.
See restricted areas on a bus tour
Space nuts will love this. The Behind the Gates bus tour takes you to restricted areas of the complex for a glimpse at famous launch sites and other official facilities, which usually aren’t open to the public. It’ll take you to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you can see the biggest rocket that’s ever been in the air – Saturn V – you know, the one that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. What’s more, it’s included in your ticket price, so it’s definitely one not to miss.
You can watch real-life rocket launches
50 years on from the world-famous Apollo missions, NASA is set to return to the moon with the launch of Artemis I on Monday, 29 August. It’s the first in a series of missions, with the aim to build a human presence at the moon in decades to come. The launch pad – which was also used for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 – is around 8 miles from the main Kennedy Space Center visitor complex, meaning you can get unparalleled views of the launches. For special launches like this, the Kennedy Space Center offers viewing packages, giving you access to the complex, as well as special launch day events.
Of course, if you’re not in Florida, you can also watch the historic launch live online. The launch window starts at 1.33pm UK time, and you can watch on the NASA app, NASA website or NASA TV
…or experience a launch in a state-of-the-art simulator
If your visit doesn’t coincide with a Florida rocket launch, fear not. You can experience exactly what an astronaut feels during a launch for yourself, courtesy of the state-of-the-art simulator. The whole ride lasts eight-and-a-half minutes – although it feels a lot longer! After a briefing from veteran space shuttle commander Charles Bolden, you’ll be blasted into space, travelling at simulated speeds of almost 17,500 mph. Even real-life astronauts have claimed it’s the ‘next best thing to an actual space shuttle launch’ – and they should know…
Ready to launch your break? Start planning your trip to Florida and the Kennedy Space Center with us.