On our last day in Florida, we went to Kennedy Space Center. My guys were still in the love-anything-rocket stage, and we had enjoyed our visit to Johnson Space Center in Houston, so this seemed like a good fit.
Arriving early at any museum is always a good idea, and for Kennedy, it’s an excellent idea. There’s so much to see and do, it’s hard to get everything done. However, we hit the highlights: Rocket Park, the Space Shuttle mock-up, a bus tour of the center, and best of all – lunch with an astronaut – Story Musgrave.
I’m not sure if it was because it was Memorial Day or if Kennedy is not high on people’s Florida to-do list, but it was really empty. We started off at Rocket Park, where the size of the rockets shot off into space can overwhelm. They have the huge Saturn V and various other ones. Also in the Rocket Park, kids (and adults) can sit in mock-ups of space capsules. As you can see, it’s a tight fit for an adult and two kids – imagine three grown men!
The indoor exhibits on early space exploration are interesting, but hubby and I did a lot of explaining of the history of space flight – both the failures and successes – to our little ones. There are excellent descriptions, but I admit it helped that hubby was into rockets when he was a little boy!
Finally, it was time for an early lunch – with an astronaut! When I was planning our trip, I let my travel agent pre-buy our tickets to Kennedy Space Center. (It’s generally a good idea to pre-buy if you know you’re going to be short on time because it eliminates one less step on the actual visit day.) However, after discovering the missed opportunity with the dolphin encounter (see my Cruising the Bahamas post), I decided to peruse the Kennedy Space website on my own and discovered this special event.
For a little extra (considering you’re probably going to buy lunch there anyway), you can eat with an astronaut! I must admit that when I signed up, I imagined it would be an intimate venue – it’s not. The lunch (a very nice buffet) takes place in a large conference room. There are about a hundred others lunching with you. HOWEVER – unlike the Astronaut Encounter (which is included in the price of admission), you get a more in-depth session with the astronaut. He’ll answer questions, sign autographs, and you get your picture taken with him.
Our astronaut was Story Musgrave and he was fascinating. The realization this man had gone up into space not once, but several times was humbling. The stories he told and the experiences he shared were amazing.
Now, the big question, would I recommend this for kids?
My answer – it depends on the kid. My boys were into rockets, and M enjoyed it, though I think he was also expecting something more one-on-one. But at age 4, it was a little over P’s head. That said, it’s a unique opportunity and sometimes we don’t give kids the credit they deserve. M definitely bragged to his classmates about meeting a ‘real-live astronaut’!
After lunch we had just enough time to take a quick bus tour of the Kennedy Center. It’s hop-on-hop-off tour, so you can get off at whatever interests you. At the A/B Camera stop, you get the closest access to the launch pad. When we were there, Discovery was on the launch pad, preparing for the first return to space after the Columbia explosion of 2003. Seeing that shuttle makes you realize how brave astronauts are – they explore knowing the dangers and go anyway.
We were running short on time, so we bypassed the International Space Center stop and hopped off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You’ll see the Apollo Mission Control (I think Houston’s Mission Control took over when they got past a certain point) and more rockets.
Finally, after we returned to the Visitor complex, we decided to take a detour since it was Memorial Day and stop to pay our respects at the Astronaut Memorial. I, as do many others of my generation, remember what I was doing when the Challenger exploded just after lift-off in 1986. I also remember the horror of watching investigators sift through miles of wreckage in 2003 after Columbia broke up during re-entry. Those astronauts and so many others gave their lives to further our knowledge. They are honored with a simple, yet moving memorial.
Say what you want about NASA bureaucracy, the expense of space exploration, and its benefit to society – these people gave their lives. They deserve our respect and honor – especially on Memorial Day. And Kennedy Space Center definitely deserves its place on Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up.
Seven places visited, 493 to go.
For more information, visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com
Next: #493 Playland’s Retro Rides