The Florida of outlets and theme parks is also home to the curious Kennedy Space Center, a NASA complex that connects the Earth to outer space
You will probably get a sore neck after visiting the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the NASA complex located in central Florida. Observing huge spacecraft and rockets for so long makes us realize how little we look to the sky (and here you do it a lot).
Some 40 minutes from Orlando, Cape Canaveral is home to one of the 20 NASA centers and the starting point for all the manned expeditions since 1968, including Apollo 11, which landed the first two humans on the Moon. The KSC is located in the Brevard County, which was a peaceful community up until the 1950s, with less than 30,000 inhabitants. After its creation, in 1962, and Neil Armstrong’s small step on the Moon, in 1969, the county population rose to over 110,000, as if in an alien invasion.
In 2018, NASA will celebrate its 60th anniversary and, since the end of manned missions, in 2011, the agency has provided little information about future activities. The exploration of Mars seems to be one of the options and, probably, the first human who will step on the Red Planet is already among us. While space travel is not available for ordinary people, the Kennedy Center is the best way to get closer to the stars.
A dive into space
Kids are especially fascinated by the attractions. Right at the entrance, many run to the Rocket Garden, which is home to the giants that were part of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Next to the garden stands a gallery with astronauts’ personal items and audio recordings.
At Space Shuttle Atlantis, a complex dedicated to the space shuttle of the same name, visitors are welcomed by an enormous replica of its boosters, which are approximately 148 feet [45 m] tall. Inside, the real Atlantis is on display, with marks of the flight on its body – try the turbulent takeoff simulator to feel like a true space traveler.
Veteran astronauts circulate there, and the tour can include lunch with them. Bob Cenker, who spent six days in space, reveals details of his experience – and affirms that it was very similar to a domestic flight. “It’s impossible not to look out the window, whether on a plane or in a rocket,” he says.
The last stop, at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, is a can’t-miss. There, parts (colossal parts, by the way) of the last rocket built for the mission that landed human beings on the Moon are on display. And you can also touch a moon rock.
The KSC’s 60th anniversary commemorations will include the inauguration of an educational center, which should increase the already impressive number of students there – currently, 20,000 per year. “Sparking children’s interest is the best way to continue exploring the Universe,” explains Jim Christensen, the center’s future director. Observing kids with widened eyes before the spacecraft, we relaxed: as long as they are curious, infinity is the limit.
• Atlantis flew 33 missions before retiring in 2011
• 17,400 mi/h [28,000 km/h] is the speed of a spacecraft during launch
• On the Apollo missions, 842 lb [382 kg] of lunar material were collected!