11 Best Things to Do at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
What shall I do on my visit to Kennedy Space Center? If you find yourself on Florida’s Atlantic coast, one of the best things to do is visit Kennedy Space Center (KSC), located on 140,000 acres at Merritt Island. The Florida and iconic space attraction, educating visitors about the past and present of the world’s leading space facility, is appealing to all ages and is a working establishment.
KSC is where NASA, in partnership with Boeing and Space-X (Elon Musk) is pushing the boundaries of space exploration and taking it to the next level. Space shuttle launches are nearly every month. Living close to KSC, I’ve visited several times and continually find new things to see and do there. Here are the 11 best things to do at Kennedy Space Center, one of the ten major NASA field centers in my book.
#1 Check out an IMAX Movie (or Two)
To learn about space life, both past, and present, step inside KSC’s IMAX Theater for thrilling films showcasing the space program. Guests should arrive 10 to 15 minutes before the movie for seating. Movie names and times are listed on the Daily Schedule and inside of the IMAX movie theater marquee. The ones I’ve seen in the past were exciting and full of great content.
Don’t feel like watching a movie? You can still beat the Florida heat by taking advantage of an air-conditioned theater and sneak in a nap in a comfy chair.
Note: This is included with your admission.
#2 Awe Over Atlantis
You’ll need a few hours to complete this experience, as you step inside the amazing building housing the Space Shuttle Atlantis orbiter spacecraft that helped establish the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope. More than sixty exhibits are found throughout, including a look at what astronauts eat, how the orbiter docks at the International Space Station, and astronaut bathroom families (a favorite of children). Astronaut training high-tech simulators let you experience how to dock and land the shuttle.
You can also take a virtual ride, complete with sounds and sensations you’ll love! Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Launch Experience allows guests to strap in for an 8 1/2 minute thrill ride they won’t soon forget. Experience what it is like to zip through space on this virtual ride. The Shuttle Launch Experience is inside Space Shuttle Atlantis and lasts 30 minutes.
“I loved it. You feel like there is no gravity and have a lot of pressure, but it is exhilarating”, offered Peyton Pittman.
Forever Remembered is another thought-provoking gallery in the Atlantis building, paying tribute to the 14 lives lost on Challenger and Columbia. Bring a tissue; it is heart-wrenching.
#3 Explore the Heroes and Legends Exhibit
Stepping inside of Heroes and Legends (this is where the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® is, too), is a simple looking building with astronauts etched on the side, is a look at the pioneers of the early space program. Here, you’ll have a 360° movie experience about how humans define heroes, a 4-D multi-sensory presentation that is super fun (and has some surprises), and a gallery where American astronauts are remembered and honored.
You’ll also find the authentic Mercury Mission Control console display here.
#4 Tour the Apollo/Saturn V Center
Board a bus at the Bus Tour Entrance for a 45-minute tour of KSC behind the main gates, including the launch pad areas, observation towers, Vehicle Assembly Building, and landing zones before arriving at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This is home to the largest rocket ever flown, hanging overhead and allowing you an amazing look at the wondrous vessel.
You’ll learn about the Apollo missions in this facility and the impact they had on the entire world. Be sure to see the film in the Lunar Theater, sharing a look at the first moments on the moon through incredible footage and an interactive “The Eagle has Landed” exhibit. You’ll also see the authentic Lunar Module 9, with a life-sized depiction from the Apollo 11 moon landing, including the planted flag and famous golf ball.
When you finish, board the bus back to the Visitor’s Center–after snapping pictures of the one-of-a-kind bronze statue of the Apollo 11 astronauts on the lawn. Touring the Apollo/Saturn V Center is definitely one of the best things to do at Kennedy Space Center, so be sure to allow time to get there and back.
Fun Fact: Kennedy Space Center was originally built to launch the Saturn V (the biggest launch in US history) for the Apollo-manned moon landing program.
#5 Explore the Universe
Inside of this theater is a variety of offerings, from meeting a veteran astronaut and hearing about their space adventures to watching current NASA briefings about upcoming missions. The 45-minute segment Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo goes in-depth to share the team that put the first men on the moon and the challenges they faced.
#6 Wander the Rocket Garden
Perhaps the most recognized thing at Kennedy Space Center is the gorgeous Rocket Garden. The photogenic garden consists of Juno I and II, Mercury-Redstone 3, Mercury-Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Saturn 1B, Gemini-Titan II, and a capsule you can even sit inside. The horizontal rocket is the Saturn 1B.
Guided tours take place in the Rocket Garden multiple times a day, with a space expert sharing the history of these early rockets.
Fun Fact: Juno I launched Explorer I (America’s first satellite), while Mercury-Redstone launched Alan Shepard’s first “American in space” mission.
#7 Learn about Local
Inside of Nature & Technology Center, you’ll see displays of Florida’s landscape up close and personal through displays of plant and animal life. The Florida region’s taxidermied (stuffed) animals represented in the center include alligators, birds of all sorts, armadillos, deer, and more.
Fun Fact: A significant portion of KSC is a National Wildlife Refuge, home to migratory birds and eagles. The other piece of the vast property keeps the KSC isolated for safety reasons and rocket launches.
#8 Shop for NASA Merchandise
Stock up on Apollo mission trinkets on your visit to Kennedy Space Center. Shop at The Right Stuff for LEGO playsets, Snoopy the Astronaut stuff, and even moon landing souvenirs.
The Space Shop is my favorite. It is also the world’s most extensive NASA merchandise collection of apparel, collectibles, souvenirs, memorabilia, and trading pins. On the second floor, you can walk in the steps of NASA astronauts across the original Apollo 11 gantry. It’s a pretty cool opportunity! Don’t forget the space ice cream, a tasty treat that never goes bad.
#9 Pay Your Respects at the Space Mirror Memorial
The national memorial honoring 24 fallen astronauts is illuminated continuously and etched with the astronaut’s names’ from the American space program on a slab of highly-polished 42′ x 50′ black granite. The Space Mirror Memorial (a somber piece created by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation) was dedicated in 1991 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a great tribute to their ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of space exploration.
The names listed on the memorial are:
- Theodore Freeman
- Charles Bassett
- Elliott See
- Clifton Williams
- Virgil “Gus” Grissom
- Edward White
- Roger Chaffee
- Michael Adams
- Robert Lawrence
- Francis Scobee
- Michael Smith
- Judith Resnik
- Ellison Onizuka
- Ronald McNair
- Gregory Jarvis
- Christa McAuliffe
- Manley “Sonny” Carter
- Rick Husband
- William McCool
- Laurel Clark
- Michael Anderson
- Kalpana Chawla
- David Brown
- Ilan Ramon
On NASA’s annual Day of Remembrance in late January, families of those fallen astronauts gather for a moving ceremony. Names of the fallen are read aloud, and wreaths are laid at the memorial in this touching tribute. Guests place a variety of colored carnations and roses along the monument to pay their respects in memory of the astronauts.
I attended in 2016, and before the outdoor ceremony, an indoor portion included a speaker (Jon McBride), music (vocalist Brandon Heath), and beautiful performance and National Anthem by Voices of Liberty from the Walt Disney World Resort. It is a tear-jerker, for sure, but a ceremony I will remember for the rest of my life.
#10 Enjoy a Tasty Meal or Even Dine with an Astronaut
Kennedy Space Center’s dining options include the Moon Rock Cafe (at the Apollo/Saturn V Center), Orbit Cafe, Rocket Garden Cafe, and Red Rock Grill. Foods range from salads and burgers, to pulled pork and pizza, and everything in between.
Enjoy Space Dots ice cream, churros, and cotton candy at Milky Way, and grab & go coffees, drinks, and light snacks at Rocket Fuel, a cute food truck at the front of the KSC complex. You can also pick up your favorite movie snacks (popcorn, candy, and soda) at the IMAX Snax stand.
Hear personal stories from a veteran NASA or international astronaut in an exclusive lunch option, Dine-with-an-Astronaut. The tasty buffet-style meal has plenty of hearty choices and a few vegetarian options, as well. Towards the end of the meal, the astronaut-of-the-day shares stories and a video presentation of their NASA missions. The Lunch-with-an-Astronaut special guest of the day (retired astronaut) is listed at the front of the park.
#11 Celebrate the Holidays
One of the best things to do at Kennedy Space Center is to commemorate the holidays December 13th through 31st. There are 10,000 dazzling lights, decorated palm trees, interactive and Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. Holiday music fills the air and a glittery rocket archway provides photo ops. There are surprises throughout the holidays, too. When the sun goes down, head over to the lawn area to watch a short film that journeys NASA’s historic missions to the Moon and Mars.
See the Past, Present and Future of Space Exploration
The progression of the space program is outlined well at KSC. It is incredible to see how far NASA has come in the lines of space exploration and watch their active role in the worldwide space program. I hope this list of the best things to do at Kennedy Space Center will help you make the most of your visit!
Note: KSC offers military and senior discounts.
Tip: If you are traveling with a pet, no worries. KSC has pet kennels near the entrance of the park. Kennels are operated on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Admission tickets were provided by KSC for my visit. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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