KSC is where NASA, in partnership with Boeing and SpaceX (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 for ten years, I’ve visited several times and continually find new things to see and do there. Here are the 25 things to do at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to add to your travels.
If you find yourself on Florida’s Atlantic coast, one of the best things to do is visit Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSC), located on 140,000 acres at Merritt Island, north of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean. 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.
1. Chat with an Astronaut
What used to be “Lunch with an Astronaut” and one of the primo Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex attractions has been changed up a bit to be a more casual setting down and breaking bread with the “Chat with an Astronaut.” This small-scale experience allows you to enjoy a catered meal, ask questions to the guest participant, and rub elbows with a profession that is still one of the smallest imaginable.
Choose from a sampling of food and drink (I hope Tang is still on the menu!) while you hear what it is like to live and work in space. I have done this a few times, and it has never been anything less than sensational. The astronauts share their fabulous journeys. Where else can you do something this “tripendicular” like live astronaut encounters?
The Chat with an Astronaut experience happens at 10 AM (for breakfast) and 2 PM (snacks) daily. An adult alcoholic beverage ticket is included, a signed picture of the astronaut, and a commemorative gift. Current prices are $50 for adults and $35 for children (ages 3 to 11), in addition to the daily entrance ticket fee.
2. Explore Gateway™: The Deep Space Launch Complex
A bold new offering at KSC is Explore Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex. This visionary design looks at the road to human deep space travel and the modern technology for space exploration; this involves NASA and its commercial partners.
Step into the immersive spaceport of tomorrow ride, Spaceport KSC, and launch aboard one of four pathways (Cosmic Wonders, Daring Explorers, Red Planet, or Uncharted Worlds) into the solar system via the form of a two-story motion theater.
You’ll leave with a wealth of information about what is currently trending in the space industry and see it as it unfolds. And best of all, a look at the SLS rocket scale model and Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 capsule, which will play a role in the Artemis future missions.
3. Learn What a Hero Is
Stepping inside Heroes and Legends, you’ll watch a 360° movie experience about how humans define heroes through a 4-D multi-sensory presentation that is super fun and looks at the earliest space missions. There are some surprises, so be prepared. Then comes the gallery, where American astronauts are remembered and honored.
I love seeing the real Mercury Mission Control display at this attraction.
4. Participate in the Day of Remembrance
In partnership with The Astronauts Memorial Foundation and KSC, NASA hosts the annual Day of Remembrance, which started in 1991. The beautiful late January ceremony honors those astronauts who have sacrificed their lives to further space exploration. These are the crews of the Apollo 1, STS-51L Challenger, and STS-107 Columbia vessels.
Members of the astronaut’s families attend the moving ceremony as the names of each are read aloud.
After a short program, the wreath-laying ceremony occurs at the ominous Space Mirror Memorial. Attendees of the ceremony are given carnations and roses to pay their respects, which are typically intertwined in the fencing.
I’ve attended this ceremony twice, once in 2016 for the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve witnessed. Fellow West Virginian and famous astronaut Jon McBride choked up several times while reading the list of his fellow astronauts, many of whom he was close friends.
Brandon Heath performed music, and a memorable performance and National Anthem were sung by Voices of Liberty from the Walt Disney World Resort.
Fun Fact: During that 2016 ceremony, I met this man pictured below. I knew from looking at him he was somebody special and that he was. Orlando architect Alan Helman was the key figure responsible for the Challenger Florida license plate program as a way to fund a memorial for America’s fallen astronauts. This was the start of over 100 vanity plates for which Florida now has options.
5. Walk Through the US Astronaut Hall of Fame
One of my favorite KSC attractions is the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in the Heroes and Legends building. Though a white, unexciting building on the outside, the inside is chock full of clever displays and massive amounts of information. This is where you can look at the space program trailblazers and where their personal information is immortalized.
Hall of famers are inducted by a special committee; I was surprised that some astronauts I had heard many things about were not yet members.
Pro Tip: Kennedy Space Center is doable in four to six hours, and comparatively speaking, it is a walkable property, unlike the nearby theme parks. You could easily make a whole day out of visiting, but I think you can see the highlights in less.
6. Wander the Iconic Rocket Garden
Perhaps the most recognized part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and easily the most photographed, is the stunning Rocket Garden. The photogenic garden consists of:
- Juno I
- Juno II
- Mercury-Redstone 3
- Delta II (added in 2021)
- Saturn 1B (The horizontal rocket)
- Gemini-Titan II
- Capsule (you can sit inside)
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. Journey to Mars
Discover NASA’s plans to explore deep space as you get up close to life-sized Mars Rover replicas. You can also test your skills as a recruit in the Journey To Mars: Launched by United Launch Alliance.
Among the space vehicles present at KSC is the Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator (MRVN), a concept vehicle that meets the needs of the demanding Mars landscape.
Explorers Wanted, the main show, runs twice an hour. New destinations for space travel are introduced as future space explorers are invited to check out the new opportunities and their challenges. Explorers Wanted is included with your KSC admission.
8. Perfect Your Selfies
As a long-time visitor of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, I’ve watched it go from blah and educational only to a real people-pleasing amusement attraction with a bounty of pizazz and things to do. The more glamorous KSC of today offers excellent places to take selfies, including the NASA insignia “meatball,” the Astronaut Hall of Fame Inductee spot, in the ISS, and alongside the majestic 75-foot-long JFK water fountain.
Another way to get the perfect selfie is with the help of Super Selfie in the Rocket Garden. This photo experience allows you to pose while multiple cameras capture both near and far photos. They are then stitched together for a cool video for you to purchase, download, and keep forever.
9. Feast on Ice Cream or Space Dots
Munch on a waffle cone of ice cream like the one pictured here to beat the Florida heat or simply enjoy a sweet treat. You’ll find the Milky Way Ice Cream Shop near the entrance of Universe Theater.
You can also choose Space Dots, what you might know as “Dippin’ Dots,” though KSC had them years before. Churros and cotton candy are also on the menu.
10. Walk Down Memory Lane
The space program has been a highly publicized and talked about entity of my entire life. I remember Snoopy the Astronaut, the official mascot for NASA’s safety initiative since 1969. Snoopy the Astronaut was created by Charles Schultz as a cartoon to drum up enthusiasm by fellow Americans about the new space program. You can purchase many souvenirs dedicated to him in the gift shops.
A second thing is Space Ice Cream. Did you eat the freeze-dried treat when you were in grade school? Seeing that I went to school in Charleston, WV, very far from anything having to do with NASA, I don’t know how or why we had it, but it tasted wonderful.
I’ve bought space ice cream every time I’ve seen it in a gift shop ever since, though now they have mostly replaced the Neapolitan chunk with an ice cream sandwich I’m not very fond of. Do you have childhood memories of Space Ice Cream?
And who remembers this familiar scene (though done in LEGOS here) from the good ole MTV days?
11. See the Replica Moonscape
The Moonscape is a life-sized recreated setting from the famed Apollo 11 Moon landing. It holds the actual Lunar Module 9 and will help you better understand this phenomenal feat. Since this happened in my birth year, I’ve always had a particular interest in the moon landing, which puts it into perspective.
Afterward, step inside Kennedy Space Center’s theater for exciting films about space life in both the past and present. Arrive a few minutes early, and enjoy your favorite snacks: popcorn, candy, and soda. Space movies run daily in the IMAX Building and are included with your admission ticket. See the daily schedule once you arrive for show times. The ones I’ve seen in the past were exciting and full of great content.
The IMAX Theater is currently showing Asteroid Hunters and Journey to Space. Movies run for around 40 minutes each.
Pro Tip: Don’t feel like watching a movie? You can still beat the Florida heat by taking advantage of an air-conditioned theater and sneaking in a nap in a comfy chair.
12. Awe Over Space Shuttle Atlantis
You’ll need a few hours to complete Space Shuttle Atlantis, a KSC landmark experience. You step inside the building housing the Space Shuttle Atlantis orbiter spacecraft that helped establish the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope. Space Shuttle Atlantis is the “world’s most comprehensive attraction devoted to the space shuttle.”
More than sixty exhibits can be found, including what astronauts eat, how the orbiter docks at the International Space Station, and astronaut bathroom families (children’s favorite). Astronaut training high-tech simulators let you experience how to dock and land the shuttle. All this is delivered through touch-screen experiences and high-tech simulators.
You can also take a virtual ride with sounds and sensations you’ll love! Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Launch Experience allows guests to strap in for an “all too real” five-minute thrill ride they won’t soon forget. Experience what it is like to zip through space on this virtual ride that glimpses Earth from outer space. “I loved it. You feel like there is no gravity and have a lot of pressure, but it is exhilarating”, offered Peyton Pittman.
Also located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis is Forever Remembered, another thought-provoking gallery exhibit paying a beautiful tribute to the lost lives on the Columbia and Challenger missions.
13. Glimpse Moon Tree Garden
Relax and reflect in the Moon Tree Garden. See trees that are direct descendants of seeds taken to the Moon, and stand in awe of the one-of-a-kind bronze statue of Apollo 11 astronauts.
14. Let the Kids go Wild at Planet Play
Planet Play didn’t exist when my kids were young, but rest assured, it would have been their favorite part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. This eclectic neon multi-story wonderland has all sorts of climbing areas and places for play, guaranteed to please the young and even tweens. A few features are climbing a wormhole, walking on Saturn’s rings, ad sliding through an asteroid field.
Parents can enjoy sitting for a spell while sipping a glass of wine, beer, or coffee in a comfortable lounge setting.
15. Celebrate America
You are doing just that by visiting the Kennedy Space Center, where mankind first left Earth to explore the great beyond. Kennedy Space Center is not only a working launch facility but also a symbol of our country’s determination, intelligence, and perseverance.
16. Take the Bus Tour
The organized video-supplemented 45-minute bus tour will take you to the Apollo/Saturn V Center part of the property. Along the way, you will ride past the NASA launch pads, observation towers, and iconic space program landmarks like the Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s an eyeful and privilege to be that close to some of the biggest newsmakers of our time.
The Vehicle Assembling Building is an enormous 130 million cubic feet hangar, which holds a news media facility and the launch control center. Tours may be altered or closed due to operational requirements or launch preparations.
17. Meet an Astronaut at KSC
Your admission ticket includes Meet an Astronaut during a live presentation at the Universe Theater. Visit the Event Calendar to see who the Astronaut of the Day is for your visit, but expect pilots, payload specialists, and commanders, to name a few. This is a half-hour question and answers session, and you may also stick around for autographs and possibly photo ops.
It is doubtful you will get to meet this astronaut on a regular given day at Kennedy Space Center, but I was fortunate to attend an opening, and none other than Buzz Aldrin was in attendance. It was one of the top travel days of my life and a real privilege to meet the second man to walk on the moon. I felt like “pinch me, I’m dreaming” for days.
18. Catch a Shuttle Launch
Between SpaceX and Space Launch System (SLS) liftoffs, your chance to see a rocket launch during your time at Merritt Island, Florida, is pretty good. Launches lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and the KSC complex is a great place to see them—the Atlantis North Lawn, to be exact. I have driven up from Vero Beach to see an old-school launch (like ten years ago) and merely pulled over beside the road a few miles before reaching the complex, and the views were great.
If you are visiting the area and are open to suggestions for lodging, the Inn at Cocoa Beach is a great place to stay and offers a rooftop patio where people gather to watch the launch. It is a primo location. In my experience, someone has had the launch on the radio or speaker for the crowd to enjoy. The feel of a sonic boom is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. Wow!
19. Pay Your Respects at the Space Mirror Memorial
Space Mirror Memorial is a National memorial honoring the 24 fallen astronauts whose names are etched on a highly polished 42’x50′ black granite stone. The picturesque piece, created by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, is continuously illuminated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a great tribute to their ultimate sacrifice in pursuing space exploration.
Names of the fallen include 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, and Ilan Ramon.
20. Explore the Universe at Kennedy Space Center
Inside this theater are various 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.
21. Celebrate the Holidays With KSC
One of the best things to do at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is commemorating the holidays from December 13th through 31st. There are 10,000 dazzling lights, decorated palm trees, and 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. Head to the lawn area when the sun goes down to watch a short film that journeys NASA’s historic missions to the Moon and Mars.
FYI: As media, I’ve been invited to several VIP events like the one shown above. Unfortunately, canapés and petit fours are not passed regularly.
22. Have Lunch and A Snack
Not only can you be entertained all day with loads of educational material and family fun, but you can also eat at KSC. The Orbit Cafe is the main eatery with salads, burgers, pizza, and sandwiches. They are now serving breakfast, too.
The lines can get long, but you can save time by placing your order with mobile ordering starting at 11 AM. You will be required to pay on the app; no discounts or vouchers can be used with this method. You can pick up your food at the time you request at Station 6.
The savory “build your own” bowls at Space Bowl Bistro are a second lunch option. This restaurant is open daily from 9 AM to 4 PM.
After you eat your meal, cool off and satisfy your sweet tooth with the ice cream of the future next to Space Shuttle Atlantis. Martian Rocks is a flavor exclusive to Kennedy Space Center.
23. Tour the Apollo/Saturn V Center
Take the bus ride to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, home to the largest rocket ever flown. You’ll have the privilege of walking underneath the 363-foot long overhead hanging Saturn V moon rocket, the most powerful ever built, allowing incredible views of the wondrous rocket.
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.
You’ll learn about the Apollo missions in this facility and their impact on the 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, a life-sized depiction of 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 one of the best things to do at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, so allow time to get there and back.
Fun Fact: There were 13 Saturn V launches from 1967 to 1973 and 10 other Apollo missions after Apollo 7. The uncrewed (no humans onboard) Apollo 4, launched in November 1967, was the first rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center. With a live crew, Saturn V launched Apollo 8 in 1968 and was the lunar orbiting mission.
Apollo 9 orbited the Earth, and Apollo 10, a lunar orbit, paved the way for the most famous Apollo 11, launched July 16, 1969. It made the first Moon landing four days later and included Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. The Apollo program concluded after the launch of Apollo 17.
24. Get in Free (For Educators)
Kennedy Space Center announced in August 2022 that they would offer complimentary admission to teachers nationwide (USVI and Puerto Rico, too) with the Educator Study Pass Program. KSC offers education-focused learning specializing in STEM through a variety of options, including field trips and Explore & Learn mobile experience via the Space Chase! App, and even overnights and camps.
Requirements for tickets are one of these items:
- An active teaching certificate from the United States, Puerto Rico or the USVI
- A badge with a photo that shows the title Teacher or Educator
- Letter on school letterhead, dated and signed by the principal listing the name(s) of the teacher(s), stating they are an educator at the school
25. Shop for NASA Merchandise
Stock up on Apollo mission trinkets on your visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at The Space Shop. This cram-packed two-story store (15,372 square-ft) is the world’s largest devoted to space memorabilia and NASA gear. Expect souvenirs, memorabilia, and merchandise, with an emphasis on collectibles, LEGOS, t-shirts, and the always delicious space ice cream; over 3,000 items, to be exact.
A simple but awesome thing I like to add to my collection is trading pins, and there are dozens to choose from at KSC.
On the second floor, walk in the steps of NASA astronauts across the original Apollo 11 gantry. Be sure to snap a photo!
The Right Stuff souvenir shop is at Apollo/Saturn V center. It offers typical moon landing souvenirs and Apollo program memorabilia, but I found it to have the best t-shirts (and Snoopy the Astronaut merch). There is another shop, The Shuttle Express, inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis with the space shuttle and other space-related items.
Admission tickets were provided by KSC for several of my visits. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
Know Before You Go: Tickets, Rentals, and Parking
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, 45 minutes from Orlando, opens daily at 9 AM. Closing times vary by season. Tickets are good for two days of admission, can be used up to six months from purchase, and average around $45 daily. Tickets are $89 for adults and $79 for children. A single-day ticket is still available, at $75 for adults and $65 for children.
For more information, call 877-313-2610 or visit the website.
Parking at KSC will run you $10 for cars and trucks, $5 for motorcycles, and $16 for oversized vehicles or RVs. You may also rent wheelchairs for $10 plus tax, strollers (double, too), and scooters for $30 plus tax. I recommend securing the rental online to ensure you get one before they run out.
If you are traveling with a pet and need kennel boarding, there is an air-conditioned kennel onsite free of charge. Kennels are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Learn more about the pet kennel at this site before your visit.
The Florida Annual Pass at Kennedy Space Center
I just learned about the Annual Passholder deal, which offers year-round admission to KSC (a few limited exceptions) and some additional benefits. The Atlantis Annual Pass is an expanded annual version with free parking and food & beverage discounts. And lastly, the Cosmic Club Family Annual Pass gives admission to the whole family, free parking, and additional discounts.
Fun Fact: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is operated for NASA by Delaware North and entirely visitor-funded.
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