Now it can be said: The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is for the birds. Make that the Angry Birds.
The attraction has just opened Angry Birds Space Encounter, which brings the fowl characters from the digital-gaming world to real life in hopes of increasing young people's interest in science.
Yes, there are slingshots, as in the game, which launches birds of different feathers at intergalactic targets. The KSC versions are about 4 feet high, and the birds are stuffed dolls fired at a wall in a minute-long competition called Eggsteroids Slingshot.
"Everyone really wants to play the game in the physical sense. So, of course, we have to have some massive slingshots and be able to knock stuff down," says Dan Mitchell, director of location-based entertainment for Rovio Entertainment, the Finland-based creator of the Angry Birds franchise.
The Birds are branching out beyond the games, which have been downloaded more than 1.7 billion times since debuting in December 2009. Finland's Sarkanniemi amusement park last year opened Angry Birds Land, an area that includes Angry-themed rides, stores and playgrounds. The company has an emphasis on "activities parks," Mitchell says.
"It's all about moving — maybe not so much waiting in line as it is getting up and doing it," he says.
Kennedy Space Center, located in Brevard County, also features touch screens that let guests design Angry Bird characters, solve sliding puzzles and play a round of the Angry Birds Space game. Other activities are the Danger Zone, a mirrored maze, and the Red Planet Lazer Challenge, a "Mission: Impossible"-esque obstacle course.
The maze was more elaborate and disorienting than I anticipated, with lighting effects and, for freaked-out folks, emergency exits. There are surprises that reminded me of mazes at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights — but without gore. And in great Central Florida style, the maze dumps into a gift shop, stocked with T-shirts and other souvenirs.
The slingshot area is decidedly low-tech. After each round, workers must gather up the fallen dolls before the next competition can start. There's netting on the sides in case of ricochet. When older kids got ahold of the slingshots, they discovered that pulling way back resulted in big-time rebounds.
At least they learned a few things about trajectory. That's science, right?
Angry Birds Space Encounter is fun, but it's a small step compared with other projects at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Opening this summer is the $100-million Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, which will present the orbiter at a unique angle along with interactive displays.
Already in place is a remodeled, modernized front gate that includes a fountain, ticketing booths, self-service kiosks and a round retail shop. That project also includes a restaurant inside and comes with a new traffic flow that immediately introduces guests to the attraction's Rocket Garden, a dramatic display of genuine, retired spacecraft.
In previous years guests enjoyed the Rocket Garden, but not everyone found it, says Bill Moore, chief operating officer.
"Today, you walk in and you get it," Moore says. "You understand why you're here, and you're sort of inspired to go learn a little bit more."
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Angry Birds Space Encounter
Where: State Road 405, between Range Road and East Avenue SW, in Brevard County
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily
Cost: $50 ($40 ages 3-11)