To a generation for whom the term "moon walk" has far more to do with Neil Armstrong than Michael Jackson, a trip to Florida's Kennedy Space Center offers the chance to relive those heady days of space exploration, when everything seemed possible and each day saw science fiction changed to science fact.
2 Visitors to the space center should keep a few
facts in mind. Because this is a working facility, there's no such thing as unrestricted access -- tour buses ferry visitors through the NASA complex and keep to a fairly tight schedule.
And while NASA is more than happy to celebrate its past, it's even more concerned with the present and future. Throughout your tour, you'll find more attention paid to the space shuttle than Apollo 11; the gift shop is brimming with shuttle trinkets, while those for the Mercury and Gemini programs are relatively scarce.
One other note: Names around here can get confusing. The Kennedy Space Center is home to the space shuttle and has been used as the launching point for all of America's manned space missions since Apollo 8 on Dec. 21, 1968. The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, across the Banana River from the space center, is situated on the Cape Canaveral peninsula. All the Mercury and Gemini missions lifted off from
Cape Canaveral, along with Apollo 7. It is still used to launch unmanned satellites.
In 1963, the Cape Canaveral peninsula was renamed Cape Kennedy, in honor of the man who vowed to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, by the close of the 1960s. The Cape Kennedy name was rescinded by an act of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the state of Florida in 1973.
Your trip to the Kennedy Space Center begins at the visitor center, known as Spaceport USA. There, you can purchase tickets for one of two bus trips. The two-hour Red Tour takes visitors through the space center and includes stops near the space shuttle launch pad (where you may be lucky enough to see a shuttle waiting to blast off), the Vehicle Assembly Building -- at nearly 129.5 million cubic feet, one of the world's most massive buildings -- and a Saturn V rocket. Sitting on its side, the rocket is 363 feet long, with five massive engines at its base, each capable of producing 1.5 million pounds of thrust.
The Red Tour also includes a mock lunar landscape, complete with lunar module, and a re-creation of the mission control center television viewers became so familiar with in 1969.
The Blue Tour, also two hours long, takes visitors through Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.
Tour tickets are $7 for adults, $4 for children under age 3 to 11 years old. Tours run every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m. until two hours before dusk.
Within the Spaceport building itself, visitors can see models of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that docked with an Apollo craft in 1975, and the Viking satellite that landed on Mars in 1976. There are also exhibits of spacesuits and other flight memorabilia, as well as several actual spacecraft, including Gemini 9, which orbited the Earth in 1966, and the Apollo half of the Apollo-Soyuz linkup.
Two IMAX theaters show three films on their 5 1/2 -story screens. "The Dream Is Alive" chronicles life aboard the space shuttle and allows viewers to feel as if they are practically standing on the launch pad as it lifts off. "Blue Planet" offers an environmental look at Earth from 200 miles up, and "Destiny In Space," which premieres this month, includes new footage from nine shuttle flights.
There is no charge to visit Spaceport. However, admission to the IMAX films is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3 to 11.
On the grounds surrounding the visitor center are two attractions that should not be missed. The Rocket Garden includes about a dozen actual and model spacecraft, including a shuttle, the lunar module that was used to transport astronauts to the moon and a Saturn 1B rocket, of the type used to carry astronauts to both the moon and the Skylab space station.
The Astronauts Memorial sits on 6 acres adjacent to the Spaceport building. Constructed of black granite smoothed to a mirror-like finish, the 42.5-foot-wide by 50-foot-high monument contains the names of 15 astronauts killed in the line of duty, including the crews of Apollo 1 and the space shuttle Challenger.
IF YOU GO . . .
Getting there: The Kennedy Space Center is off Florida Route TTC 405, east of Interstate 95. The facility is 45 miles east of Orlando, 102 miles south of St. Augustine and 209 miles north of Miami.
To find out if the space shuttle is scheduled for a launch during your visit, call (407) 867-4636.