Today, after all the fun and excitement at the theme parks of Walt Disney World (EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom) and Universal Studios, we planned for a day tour out of the comfort of Hyatt Place Orlando / Universal to the Kennedy Space Center.
Visiting Kennedy Space Center from Universal Studios Area
Visit to NASA Headquarters
The Kennedy Space Center is the functioning operational base of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known to us as NASA, the US agency that was responsible for the space program that sent mankind to the moon, orbited satellites around Earth and sent probes through the solar system to explore other planets and beyond. Exciting, isn’t it?
The Kennedy Space Center is located only an hour’s drive away from Orlando, and it had very good reviews on the internet. Therefore, Tommy and I made it a point to set aside one day to visit this very place that sent man to space and back.
Travel via Grayline Tours to Kennedy Space Center
A few agencies operate tours to the Kennedy Space Center, but we picked Grayline. We had to pay USD $20 extra for Grayline to pick us up directly from our hotel at the Hyatt Place because the usual pick up place was just too far (Orlando is a huge place).
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is run entirely on ticket sales from visitors and no American tax dollars was used to run its facilities. So I guess Tommy and I contributed to the upkeep of this place through the purchase of entry tickets.
To start off the tour, we had a real astronaut who had previously worked at the International Space Center to share with us his experiences working and floating around in space. You might want to note that this is an exclusive welcome for Grayline customers.
After that, it was free and easy time for all of us to explore the Kennedy Space Center at our own leisure. If you are at the Kennedy Space Center, time management is very important if you hope to cover everything that is on offer. There is a daily schedule that comes with the brochure for the Kennedy Space Center, so be sure to refer to it and plan your day before starting off.
Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour
Tommy and I decided to do the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) Bus Tour first. The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour is included with your admission tickets. It starts from 10 am and continues to run every 15 minutes, but the queues could be long and we had to wait for the next bus before we could get on. This bus tour brings us to the launch pads, most notably the Apollo 8 launch site where the first manned spacecraft was launched and successfully left the Earth’s orbit.
Vehicle Assembly Building
The Vehicle Assembly Building – the first buildings that the KSC Tour Buses passes by. Apparently, it is one of the world’s largest structure in volume, and it is here that the space shuttles were assembled before being transferred to their launch pads!
On our way to view some of the launch pads. There would usually be a flurry of activities in the build-up to a space shuttle launched, but we missed the last space launch by one few week when we visited. What a shame!
Do you know a whooping 5000 alligators live in the freshwater swamps behind the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. We had a glimpse of a few huge ones sunning themselves as our tour bus went on its way to the rocket launch pads.
The Kennedy Space Center also consist of a Wildlife Refuge that is home to a array of birds, amphibians, mammals and plants. These huge birds looked like vultures to us, and it was said that even bald eagles could be spotted here. The mention of bald eagles brings back fond memories of Alaska. We were just wondering how these wildlife would be impacted when there is a rocket launch where it would inevitably cause huge amount of noise and air pollution.
The Kennedy Space Center is located by the Atlantic Ocean and consists of land, swamp and waterways. The day before a space launch, the astronauts and their families would usually walk along this exact piece of beach along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to relax and clear their minds. Imagine the stress of being an astronaut!
Apollo / Saturn V Centre
There is only one tour stop along the way, and that is at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre. It is actually an educational centre and a museum, housing some of the most historical and important monuments in America’s space history. The entire KSC bus tour can take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on how long you intend to stay at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre.
This theatre lets us experience the real preparation and control work behind the scene minutes before a rocket is launched.
That’s the real Saturn V rocket, the largest rocket ever made. Stand beneath it to experience the awe of its sheer size. The Saturn V rocket was responsible for ferrying 27 astronauts to the moon and back.
Getting to know the life of a real astronaut. Astronauts had a team of workers who carefully prepared each of them for their space launch. This is the real vehicle that was used to transport them to the launch pad for their travel into space!
Moon Rock Cafe
There’s only one cafe at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre, and that’s the Moon Rock Cafe. Sounds very much like Hard Rock Cafe isn’t it?
I love this Snoopy impersonation of an astronaut. His plush toy is also available at the souvenir shop – it’s super cute!
At the Apollo/Saturn V Centre, there is a short film that plays on a 15 to 20 minute interval. Be sure not to miss this, the effects were quite good!
Touching a piece of the Moon. Apparently, this piece of moon-rock consists of basalt produced from cooled lava. It brings to mind the basalt columns in Iceland, which felt exactly the same! Apparently, this particular piece was formed 3.7 billion years ago and is older than the majority of the surface rocks on Earth!
Peering into the cockpit.
That’s a real suit that an astronaut wears. Space fashion changes with every launch as improvements were made to the suit.
Here’s another piece of the moon. The astronauts were armed with specially crafted containers and rovers to collect lunar samples to prevent cross-contamination.
We spent a fair bit of time at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre before taking the KSC tour bus back to the Visitors Complex.
Space Shuttle Atlantis Center
Next stop for us was the Space Shuttle Atlantis Center where the now-retired space shuttle Atlantis was on display.
Atlantis is the second to last space shuttle built and ferries vital components for the construction of the International Space Center. It also ferried crew to the Hubble Space Telescope to install components to maintain and upgrade the Telescope.
The retired Atlantis on display was raised 9m off the ground and rotated 43 degrees – as it it were in space. This is the view that astronauts from the International Space Station see when the Atlantis was docked.
Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Launch Experience
At the Atlantis Center, another attraction was the ‘Shuttle Launch Experience’. At the Shuttle Launch Experience, visitors get to experience the sensations of being in a space shuttle very much like Atlantis. It goes through a launch stage, then orbit and finally return to Earth.
It was very impressive, but this ride was very mild and tame and no where near what we had experienced at Spaceship Earth at Epcot. If you want to experience a real rocket launch, Epcot is the place to go.
Beside the KSC Bus Tour and Shuttle Launch Experience, another attraction not to miss are the IMAX Movies. At this time of writing, the two movies on offer were ‘Hubble 3D’ narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, you read that right!) which chronicles the effort of astronauts on board the Atlantis to repair the Hubble Space Telescope and ‘Space Station 3D narrated by Tom Cruise. Although both were touted as 3D movies, the effects were certainly not the best, especially when you compare what we experienced at Walt Disney World (EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom) and Universal Studios.
Angry Bird Space Encounter
The latest attraction at Kennedy Space Center – Angry Birds Space Encounter. We never could fathom why this game was so popular, but apparently at the Kennedy Space Center, the whole new attraction dedicated to it. It actually consist of arcade-like game stations targeted at young kids. Definitely not our cup of tea!
At the souvenir shop. We found this freeze-dried ice-cream that astronauts consume on board their space ship but we were in a rush to catch our return bus and forgot to buy it to try!
At the Rocket Garden which was a outdoor exhibition of the real rockets that were used to put mankind and satellites into space! All the rockets displayed vertically were designed primarily for military use, except the huge Saturn 1B which was displayed horizontally.
See how small humans are in comparison.
Overall, it was a fun day exploring the exhibits at Kennedy Space Center. If you have a day to spare on your trip to Orlando, we would definitely recommend that you pay Kennedy Space Center a visit! 🙂