We are currently the proud parents of an extremely inquisitive 4-year-old whose mind runs a mile-a-minute and the questions fly even faster. Like most parents, we do our best to foster Avery’s interests with as many activities and experiences as possible. Her current fixation is outer space, and luckily we have a front row seat here in Florida to the country’s space program.
With her avid interest in the SpaceX rocket launches of late and the recent discovery (via stumbling upon an Astronaut Barbie while grocery shopping) that girls can be astronauts, too (Duh! And anything else they want to be, of course!), Scott and I knew it was time for Avery to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in nearby Merritt Island.
Not just home to launch pads and the easily recognizable vehicle assembly building, the Kennedy Space Center is like a space-themed NASA version of the classic Florida theme park. With countless fascinating things to do and explore, you can easily jam-pack a day (or two!) with some space exploration and planet hopping.
Since Avery was so thrilled to learn that space-based careers for girls are as limitless as the universe, our first stop was the Astronaut Hall of Fame where she and Astronaut Barbie gleefully counted the female astronauts lining the walls. Here you can follow the history of space exploration from the earliest missions and learn more about the explorers and their accomplishments throughout history.
Just outside, you’ll find the Rocket Garden where you can visit some of the retired towering rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. You also have the chance to crawl into a capsule replica to get a scope of the size of the little pods astronauts rode in with tons of explosives strapped to their backs.
The space center’s newest offering, Gateway, is a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of deep space exploration. With prototypes and interactive exhibits from the likes of SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, you can climb aboard a deep space habitat, explore simulator capsules, try your hand at perfectly timing a launch sequence and peruse images from the new James Webb Space Telescope. Jump in line for the KSC Spaceport where deep space explorers (38 inches or taller) can take one of four simulated rides to the deepest edges of space, utilizing motion, sight and sound.
The experience that had the biggest impact on every member of our family was the chance to see Space Shuttle Atlantis up close. The shuttle program, whose history from 1981 to 2011 is meticulously chronicled in this exhibit, is deeply ingrained in every Florida kid of that generation. We grew up watching the shuttle launches, celebrating the program’s accomplishments and deeply mourning the disasters. After watching it travel to the stars and back home to retire in 2011, many of us never thought we’d see a launch again. The exhibit begins with a video program detailing the creation of the shuttle program, with a touching reveal of the actual shuttle as the screen retracts at the end that brought tears to eyes of many in the room.
Sharing the shuttle with Avery was a special part of our day, and she instantly fell in love with the Floridian icon – so much so she brought a stuffed version of Atlantis home with her to cuddle every night!
The experience isn’t just for display, however. Earthbound explorers (44 inches and taller) can get a taste of space trave l with the Shuttle Launch Experience. Climb aboard the shuttle simulator where you’ll strap in, get tipped back and “launched” into space with an eight-and-a-half minute ascent into “orbit.” This makes for a thrilling experience you won’t soon forget!
If you’re looking to see where the real action takes place, hop on one of the center’s tour buses included in admission to visit the Apollo Saturn V Center and see the largest rocket ever flown. Tours end at 2:30 p.m. so be sure to plan your day accordingly. The center’s website and on-site maps and brochures offer plenty of guidance on how to plan and schedule your day.
Kids will go wild over the Planet Play indoor playground area designed for children ages 2 to 12. Little future astronauts can hop, climb and slide from planet to planet as they explore the glowing three-story playscape. Parents can sit back and relax in the grown-ups’ lounge with games, TVs, and beer and wine available.
Check the daily schedule to hear a real astronaut speak about their time in space, or take in a number of presentations at the IMAX theater, as well as plenty of other programs and presentations throughout the day and complex. Round out your day with a journey to Mars or try your hand at some fun LEGO creations in the LEGO Build to Launch center.
Lunch and plenty of snacks and treats (including astronaut ice cream!) are available to fuel your busy day.
Since our visit, Avery has asked every day to return, and who can blame her? We can’t get enough of the countless things to explore at Kennedy Space Center and neither will you.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX
Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island 32953
Hours and Admission:
Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: $75/adult; $65/child (3 – 11); $70/senior or military
Looking for more fun day trip ideas throughout Florida? Click here!
All photos by Kelsey Walters, property of East Coast Current