A destination that’s out of this world: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Launch Pad 39
Launch Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Each year, more than 55 million visitors flock to Central Florida to relax and reconnect with families and friends in a destination filled with thrills, chills and excitement.

Now more than ever before, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a must-add to every Orlando vacation itinerary with real rockets, real astronaut heroes, real working space flight operations, and, opening June 29, NASA’s real Atlantis orbiter at the new $100 million Space Shuttle AtlantisSM, the world’s most comprehensive attraction devoted to the 30-year Space Shuttle Program.

A unique experience where guests can explore like they’re at a museum, learn like they’re at a science center, and have fun like they’re at a theme park, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex defies categorization with a mix of attractions, interactive experiences and simulators, historically based behind-the-scenes tours, multimedia shows, exclusive exhibits and out-of-this-world IMAX® films. In short, it’s a vacation destination like no place else on Earth.

The epicenter of mankind’s greatest adventures – past and future – Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located just 45 minutes east of Orlando International Airport. Together with the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which is included in Visitor Complex admission, the destination offers more than a day of exploration for visitors of all generations.

Whether they are students keen on learning about the future of manned space flight, Gen Xers who have grown up over the course of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program or Baby Boomers who still remember the days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs when mankind’s greatest goal was to ferry a man safely to the moon and back, guests of all ages and interest levels are certain be entertained, amazed and inspired.

And, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex continues to grow as Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, which operates the Visitor Complex for NASA, implements a 10-year master plan, adding new attractions, tours, exhibits, shopping and dining venues, and other improvements.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

At this brand new, $100 million attraction, guests will come nose to nose with the priceless spacecraft that successfully flew 33 missions and still bears the scorch marks and space dust of more than 126 million miles and 307 days in space. They’ll also get to see the majestic orbiter in a way that only astronauts have seen it before – tilted at 43.21 degrees with its payload bay doors open and robotic Canadarm extended as if it were floating in space. More than 60 interactive, hands-on experiences bring to life the people, passion and patriotism of the 30-year Space Shuttle program and its most significant achievements – the International Space Station (ISS) and the Hubble Space Telescope. Combining top-of-the-line audio/visual and show systems, cutting-edge theme park technology, seldom-seen NASA images and footage, and reality-based astronaut training simulations, this totally immersive attraction is arguably the closest guests can get to living and working in space short of applying to the astronaut corps.

KSC Up-Close Tours

Kennedy Space Center’s remarkable collection of rockets, launch pads, NASA aerospace technology components and launch viewing opportunities offer behind-the-scenes access and authenticity unlike any other destination. Created in honor of Kennedy Space Center’s 50th anniversary in 2012, three special rare-access tours give visitors an even closer look at normally restricted areas.

KSC Up-Close: Vehicle Assembly Building Tour

For more than 30 years, tour buses have driven guests past the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at Kennedy Space Center, pointing out the massive building in which Apollo/Saturn V rockets, and later, space shuttles, were assembled for launch. Now, for the first time since 1978, guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can disembark their buses and tour inside the VAB, one of the largest buildings in the world, to see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first moon rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis, in 2011.

KSC Up-Close: Launch Control Center (LCC) Tour

Also for the first time in 30 years, visitors can tour the legendary Launch Control Center and Firing Room 4, from which all 21 space shuttle launches since 2006 were controlled. Inside Firing Room 4, visitors will pass by the computer consoles at which engineers monitored the computerized launch control system’s thousands of checks every minute leading up to launch. They’ll see the main launch countdown clock and large video monitors on the walls, and enter the “bubble room,” with its wall of interior windows through which the Kennedy Space Center management team viewed the proceedings below.

The KSC Up-Close: Launch Pad Tour

For the first time in the history of Kennedy Space Center, guests may now tour one of the launch pads from which the space shuttles and Apollo/Saturn V moon rockets were launched. Guided by a knowledgeable space expert, visitors will travel nearly a quarter-mile inside the perimeter security fence to Launch Pad 39-A, from which a majority of space shuttles and all six Apollo missions that landed on the moon were launched. Near the launch pad, visitors will exit the tour bus for photo opportunities, including close views of the 350-foot-high fixed service structure, rotating service structure, propellant storage containers, water tanks that fed the noise suppression system, flame trench and other aspects of the launch pad complex.

Angry Birds Space Encounter

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has partnered with Rovio Entertainment, creator of the globally successful Angry Birds franchise, including Angry Birds Space, to bring the beloved characters to life. Angry Birds Space Encounter is the first comprehensive, interactive Angry Birds attraction in the United States where visitors of all ages can come face to face with Angry Birds Space characters, including Super Red, Lazer Bird, Space Bomb and Incredible Terence.

Angry Birds, a casual puzzle game, became an international phenomenon within a few months of its release and is now the number one paid app of all time. Angry Birds has expanded rapidly in entertainment, publishing, and licensing to become a beloved international brand. NASA and Rovio partnered on the creation of Angry Birds Space, working together to teach players about physics and space exploration and energize young people regarding future careers in science and technology.

Concepts of human space exploration also are incorporated into Angry Birds Space Encounter, reflecting Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s ongoing mission to encourage young guests in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields of study.

Shuttle Launch Experience

This launch replication, designed under the guidance of veteran space shuttle astronauts, immerses guests in the sights, sounds and sensations of a space shuttle launch. The journey begins as guests, or more aptly, “crewmembers,” ascend the gantry, watching and listening as veteran astronauts share testimonials, setting the stage for the experience to come.

Crewmembers then proceed to the heart of space shuttle operations for the pre-launch briefing from Space Shuttle Commander Charlie Bolden as he takes them step-by-step through the shuttle launch sequence. Anxious moments arise as atmospheric sound and lighting effects dramatize the moments before guests enter the custom-designed crew cabin where they’ll strap in and “get vertical,” traveling at simulated speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. Upon reaching orbit, the payload bay doors open to reveal a breathtaking view of Earth from space. Opened in 2007, the Shuttle Launch Experience is now a part of the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction.

Apollo/Saturn V Center

A fully restored, massive Saturn V moon rocket serves as the centerpiece of the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the highlight of the KSC Tour. In addition to viewing all 363 feet of the most powerful rocket ever built, visitors can relive the historic launch of Apollo 8 in the Firing Room Theater and catch the harrowing final moments before man landed on the moon in the Lunar Theater.

IMAX Theaters

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is home to two 5½-story IMAX screens – the only back-to-back 3D IMAX theaters in the world. Now playing, Space Station 3D, filmed by 25 astronauts and cosmonauts and narrated by Tom Cruise, takes audiences on an incredible cinematic journey of discovery from planet Earth to the International Space Station. Also playing is Hubble 3D, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film brings the furthest depths of the universe to life, transporting audiences to distant galaxies to explore the mysteries of deep space. Hubble 3D offers an inspiring and unique look into the Hubble Space Telescope’s legacy and its profound impact on the way we view the universe and ourselves.

Astronaut Training Experience

Guests are invited to take “one giant leap” toward the dream of being an astronaut or a crew member in the ATX –Astronaut Training Experience at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. ATX offers participants an exciting program of training and preparation for the rigors of spaceflight. The hands-on program includes true-to-training simulator exercises and a space shuttle mission simulation aboard a full-scale orbiter mock-up. Reservations are required for half-day adult ATX Core program or Family ATX program.

Live Space Launches

The noise, the vibrations – and the view! From countdown to liftoff, there’s nothing quite like an authentic space launch. An ongoing schedule of space launches from adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Base keep eyes glued to the skies above Kennedy Space Center throughout the year.

Rocket Garden

Marvel at eight rockets from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs at the Rocket Garden. The Apollo 11 gantry arm and Apollo capsule model allow visitors to re-enact the heart-pumping moments of countdown and launch, while the Mercury and Gemini capsules let guests experience firsthand just how small early spacecraft were.

Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted

Step into the center of space travel and become part of the future of exciting possibilities at Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted. The 10,000-foot exhibit immerses visitors into an environment of discovery and exploration beyond our home planet. Live theater, interactive experiences and large-scale multimedia presentations display what the future of space travel may look like, emphasizing that space exploration is not just about the hardware, but about the people behind the technology who make it all possible.

Astronaut Encounter

Come face to face with one of more than 500 people who have experienced space travel and hear firsthand what it’s like to live in space at Astronaut Encounter. Held daily at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, the half-hour interactive program features a question-and-answer session and an opportunity to take a picture with the astronaut. An impressive roster of astronauts has appeared since the program’s inception in 2001, including Apollo astronauts Al Worden, Walt Cunningham and Charlie Duke; and space shuttle astronauts Wendy Lawrence, Susan Kilrain, Jack Lousma and Jon McBride.

Lunch With an Astronaut

Lunch With an Astronaut offers guests a unique opportunity to dine with a true space hero. While enjoying a hot, delicious meal, learn about the daily life of an astronaut, ask questions and have a photo taken with the astronaut. Seating is limited.

U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame

Although much of the story at Kennedy Space Center is about state-of-the-future technology, the Astronaut Hall of Fame is about the brave men and women who have flown in space. The Hall of Fame features the world’s largest collection of astronaut memorabilia, plus stimulating displays, exhibits and tributes to the heroes of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. A historic collection includes the Mercury Sigma 7 capsule and a Gemini training capsule. Science on a Sphere, a global display, takes visitors on a three-dimensional journey around the world and throughout the solar system via dynamic, animated images of the atmosphere, oceans and planets.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Kennedy Space Center is an ecological sanctuary encompassed by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to more state and federally protected wildlife than any other national refuge. Throughout 140,000 acres of estuaries, marshes and coastal dunes are seven distinct habitat types and more than 500 species, from manatees to alligators, bald eagles to ospreys, and butterflies to sea turtles. Look for five hiking trails from ¼ mile to 5 miles long, a 7-mile driving tour and countless photo opportunities.