Around Orlando: Kennedy Space Center

Some of us here at KA were recently at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is located about an hour east of Orlando, and minutes form Floridas favorite beaches. Its convenient location makes it an easy add-on to a typical Orlando itinerary and provides an educational— yetstill engaging and fun–change from constant theme-parking. I spotted kids of all ages, from toddler to teen, and they appeared to take it all in with excitement and interest. The additions of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and the Angry Birds Space Encounter are aimed to appeal to the Centers younger visitors, and shouldnt disappoint. To read my account of the amazing new Atlantis exhibit, click here, or read on to find out about all of other awesome offerings at KSC.

Student group travel Angry Birds Space Encounter building

Entrance to the Angry Birds Space Encounter building

While there to see Atlantis, I made sure to visit a few things Id never done before, hadnt done in a while, or just generally enjoy. The first thing I was determined to check out (after Atlantis, of course) was the Angry Birds Space Encounter, which opened back in March. Its an interactive area, where fans of those bouncy birds can participate in several hands on Birds-inspired games. After hours of flinging the little guys across the screen of your phone or iPad, how cool is it to fling an actual (stuffed) bird, with an actual slingshot, at a piggy target? Then theres a neat mirror maze and a cool-looking James Bond-style laser maze that I didnt take the time to try, but if the long line was any indication, its pretty popular!

After hanging with the Angry Birds for a bit, we wandered into the Astronaut Encounter. Unless your grandpa is Buzz Aldrin, this attraction provides a very unique opportunity to listen to and interact with an actual astronaut. When I visited, Astronaut Bob Springer, who has logged more than 237 hours in space, chatted with an audience about his personal experiences as an astronaut and pilot. He compared experiences as a pilot with Tom Cruises adventures in the movie Top Gun and stressed the importance of situational awareness both for an astronaut and in our daily lives. He took questions, including some from teens and kids, with great interest. It turns out that Mr. Springer is the head of the Kennedy Space Center Education Foundation and he spoke specifically of plans to grow educational programs at the Visitor Complex to provide unique learning opportunities for visiting student groups. So that will definitely be something to look forward to!

With Astronaut Bob Springer

With Astronaut Bob Springer

Now, IMAX screens have become fairly commonplace in new multiplexes around the country, but the IMAX Theatre at KSC is, its safe to say, the only one showing Space Station 3-D, about life on the ISS, and Hubble 3-D, about the Hubble Space Telescope and a 2009 mission to repair it. I dont think Id ever paid much attention to the types of images the Hubble is capturing before, but it is amazing what this telescope can do! Seeing IMAX-sized 3-D images of nebulas and dying stars billions of light years away makes you feel like you are floating through space and in and out of real, live galaxies Slide4far, far away. Footage of the astronauts aboard Atlantis on a 2009 mission to repair the Hubble makes you feel like you are on board with them, marveling first-hand at the detail and danger required to make the necessary repairs. Seeing an IMAX film at KSC is much like seeing one at your local theatre, too. They sell popcorn and concessions in the lobby, which has that familiar, buttery movie theatre smell.

Pic: Nature Museum

One attraction I had never noticed before, but was pleasantly surprised with, was a small museum in a building labeled Nature and Technology. This museum features exhibits on Floridas native population, its first settlers, and life in early Florida.

Pic: I thought this linen dress, designed both for the Florida heat and cumbersome 19th century styles, was especially neat.

The second part of the museum is designed like a wooden walkway through typical Florida terrain, with examples of native Florida plant and animal life and periodic explanations of the space programs relationship with the natural Florida habitat it calls home. Many do not realize that Kennedy Space Centers expansive government lands are also known as the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Of its 140,000 acres, only 6,800 are used for space-related purposes, which means the rest is home to many plants, animals, and beach front. (I saw wolves, gators, and a soft shell turtle on one visit alone!) Very appropriately, a bald eagle has even been making his home at KSC for 47 years.

One of the first things you see upon entering Kennedy Space Center is the Rocket Garden, where all of the rockets of the past sit pointing toward the sky like mini-monuments.

One of the first things you see upon entering Kennedy Space Center is the Rocket Garden, where all of the rockets of the past sit pointing toward the sky like mini-monuments.

Pic: The iconic Vehicle Assembly Building the American Flag on the side is 21 stories tall, and the blue part alone is the size of an NBA basketball court!

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On this recent trip, I did not have time to take the popular bus tour of the Kennedy Space Center property, which includes views of the vehicle assembly building, launch pads and a multimedia presentation and exhibit on the Saturn V rocket and Apollo program, but I was there with one of our student groups not too long ago.

Pic: The Shuttle launch pad

Boiling Springs High School students look out over the           natural Florida landscape of the Kennedy Space Center property.

Boiling Springs High School students look out over the natural Florida landscape of the Kennedy Space Center property.

A recreation of the launch control room as it looked in the 60s stands at the Saturn V center and the day of launch of Apollo VII, the first mission to orbit the moon, is recreated before your eyes. Following this presentation, an actual Saturn V rocket is revealed in the adjacent hanger building. The students with me also enjoyed touching a moon rock and seeing the actual Apollo 14 capsule.

Boiling Springs High School Chorus students pose with the engines of a Saturn V rocket.

Boiling Springs High School Chorus students pose with the engines of a Saturn V rocket.

Pic: Apollo 14 capsule
Pic: Moon buggy!

 

So, what do you think of Kennedy Space Center? I’ve rally only tapped the surface here, too! Do you think your students would enjoy visiting Kennedy Space Center? Let us know your thougts in the comments!

If you are interested in bringing a student group to Kennedy Space Center or the Orlando Area, please contact Kaleidoscope Adventures at 800-774-7337 or info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com!