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 Florida’s favorite beaches. Its convenient location makes it an easy add-on to a typical Orlando itinerary and provides an educational— yet still 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 Center’s younger visitors, and shouldn’t 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.
While there to see Atlantis, I made sure to visit a few things I’d never done before, hadn’t 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. It’s 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 there’s a neat mirror maze and a cool-looking James Bond-style laser maze that I didn’t take the time to try, but if the long line was any indication, it’s 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 Cruise’s 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!
Now, IMAX screens have become fairly commonplace in new multiplexes around the country, but the IMAX Theatre at KSC is, it’s 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 don’t think I’d 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
far, 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.
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 Florida’s native population, its first settlers, and life in early Florida.
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 program’s relationship with the natural Florida habitat it calls home. Many do not realize that Kennedy Space Center’s 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!