America’s space program sent its Corvette-driving, aviator sunglasses-wearing astronauts to the moon from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here, terrestrial tourists like you and me can see what it takes to go beyond our blue marble.
The complex is named for the man who put the United States on the path to the moon (“not because it is easy, but because it is hard”). As we all know, President Kennedy did not get to see that dream realized.
If you want to get close to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the launch pads, you’ve got to do the bus tour which is included with admission.
Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour
The VAB was completed in 1966 and originally called the Vertical Assembly Building, it allowed the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo era to be built vertically.
The building is the tallest one-story building in the world and one of the largest in the world by volume.
The American flag painted on the side is the size of a regulation basketball court. The stripes are 9 feet wide each.
Further away from the building, the bus follows the crawler-way to the launch pads. This wide gravel path allowed the crawler to slowly move rockets and Space Shuttles from the VAB to the launch pads.
These launch pads sent men to the moon but you also can’t help but think of the Challenger crew, too. All other space shuttles launched here, too including the Space Shuttle Atlantis which has a great exhibit all to itself that I cover in a different blog post.
Today SpaceX sends their Falcon rockets from the launch pads.
Hey look, there’s the moon!
Saturn V Rocket Pavilion
Off the bus, we’re going to take a look at the massive Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo astronauts into the history books.
This Saturn V is one of two that were never flown. The other is located at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The massive rocket lays on its side in the pavilion. While you walk along, you can see a number of other important artifacts.
The artwork hanging alongside the rocket are the insignias for each of the Apollo missions. The most famous being Apollo 11.
A lunar module hangs just above the entrance to the Moon Rock cafe.
The Apollo-era Astronaut Transfer Van (Astrovan) is also parked here in the pavilion. It took crews nine miles from the Operations building to the launch pad.
I liked this look at the world’s newspapers announcing Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.
The theatre here at the pavilion is a mock-up of the command center in Houston, Texas. The three screens show the launches of the Apollo program.
There is another room where you can see the early command center of the Mercury program.
Continuing on, there are a number of interesting exhibits in the Pavilion.
This is the Apollo 14 command module, which orbited the moon 34 times in 1971.
This is Alan Shepard’s Apollo 14 suit. Alan Shepard was the first American in space and the fifth man to walk on the moon, which he did in this suit. He is also known as the guy who hit golf balls on the moon.
Roger Chaffee was tragically killed in a fire on the launch pad during a test along with Ed White and original Mercury 7 astronaut Gus Grissom.
Outside Kennedy Space Center
Visitor can walk across an Apollo-era gangway, the very same the astronauts used to walk from the launch tower and into the rocket.
The “Rocket Garden” displays a number of rockets important to space exploration both before and after the Apollo program.
Visit Kennedy Space Center
When the KSC first opened, it was very low-budget. The visitor center was a trailer. In 1971, Walt Disney World opened in Orlando and visitor totals jumped 30% that year. Disappointed in the quality of the exhibits, the KSC underwent a major overhaul to get more on the Disney level.
The Kennedy Space Center opens daily at 9 am – that’s every day including holidays. Their closing time varies, so check their website for the latest information.