No manufacturing operation in the world is more ambitious than the NASA space program; so naturally, as factory tour mavens, we were thrilled by our recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA's major "spaceport" on Cape Canaveral is, after all, quite possibly the biggest of all the factory tours in our book Watch It Made in the U.S.A. Visitors get a detailed view of our past, present, and future technology for propelling astronauts into orbit, to the moon, and perhaps even to Mars.
In addition to spacecraft exhibits and two IMAX cinemas, the Kennedy Space Center and Visitor Complex offers a basic tour with numerous exhibits included in the general admission, along with special tours that require separate tickets. Leaving by bus from the Visitor Complex, the basic tour is available every 15 minutes and makes three stops (allow up to three hours for the tour).
The first stop, Launch Complex 39 (LC 39), is close to where the space shuttles take off. You can climb up the observation platform, rising 60 feet high, for a view of the two immense launch pads and a close look at a main shuttle engine. From the platform you can also peer back at the Launch Control Center and the vast Vehicle Assembly Building, the largest single-story building in the world (your tour bus passes close to this near the first stop). Shuttles awaiting launch may be visible in the distance.
The second stop is the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This cavernous facility preserves memories of the Apollo program, which culminated in the moon landings. Here you learn about the early space program and watch an exciting big-screen video of the Mission Control firing room during the Apollo 8 mission. From the turquoise rafters to the exhibits on the ground, you will see a lunar module, a rover training vehicle, and many other relics of the Apollo program. The centerpiece is one of the original giant Saturn V rockets, the size of a building.
The third stop is the facility where NASA prepares parts of the International Space Station (ISS). You can walk through an actual-size mockup of the interiors where astronauts will work and sleep. From the observation gallery, you see the processing floor where components of the space station are assembled.
The Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) is a special all-day interactive program that lets you sample the rigors that NASA crews must endure to prepare for missions (this program involves additional cost). The day also includes a general tour of Kennedy Space Center, simulators, and a simulated space-shuttle mission. Because the ATX is physically interactive, special requirements apply: call for details.
While that special tour costs extra, we found a nice free bonus with general admission to the Kennedy Space Center: admission to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (six miles west) is included.
For more details about the Kennedy Space Center and other fun tours in central Florida, see our book Watch It Made in the U.S.A.
Posted By Karen Axelrod May 11, 2009