Last Updated on February 5, 2023
With rockets launching almost every week now, there is a renewed interest in America’s space program. People line the beaches and roadways in the area of the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida to watch rockets launched from the Space Center pads 39A and 39B and the adjoining Canaveral Space Force Base pads.
For a close-up and hands-on experience with the space program, large crowds head to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. The park fills up early. If you’re going to go, be there when it opens at 10 a.m. You can buy your tickets online in advance. Security at the complex is tight so prepare to have your bags searched.
- 14 Best Things to Do at Kennedy Space Center
- Where to Stay Near the Kennedy Space Center
- Is the Kennedy Space Center Worth a Visit?
14 Best Things to Do at Kennedy Space Center
Apollo/Saturn V Complex
Quick tip right up front! If you want to see the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit, go to the sign-up station immediately and pick a time you want to go. The exhibit is in another area of the Space Center, and you have to make a reservation for a shuttle bus to take you there. It’s first come-first served, and they do book out quickly. Allow an hour and a half for the exhibit, including the drive time.
The Apollo/Saturn V complex is within the confines of the actual Kennedy Space Center, several miles from the visitor complex. It features exhibits of the Apollo moon landing missions. You get to walk on a dusty lunar surface simulation and touch an actual moon rock.
Wanting to save a headache trying to make all the reservations? There are options for all-inclusive admission tickets that include transportation to the complex from Orlando.
Roam the Rocket Garden
One of the first things you see when you enter is the Rocket Garden, are models of rockets NASA has used over the years. You wander around in awe of their size, especially the Saturn, which sent astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Heroes and Legends
Near the entrance, adjacent to the Rocket Garden, is the Heroes and Legends exhibit and the Astronauts Hall of Fame. It’s all in the same building. The exhibit has a mixed media and video presentation that recounts the high points of the early NASA manned space efforts. From there, you enter the Hall of Fame, which features pictures and bios of top American astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle eras.
There is a mock-up of the original Mercury program Mission Control center. It looks small and technically out of date compared to the large control centers now at Kennedy and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. You have to keep in mind the Mercury program was 60 years ago. A lot has changed.
Journey To Mars
The Journey To Mars exhibit is certainly timely. It includes a multi-media presentation on the missions to the Red planet. There are mock-ups of the Mars rovers and a prototype model of what a future manned rover may look like. There are interactive games and simulators so you can test your skills to become a Mars explorer.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
The star of the show is the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. At the entrance is a full-scale model of the rocket and external fuel tank that were used to launch shuttles into space. Inside there is a giant screen video about the shuttle program. Leave it to NASA not to skimp on any details.
The movie includes the double bang of sonic booms the shuttle always made on landing. At the end of the movie, the doors open to an exhibit room that holds the actual retired Atlantis shuttle. It’s an awesome site, and you have to wonder how in the world did they ever get something that big off the ground and into space.
For the record, Atlantis is 122 feet long, 57 feet high, and has a wingspan of 78 feet. The whole thing weighed four-and-a-half million pounds at lift-off. Wow!
Kids get a thrill at being able to sit in a mock-up of an actual Space Shuttle cockpit in the Atlantis building. It makes for a great photo opportunity. Other photo ops around the complex have models of different space capsules that kids can climb into for pictures. Even some adults can’t pass up the opportunity.
Also, for the kids, Planet Play is a high-tech arcade with space-themed video games and interactive games.
Lift-off in a Shuttle
After you’re done looking in awe at Atlantis, there is an opportunity to get thrilled in the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulation of an actual lift-off of a shuttle. You get strapped into your seat. There is a simulation of the actual shaking and g-forces experienced by the astronauts during a launch. The simulator has a warning for people who may experience motion sickness. Still, in reality, it isn’t that bad, just a little shake-and-bake—fun for everyone.
Pose With an Astronaut
A special treat for the kids is an opportunity to have their picture taken with an astronaut in a spacesuit. This takes place at the entrance to the Space Shop, and the astronaut is there every hour to pose for pictures. No, it isn’t a real astronaut, but it’s fun and a great photo opportunity, nonetheless.
The Space Shop is the official gift shop of the complex. You will find t-shirts, jackets, models of rockets and shuttles, coffee mugs—all kinds of fun stuff for people of all ages. The shop is on two floors, with most of the children’s sizes on the second floor. Best to make this your last stop of the day, so you don’t have to carry your packages around all day.
The IMAX theater has movies that are in 3-D, in addition to the huge screen. The main IMAX movie changes from time to time. On my visit, the IMAX was a new movie about Asteroid Hunters. It runs about 40 minutes, and the Surround Sound and IMAX experience are breathtaking. There is also a shorter IMAX movie, “Journey to Space,” a permanent feature film.
Space Mirror Memorial
On a solemn note, take some time to visit the Space Mirror Memorial. The tall mirror contains the names of all NASA astronauts who have died in mission-related accidents over the years. This includes the crews of Space Shuttles’ Challenger and Columbia and the launchpad fire of Apollo 1. There are also brass memorial plaques engraved with the images and names of the deceased astronaut crews.
Explore Deep Space
Universe Theater by Northrop Grumman takes you through the known history of the universe, some 13.4 billion years, and explores the heavens with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. It uses 3D 4K resolution images for deep space exploration via Hubble. You can also meet a veteran astronaut and hear about their experience during a presentation at the theater.
There is also an exhibit for the NASA James Webb Telescope, which is still in development and will be the future replacement for Hubble. Northrup Grumman is the prime contractor on the new telescope.
Eat in The Milky Way
There are several food options around the complex. The Orbit Cafe is the main cafeteria, featuring pizza and burgers. There are also salads. The Planet Play Lounge is more for adults, with beer and wine. The Milky Way offers hand-dipped ice cream. And Space Dots has novelty cream and sprinkles for youngsters.
Study the Constellations
The Constellation Plaza is centrally located near the Atlantis exhibit. It features a heavy revolving globe with diagrams of the constellations. The globe floats on water and revolves with the water pressure, which is no more than the pressure you get from a garden hose.
Train Like an Astronaut
The Astronauts Training Experience is an added fee of $175 and must be booked in advance. It allows guests to train, work, and live in a simulation of what the real experience would be on Mars. The training sessions run 4—5 hours and include realistic simulations of launching, landing, and walking on Mars.
Lodging for Fido
Pet Kennels are available when you travel with Fido. There is a free air-conditioned pet kennel near the parking lot as you enter the complex.
Where to Stay Near the Kennedy Space Center
Wanting to take a visit to the Space Center and need somewhere to stay? Check out these hotels near the complex.
Is the Kennedy Space Center Worth a Visit?
The complex is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you plan to hit all the exhibits, the IMAX movies, and the Apollo/Saturn V tour, it makes for a full day.
Admission to the KSC Visitor Complex is $57 for adults and $47 for children. The best bet is to purchase tickets online in advance of your visit. Once you are in the complex, there are no additional charges for the exhibits, but you can buy a ticket that includes a guided tour.