During fall break, it felt like my Instagram feed suddenly turned into a Disney vacation brochure. Tons of families were enjoying the complexes and creations in Orlando. As you know, we took our first trip as NDPs to the Magic Kingdom this year and enjoyed it, but I have to advocate for the spot right down the road that was even more rewarding (and cheaper) for our family: The Kennedy Space Center. If your family travels take you to Orlando, consider hopping over to Cape Canaveral to learn about the large legacy, and future, of our valuable space program.
If you are interested in details, we stayed at an oceanside hotel in Cocoa Beach using points. The hotel wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was comfortable, clean and had a great view of the ocean. But that wasn’t why we were there (which as we live at the ocean anyhow, it was okay the weather wasn’t fabulous for beach going). It took us about 40 easy minutes to get to The Space Center from our hotel.
The entrance to The Space Center was impressive, the line to get in quick, and the amount of information available to plan a day experiencing the compound immense and helpful. Paying for parking was annoying (I mean, who else is parking there!? The only reason you go there is for The Space Center, and you pay to get in!). But we got over it.
As we neared the gates, I became immediately aware of how much we had underestimated this place. We had given ourselves the better part of a day, but we soon realized there would be no way to experience it all. So we had to pick some highlights (and plan to go back someday to see the rest).
We skipped the Hall of Fame and any meals with astronauts, but we did enjoy the Rocket Garden. I want to have that kind of garden in my backyard. I can’t grow tomatoes, but I think I can maintain rockets.
The first planned event we did was listen to a presentation by an astronaut, a real person who had been up in space (in case that needed defining – but it is just too cool not to point out). I thought my boys would be impatient with a live talk, but they loved it. The astronaut talked about life in space and wasn’t shy. He shared about food, exercise, sleeping and even how to use the toilet in space.
After this, we took in one of the IMAX shows (three different shows were available during our visit) and looked at some of the items on grounds. We then fought the crowds for overpriced food for lunch – which let this be the best advice you take away from this post: pack your own picnic.
We were going to avoid the bus tour, simply because it can take a long time and, well, the idea of a bus tour is a bit of a snoozer in theory, but since we were all a little tired anyhow and the line was short, we decided to do it.
I am so glad we did! The tour is, by far, the quickest and best way to understand what is currently happening with our space program. It is a crash course in history meets politics meets aspirations meets private sector meets government meets science. And you know you’ve always wanted to take that course…
While I got chills from seeing the spots of rocket launches into the great beyond (as a child of the 80s, The Challenger brings back vivid memories), I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to discover that most of the launch pads out on the Cape of Florida today are leased for private companies. SpaceX is doing far more as a private company in active launches today than our government-employed and famous NASA scientists seem to be (although keep reading to see why that is).
On the bus, I was asking myself (and my dad, and mom, and husband – they love traveling with me): have we decided as a country that space is no longer the final frontier? That the scientific advances that arise from our space work no longer have value? Launches into space feel so commonplace now that they don’t make the news. Are we that numb to how mind-blowing it is to send human beings and anything else, for that matter, into space? I mean – SPACE, PEOPLE.
Our tour of the grounds left me with more questions than ever. I guess in my mind it is all Flight of the Navigator (again, 80s reference) out there but, really, things have changed. They do that in 40 years.
I was also taken aback with how hard NASA is working to get us to Mars – that is their big push and where all of the braintrust in NASA is being focused. For our trip to The Space Center, this was the message: we’re going to Mars. It’s not a “maybe,” it’s a “soon.” There is a timeline. They were recruiting kids to be the someday astronauts who go there (my 8-year-old is not interested, my 5-year-old is all in). Again, I felt undereducated about this initiative. How did I not know the amount of energy going into Mars landings? I see us all sitting around our screens livestreaming the first human steps on Mars someday.
Seeing the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) with my own eyes made my breath stop. It is a legend, it is the stuff of television and movies and lore and heroes. The scale is inconceivable (another 80s reference!).
We stopped at the Apollo/Saturn Center not because we planned to or understood what was there, but because it seemed to be the thing to do. There were even more enormous rockets and boosters here! They kept coming! We stopped in the control center and “experienced” a launch from the control room. At this point, I was starting to get a little spaced-out. There was so much and it began to feel overwhelming. Our space legacy is richer and deeper than I understood. As someone who doesn’t retain acronyms and numbers (don’t ask what kind of plane my dad flies, I don’t remember), it was a lot to take in, but the feeling was a good one. Learning!
By this time, the hours left in our day were waning. The complex was closing soon and we hadn’t even touched many of the exhibits or taken advantage of many opportunities available. But we decided to end the day at The Atlantis exhibit.
We’re friends here. So I will admit: I cried.
True, this may make me into the most malleable and manipulated American available, but after spending the day at The Kennedy Space Center learning what I did, after the movie-voice in the dark room finished walking us through the history of the space program… when the screen opened up to show the real Atlantis, one of the few space shuttles left (no more are used or being built), I couldn’t help the tears. It is beautiful how man can come together and use intelligence and science to create something that can go into space. This shuttle kept men and women safe as they explored areas of the universe that I will never see. How can that not move you!? Not everything beautiful has to be a natural wonder. Humans make beautiful things, too.
We wore down the rest of our day in this building. There were so many actvities for the kids and it was a very modern set up. We were loving it, and didn’t want to stop.
When it was time to say goodbye, I realized we had barely scratched the surface of everything possible at The Space Center, and I was so glad we went. My boys were fired up about space; my youngest still talks of being an astronaut (I told him he has to bring me back a Mars rock for my mantle).
And as a parent and person who always loves to learn, I was immensely fulfilled by this stop. The Magic Kingdom whisked us away to a fairtytale land that was the remarkable feat of imagination and fantasy; The Kennedy Space Center took us to strange lands as well but the difference, of course, was that this actually happened – and is still happening. Our Kennedy Space Center visit took us to new worlds while exposing us to the heritage of American science and the future of what humans of capable of. Much like Disney, it was a journey, but one that was inspirational and motivating. As Americans, we have done so much and, as my children are part of the future of America, I can’t wait to see what we do next.
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