VIERA, Fla. -- There are few experiences as earthshaking as being
at Cape Canaveral for the launch of a space shuttle. The roar of
the rocket drowns out all other sound, and the ground shudders
under your feet.
For those who can't be there to witness a launch, the biggest
attraction on Florida's Space Coast is the Kennedy Space Center, a
rambling complex, parts of which are open to the public.
The nucleus of the space center for tourists, the Visitor
Complex, lies six miles inside the entrance. This is where visitors
have an opportunity to meet an astronaut for a Q&A.
Attractions, exhibits and programs include live shows, such as "Mad
Mission to Mars 2005," an interactive journey through the
Among the exhibits are "Early Space Exploration," which
highlights the Mercury and Gemini programs in a facility that
houses artifacts from the first manned space flights and the
original Mercury mission control consoles. The outdoor Rocket
Garden displays eight rockets, including the one used to launch
John Glenn into space in 1962.
Probably the most popular experience is the Kennedy Space Center
tour, which takes guests on a narrated, video-supplemented bus
excursion to restricted areas, including the observation gantry,
where visitors view the shuttle and rocket launch pads.
The bus stops at the vehicle assembly building, where the space
shuttle is stacked for launch and where the Apollo/Saturn V rockets
were once assembled.
At the Apollo/Saturn V Center, guests relive the launch of
Apollo 8, the first mission outside of Earth's orbit, in the Firing
Room Theater, then get a look at the 360-foot Saturn V moon rocket,
one of only three Saturn V rockets in existence.
The Apollo/Saturn V Center is also home to the Moon Rock Cafe,
the only place where people can dine next to a genuine moon rock,
unless they happen to be eating lunch on the moon.
The Space Center's newest attraction is the Astronaut Hall of
Fame, located just outside the Space Center entrance. The Hall of
Fame showcases a collection of personal astronaut mementos, plus
historic spacecraft and astronaut training simulators.
Admission to the Space Center is $33 plus tax for adults and $23
plus tax for children ages 3 to 11. This includes the Kennedy Space
Center tour, IMAX films, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, all
attractions and exhibits and a second day free. Hours are 9 a.m. to
dusk, except on Christmas and launch days. Wheelchairs and
strollers are available free inside.
For more information about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor
Complex, call (321) 449-4444 or visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com. For group reservations (15
or more), call (321) 449-4400.
A 45-minute drive from Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is the
focus of the Florida Space Coast, which includes Cocoa Beach,
Melbourne, Palm Bay and Titusville.
Titusville has a Space Walk Hall of Fame in its Searstown Mall,
a small but tangible example of how the region identifies itself.
Indeed, the economy of the Space Coast often ties in tightly with
the success or failure of the nation's space program.
"After the successful Mars landing, there was a spike at the
Space Center, especially during the holidays," said Rob Varley,
executive director of tourist development for the Space Coast.
The Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy in 1986 hit the Space
Coast's tourism economy hard. But in the year since the February
2003 Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy, the destination has held its
own, Varley said.
The area is reporting a 4% to 5% increase in visitors over last
year, though it's still 4% under the numbers for 2001.
Visitor numbers, revenue and average daily room rates, however,
are up over August 2001, Varley said. And the occupancy rate is up
to 62.6% as compared with 56.1% in August 2001.
For more information, see www.space-coast.com. Information about upcoming
launches can be found at www.spaceflightnow.com.
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].