Kennedy Space Center
Suffice to say, a visit to the Space Coast would be incomplete without a visit to the Space Center. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and Astronaut Hall of Fame (State Rd. 405 E., Titusville, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily, $38 adults, $28 children; only Astronaut Hall of Fame $17 adults, $13 children) is as close as you’ll be able to get to the extraterrestrial action, and the folks in charge, NASA, have made considerable efforts in their attempts to translate the challenges and glory of space flight into something more than a museum and something less than a theme park.
The exhibits are all about the innovative thinking that put man into orbit, and though people may have grown somewhat inured to the magic of space flight by watching regular launches on TV, when you’re standing next to a full-sized rocket in one of the main exhibit halls, the effect is truly awe-inspiring.
IMAX films and the daily “astronaut encounter”—in which one of the 500 people who have ever flown in space shares stories and answers questions—help give visitors a real sense of the history of American space travel, but it’s the insightful guided tours of the complex and the virtual-reality launch simulator that bring things to life.
Although you won’t be able to watch a shuttle launch from the Visitor Complex (it shuts down for launches for security reasons), you are able to see the Vehicle Assembly Building where the shuttles and rockets are prepared for launch as well as the launch pads where they leave the earth.
Kids seem to love the gadgets and exhibits—especially the stomach-churning reality of the launch simulator—but the adjacent Astronaut Hall of Fame is only recommended for true NASA junkies.
Watching a Shuttle Launch
Contrary to what anyone might tell you, there are no “secret spots” where you can sneak in, watch the Space Shuttle launch, and then sneak out. Yes, there are dozens of excellent vantage points along the coast where one can feel the rumble of the thrusters and watch the vessel depart as the plume of brightly lit exhaust trails it into the atmosphere, but no matter how many times this event has happened, residents of Central Florida remain fascinated by it and flock to the Space Coast whenever a launch is about to occur. This results in enormous crowds along the coastline, filling nearly every available piece of the roads’ shoulders; for evening launches these crowds are exponentially larger.
While getting there may not seem all that difficult as people stagger in right up until the moment of launch, the exodus after the shuttle has gone to space is immediate, and traffic heading away from the launch site is instantly strangled. Tales of the normally hour-long drive to Orlando taking upwards of four, five, and even six hours are not uncommon.
Bring a full tank of gas and lots of patience; better still, rent a hotel room, watch the launch from your balcony, and then pity those who are going to be stuck in traffic for hours.
One very popular place is Space View Park (Broad St. at Indian River Ave., Titusville, dawn–dusk daily), which not only has an excellent view of the launch pad across the Indian River but is also home to several interesting memorials commemorating the heroism of NASA’s astronauts. Any place along Highway 1A that opens onto the Indian River will provide an excellent vantage point.
For that matter, almost any waterfront location between New Smyrna and Cocoa Beach will give you a great opportunity to see the shuttle take off; getting closer to the actual launch site only amplifies the thunder of the rockets.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition