Between SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA itself, this place has more to offer than just an IMAX movie.
Most Central Florida residents could give you at least a one-sentence explanation of what the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is, and what it's being there has done for the Cape Canaveral area. Many of them have attended the visitor complex, witnessed a launch, or gotten stuck in the traffic trying to leave Cocoa Beach. But contrary to the brochures and amusement park cafeterias, this place is so much more than Disney and Universal's Eastern cousin.
From the Saturn rockets, to the Atlantis space shuttle, to the Curiosity Rover, KSC houses relics from the valiant history of the space program since the notorious JFK speech. His words emblazoned on walls throughout the complex, even an English major can appreciate the monumentality of the accomplishments NASA has under their belt.
In my recent visit, I learned about the history of the space program to lengths I never had before. My knowledge base consisted of whatever I remembered from my previous visit to the KSC a decade before, and whatever was accurate in the " Apollo 13" and "Wall-E" movies. With the help of the interactive exhibits, in-depth videos, and the future aerospace engineer I brought along, I've finally strung together a chronological understanding of mankind's ventures into the cosmos.
What I wasn't expecting to learn about was where the experts behind the KSC expected the space program to go next. The Heroes and Legends exhibit was sponsored by Boeing. Including their statement of what to expect from their space program in the near future, KSC had an exhibit entirely dedicated to the CST-100 Starliner. The vehicle is expected to take people into space for the first time in quite a few years (granted, the recent decline in Boeing's stock wasn't mentioned, so we'll have to keep our ears to the ground for further changes).
The bus tours also brought a surprise, and I learned more about what the next decade will look like in terms of human beings entering space once more. We circled the famous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), with the largest mechanical doors in the world, a 21-story American flag, and a popular vulture hangout.
The tour guide informed us that mobile support for the highly-anticipated Space Launch System (SLS) was currently being constructed. The VAB housed the construction of the Apollo rockets, the Crawlers, and every other famous vehicle related to space since the 1960s. It blew my non-STEM mind to think that the next big thing was a couple of hundred feet from our bus, coming to life in the same walls that housed vehicles that made history.
The next stop on our tour was the launch pads. We saw Launch Pad 39A and 39B. Launch Pad 39A was the primary launch site for the Apollo rockets, AKA all of the rockets that went to the moon launched here. It is currently being leased by SpaceX, Elon Musk's aerospace company, and will be the site of their upcoming launches. The building in the photo below is SpaceX's unique horizontal integration facility. (This is fancy for they build the rockets laying the side and then reorient them for the vertical launch. NASA's VAB has the huge mechanical doors and therefore do not have to do this).
Another developing story on the space front is Jeff Bezos' private rocket manufacturing facility across the street from KSC on Launch Complex 36, Blue Origin. It is expected to launch the "New Glenn" orbital vehicle, sometime before 2020.
So if you're ever in the Central Florida area, and you feel like the usual attractions aren't your cup of tea, give KSC a try. It has to offer the famous theme park chicken nuggets AND a glimpse into the future of mankind's interactions with space.