When I visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex last year, they weren’t running the buses from the Visitors Complex to the Apollo/Saturn V Center due to Covid-19 restrictions. One of the reasons I returned to the Space Coast this year was to see the Apollo/Saturn V Center now that they’ve resumed the buses. I was thrilled to see it, it was well worth the year-long wait! Besides the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the sights and exhibits at the KSC Visitors Complex never get old.
As soon as the Complex opened at 9am, I headed straight to get a ticket for the first bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Center; I was that eager to see it! Like the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit does, you see some videos and other exhibits before you get to the Saturn V rocket itself. In this case, one of things you see is the Apollo/Saturn V control center. After you see how that and the launch worked, you walk through some doors and there is the Saturn V. And it makes you feel small… very small. It’s hard to take it all in as the Saturn V stretches down the building in front of you. Walking down it’s length truly gives the experience of how big it is. They have it separated into its stages so you can see how they worked and how the payload and capsule were attached. Underneath the nose, is an exhibit of the lunar lander. If you wish, and you should, you can also take in a presentation on going to the moon. It’s all very well presented and informative – waiting a year to see it was truly worth it.
After getting back to the main complex from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, I grabbed some lunch at the Orbit Cafe (they serve a pretty good Cuban Sandwich) and went to the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. Even though it wasn’t the surprise it was last year, I still couldn’t wait for the way they reveal the Atlantis. After walking around the Atlantis and getting some photos of her, I went out and got a photo of the Complex’s static display T-38 with the Atlantis’ External Fuel Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters in the background.
Next I went over to the Rocket Garden to see its newest addition, the last ULA Delta II, complete with shark mouth on the payload fairing (a shark mouth looks just as good on a rocket as it does on an aircraft or helicopter!). Behind the Delta II, you can see the Complex’s new exhibit, Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Project, which is supposed to open in March. Perhaps it will provide an excuse to go back to the Space Coast next year…
After the Rocket Garden, I went to the Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted exhibit, which offers a presentation on on NASA’s goal of sending humans to Mars and what it will take to do it as well as replicas of the rovers we’re using to explore Mars remotely now. They even have a replica of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which is absolutely fascinating. It makes you excited about the future of space exploration.
Next I visited the NASA Now exhibit, which highlights what NASA and their commercial partners like Boeing and SpaceX are doing now. Tucked next to the IMAX Theater are the Orion crew vehicle from the Orion program’s first test, the EFT-1 mission, a full scale engineering model of Boeing’s Starliner crew vehicle, a full scale model of the Mars Insight Lander, and the SpaceX Cargo Dragon used in the COTS-2 demo flight in addition to models of other spaceflight systems like the SLS and Dream Chaser. I won’t be surprised if at least some of these displays will be incorporated into the Gateway exhibit that opens in March.
I ended my tour of the KSC Visitors Complex with a visit to the Heroes and Legends exhibit and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. It highlights the earliest space missions including the Mercury and Gemini programs with displays like the Mercury Mission Control, a Redstone Rocket and the Sigma 7 in which Wally Schirra orbited the earth, and the Gemini 9A capsule that was flown by Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. No matter how many times I see them, I can’t help but be amazed how small the Mercury and Gemini capsules are. I really don’t know how the astronauts spent extended periods of time in them, particularly on the longer Gemini missions. The last photo in the slide show is the statue of Alan Shepard, the second person and first American in space.
I spent almost the whole day at the KSC Visitors Complex and still didn’t see it all. I can’t wait for my next visit and the opportunity to see the new Gateway exhibit. Even if you just have a passing interest in space travel and the space program, it’s a place you have to go and experience.