PHOTOS: Kennedy Space Center – big buildings, rockets, and shuttle … plus big value and fun

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Visiting NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast is an absolute must for anyone who’s ever watched a Space Shuttle launch (or land) with baited breath on television.

It may not be the first thing a traveler thinks of when planning a trip to the theme-park-crowded tourist destination — but it really should be.

It’s not always possible to always catch a launch,  or have lunch with an astronaut — but with some careful planning it’s an option. Still, there’s enough to make it worth your time even without those bonuses.

Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center's Heroes & Legends attraction.
Astronaut Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center’s Heroes & Legends attraction.

At about $50 a person for a standard visit, it’s easily less than the cost of a one-person Park Hopper ticket to Walt Disney World. And at only an hour’s drive away from Orlando, it’s close enough to tackle in the same trip, and worthwhile enough that you’ll regret putting it off until your next visit.

With the possible exception of the ho-hum Journey to Mars exhibit of videos and rover mockups (which were cool), not a moment is wasted at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The recently christened Heroes & Legends exhibit is a great way to start the visit, and it’s conveniently located right near the entrance.

In addition to immersing visitors in the experience of space travel with state-of-the-art 3-D technology, it’s an homage to the early pioneers of manned spaceflight who risked, and sometimes lost, it all for the advancement of exploration. You’ll see astronauts’ childhood toys, books and report cards, and explore the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Astronauts, as boys, were just as nerdy as the rest of us …

If you want to take the bus tour of working spaceflight facilities including the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and crawler vehicles (and you do), allow several hours; the buses are comfortable, and it’s all included in your admission.

The bus tour deposits you at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you can grab lunch literally in the shadow of a Saturn V rocket, the vehicle that put man on the moon. From there, you hop another bus back to the main Visitors Complex, and your next stop should be the Space Shuttle Atlantis, now enshrined in an indoor exhibit with much to do and see. If you’re like me, allow time to just stand and stare in awe of one of our most majestic, and tragic, creations.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis on display Space shuttle display at Kennedy Space Center.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis on display at Kennedy Space Center.

Kennedy Space Center is small enough that you can be satisfied with one day or less, but expansive enough that you can easily draw it out for a longer experience and not feel unfulfilled. You won’t walk your feet off like at other Florida attractions I could name. Gift shop and food prices are more than reasonable; the food is nothing to write home about, but it will keep you fueled for your next destination. The shops are full of goodies for NASA enthusiasts and the prices make it easy to pick up plenty of gifts for the ground crew you left behind.

Explore a slideshow of the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex and facilities bus tour

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