The massive space shuttle hangs suspended in midair, tilted to one side with cargo doors open giving visitors a birds-eye view of the stunning workmanship of this wondrous space vehicle.

She goes by the name Atlantis and is the last of four NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) shuttles to be retired, the other three being Discovery (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.), Endeavour (Los Angeles, Calif. Science Center), and test shuttle Enterprise (New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum).

NASA launched Atlantis Oct. 3, 1985, and retired her July 21, 2011, closing the 30-year Space Shuttle program. The spacecraft is open to public view at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Titusville, Florida.

For many, seeing the spacecraft that completed a total of 33 missions to outer space is the defining moment of a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville, a mere three-and-a-half to four-hour ride heading Northeast from Southwest Florida. This visit is overnight-stay-worthy and could be considered a mini-staycation.

During the Atlantis tour, a video and discussion tracks her history (a lot of creativity, exactitude and money — the entire shuttle program cost $209 billion in 2010 dollars, according to www.space.com). After the tour, a curtain opens unveiling the lady Atlantis, much to the awe of visitors who can be heard sighing and seen shedding tears, overwhelmed at being so close to such a momentous invention you could practically reach out and touch it.

It is also possible people are reacting to really good storytelling as it was explained that once Atlantis had fulfilled her mission, it was time to bring her home. A video shows her riding home piggyback on top of a specially designed Boeing 747 aircraft just before the curtain pulls back revealing the spacecraft, bringing the massive machine up close and personal to the viewer. Breathtaking.

Of special importance to humanity is the fact that man was able to land on the moon, as was the mission of the late President John F. Kennedy. At the entrance to Kennedy Space Center, Kennedy’s portrait is emblazoned on a wall that bears an inscription about his desire that the space race be done under a “banner of freedom and peace.”

Rebecca Shireman, public relations and communications manager, Delaware North at Kennedy Space Center, said this about the inscription: “Issuing a challenge to place humans on the moon by the end of the 1960s, President Kennedy inspired NASA to win the Space Race with the July 1969 moon landing of Apollo 11. Kennedy Space Center was named in his honor in 1963.”

Disney for adults

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a bit like Disney World for adults because of its fun, family atmosphere. It is a fun and enlightening place, yet with pretty reasonable entry fees. A one-day entry to KSC costs $57 for those age 12 and above, and $47 for those age 3-11 for experience about a dozen exhibits and events (add another day for $25 or buy an annual pass). Some additional exhibits take an up-charge.

These items are included with the initial admission fee:

  • Heroes and Legends Hall, which features the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and presents the history of Nasa’s early space programs;
  • Shuttle launch experience (44” height minimum);
  • KCS bus tour – glimpse the working spaceflight center and includes the Apollo/Saturn V Center with drive-by of a launch pad and Vehicle Assembly Building where spacecraft are assembled;
  • Apollo/Saturn V Center where you can touch a space rock and witness lift-off of Apollo 8;
  • Astronaut Encounter – meet an astronaut, hear astronaut stories, photo op;
  • Mission Status Briefings – space expert briefing on KSC and recent and future NASA activities;
  • Mission Control – Unsung heroes of Apollo film about how Project Apollo team in Mission Control helped put a man on the moon (Astronaut Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969);
  • NASA Space Telescopes 3D – See far reaches of universe through the eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope;
  • Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted – View exhibits about NASA’s pathway to Mars and the next giant leap of space exploration;
  • IMAX Theater: “A Beautiful Planet” – gives a hopeful 3D look into the future of the planet; and “Journey to Space” – explore NASA’s past and current projects, including future journey to Mars in 3D.
  • Forever Remembered exhibit honors those who died in the Columbia and Challenger space flights.

For additional charges, one may experience: Lunch with an astronaut; Special interest guided bus tours (Explore Vehicle Assembly Building, NASA Causeway, Cape Canaveral rocket launch sites)”; Launch Control Center; Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour; KSC Smartguide portal; Cosmic Quest (gameplay); Astronaut Training Experience (live on the red planet without leaving Earth).

Other nearby exhibits

The Cape Canaveral Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral houses seven floors of exhibits and features indoor and outdoor observation decks, an auditorium, café and gift shop. You can book a Cape Lighthouse tour or visit the nearby Jetty Park where people play at the beach, have a picnic or dine in a restaurant. For hours and admission, call 321-394-3408; visit: ExplorationTower.com.

The American Space Museum is located at 308 Pine St., Titusville, and offers original launch consoles, artifacts from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, kids interactive areas and a gift shop. For hours and admission fees, visit: AmericanSpaceMuseum.org.

The Warbird Museum/Valiant Air Command is at 6600 Tico Road, Titusville, and features the history of military aviation and perpetuates the memory of those who gave their lives in service to their country.

At Valiant, one can take a ride in the C-47 Skytrain “Tico Belle” for $175 per person (it flew June 6, 1944, toward the beaches of Normandy). Call 321-268-1941 or visit: VacWarbirds.org.

Dining

While there are many places to dine once inside KSC, Cape Canaveral and other locations, you may want to try a local haunt for your dining pleasure. The Titusville Chamber of Commerce (321-267-3036, Titusville.org), Visit Florida (888-735-2872; visitflorida.com), Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism, (321-433-4470, ext. 229), and KSC Visitor Complex, (1-855-433-4210, kennedyspacecenter.com) all will be able to advise you of area restaurants. Or you just may want to explore on your own.

Here are a few choices you may find interesting.

  • Dixie Crossroads, 1475 Garden St., Titusville, well-known for its local rock shrimp delicacy.
  • Durango Steakhouse, directly off I-95 on SR 50 in Titusville.
  • Rising Tide Tap & Table, 523 Glen Cheek Drive, Port Canaveral.

Hotels

There are myriad hotels, motels, campgrounds, and other spots for an overnight stay, but here are a few choices:

  • Courtyard by Marriott Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral, 3435 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, FL 32931, 321-784-4800;
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, 4735 Helen Hauser Blvd., Titusville, 855-516-1090;
  • Day’s Inn, 5500 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, 321-784-2550.

Coming Up

According to the KSC website, a Rocket Launch is set for December.

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-16
  • When: Dec. 04, 2018 1:38 PM EST
  • Where: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 40

The next rocket launch will deliver supplies and science investigations to the International Space Station. Currently, no main visitor complex viewing or Launch Transportation Tickets (LTTs) are available for this launch. To find out if viewing will be allowed for this or any other launch, visit: KennedySpaceCenter.com/launches.

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