By Warren Resen – NATWA (North American Travel Journalists Association), Jeanne O’Connor, photo journalist, W630@aol.com
“Will the last one leaving please turn out the lights,” is a saying generally applied to a company going out of business. However this is not the case at the Kennedy Space Center.
The manned space program that drew crowds to watch the spectacular sights and feel the vibrations of a rocket thundering off the launch pad with a group of people attached has been ended, for now. It was a thrill to be there for the event, hear the roar of engines and feel the ground shake even miles from the launch site. But even without the spectacular launches, visitors continue to stream through the gates of the KSC. What they came to see and experience in the past is still there, as informative and thrilling as ever.
The newest visitor attraction at the KSC is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) recently reopened for viewing after being closed to the public for 30 years. The VAB is where the final product was assembled before taking that long, slow ride to the launching pad. The VAB, is the fourth largest building in the world (in volume) and is the one visible in most KSC photos.
Busses take visitors out to the famous launch pads where history was made when astronauts left earth for space. You can experience for yourself the sights, sounds and excitement of a shuttle launch back at the Visitor’s Complex.
Interactive exhibits help you explore and understand the story of space and explain the Mars Rover now on its way to the Red Planet. The featured showings in the IMAX Theatres are mind boggling and you don’t know what big really is until you stand beneath a Saturn rocket.
There is so much happening at KSC that a full day is not nearly enough time to experience everything. A partial list of things to do and see would include the Astronaut Training Experience, NASA Rocket Garden and the ever popular Lunch with an Astronaut. Your admission ticket also gives you entry to the Astronaut Hall of Fame a few miles west of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. To visit the Kennedy Space Center on line, go to: www.ksc.nasa.gov/
Have you ever wondered why NASA headquarters is located in Houston, TX, more than 1,000 miles from Cape Canaveral? Keep reading.
The area today known as Florida’s Space Coast had its beginning long before the first rocket ascended to the heavens. Titusville was founded in 1867 and the city’s historic downtown is a charming place to visit with buildings dating back to the late 1800’s. There is a lot of history here.
Downtown Titusville features the U.S. Spacewalk of Fame, with monuments to most of the launches. Just to the south is the Spacewalk Museum displaying all sorts of memorabilia from many space programs which were donated by the people of NASA who actually worked on the launches. These are free to visitors.
Titusville’s shops and restaurants come as a delightful surprise to those thinking they will just be seeing things relating to the Kennedy Space Center. A major consideration on any trip is where to eat. The national chains are convenient, if boring.
My favorite Titusville restaurant is the unique “world famous” Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant. It is large, eclectically decorated and a fun place to visit. The food is excellent and the menu offers just about anything a patron would want. Dixie Crossroads has been in the same location for a long time, always a good recommendation.
There is something else the Space Coast has that might come as a surprise to anyone not familiar with this area of Florida. While the eyes of the world looked skyward during the launches, those familiar with all the Space Coast has to offer also looked down. Florida’s Space Coast bills itself as an area rich in nature, something probably lost on a public focused on rockets.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, is a 140,000 acre tract of natural lands open to the public and home to endangered wildlife. Neighboring Canaveral National Seashore offers 24 miles of undeveloped beach. Indian River Lagoon, the area’s rivers, and other natural areas too numerous to list here offer wildlife viewing, paddling, hiking, fishing, biking and any other outdoor activity in which you might be interested. You can enjoy doing something different each day of your visit.
Your home base during your visit to the Space Coast should be easy to return to from daily outings. My suggestion would be to stay in the area just west of downtown Titusville at Exit 215 (Rte. 50) and I-95. There are many hotels and motels from which to choose. I stayed at the new Fairfield Inn/Marriott, an attractive, clean, reasonably priced lodging with restaurants within walking distance. This is an excellent location for day trips to the Kennedy Space Center, local trips and even Orlando, just 45 minutes to the west.
There is one more stop you should be aware of while you are in the area, Port Canaveral just to the south of Titusville. This is where the Disney Cruise ships depart. For those of you who like to try your luck at gaming, there is a new ship you can visit for an afternoon or evening cruise, the Victory Casino a U. S. flagged ship, docked at the Port.
The ship, launched in August of 2011, offers two 5-hour cruises daily except Sundays. Buffet dining, live entertainment and of course a large selection of table games and slots are available to passengers.
Victory Casino Cruises leave from Port Canaveral’s Cruise Terminal #2. For more information go to Victory Casino Cruises.com.
The answer as to why NASA headquarters is located in Houston, TX, and not Florida was because President Lyndon Johnson wanted something for his constituents back in Texas. It had nothing to do with logistics. It was strictly political.