I was gifted entry to Kennedy Space Center and to chat with an astronaut in exchange for this review; however, all opinions and experiences are my own. I was extremely excited for this visit as I have been a massive space geek since I was small. My ambition as a child was to be an astronaut and I entered every competition I could with dreams of going to space camp. We arrived at Kennedy Space Center just before it opened at 9am and before we even got to the gate we had pictures taken with an astronaut.
Once inside we found ourselves in the rocket garden, an outdoor area where rockets are displayed. It is hard to describe how big these are in real life and we spent some time exploring and looking at them.
We then headed straight for Gateway where we explored an exhibition called “The Deep Space Launch Complex. Gateway™ focuses on the present and future of collaborative space exploration. There are exhibits from past, present and future space travel and it was really interesting to see how far things have progressed, and where they are leading to.
Amongst the exhibits were the Orion capsule, a Starliner capsule – designed to carry 7 passengers or a combination of crew and cargo, space habitats including an expanding one that becomes the size of a three story building once in space, the Dragon capsule that launched on Falcon 9, a model of Artemis I and, hanging above us, Falcon 9!
Next we found ourselves at Spaceport KSC which is a simulator ride that allows visitors to experience space travel of the future and discover Uncharted Worlds lightyears away. We were first shown into a room where we chose our mission from the four available and then we boarded the ride. Everyone is sat in a row of seats which lifts into the air and moves around as you watch the show on a screen around you, giving the feeling that you are there. The show was a mixture of educational information and footage of space.
After the ride it was time for the part of the day that I was most excited about. We headed over to another building where we were shown inside a conference room to our table. The table seated 8 and there were 7 people present including ourselves. We were able to help ourselves to food and drinks provided at a buffet table. As it was 10am, the food offered was breakfast items such as prepared fresh fruit, yogurts, muffins and pastries. There was a variety of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks to choose from. Once we had our food and were seated, Guy Gardner, an astronaut, came and joined us at the table for an hour and we were able to chat and ask him anything we liked. Guy flew as pilot on two Space Shuttle missions, STS-27 and STS-35 in 1986 and 1990.
Of course I had a million questions and it was amazing to find out about his 11 years as an astronaut and his 2 space missions. Guy was on the second space mission after the Challenger disaster and it was interesting to hear his perspective on his feelings as he embarked on this mission with regard to what happened. He said most people assume he would be fearful but as a man of faith he believed he was in the place he was meant to be in and as someone who had previously flown in the Air Force and was used to that element of danger, he was more excited than worried.
It was also interesting to hear about his journey to becoming an astronaut and the steps he had taken at a young age to get himself on the right pathway. It made me a little sad that I had not pursued my own goals in this. He explained to us how primitive the technology was on the space shuttles when he flew and it was actually mind blowing to think that back in 1986 the onboard computers were those with green writing on a black background and their only way of finding out where they were over the earth was to type messages to ground control. Guy’s story is one of pursuing dreams, working hard, not giving up and seeing them becoming a reality.
Following this, we headed over to another building called Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame®. Here we were able to see, amongst exhibits of earlier space missions, the gallery of astronauts and a control room from 1962.
By this time it was almost midday so we made our way to the bus tour area where we boarded a coach. The coach took us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. On the way we drove past the vehicle assembly building where we were able to see people working on the base of Artemis I.
The Apollo/Saturn V Center pays homage to the people and machines that made the improbable possible. We watched a show about how American space travel came about and the early space attempts and missions. It was an amazing story of perseverance in the face of failure, leading to dreams being achieved. We learnt of the Apollo I fire and how it led to an increased desire to reach the moon. After this was a show of a launch from the actual control room used at the time.
Following this show we moved into a gigantic building where Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown is displayed. It is impossible to convey the sheer size of this rocket without actually being there but it was an incredible experience to walk the length of it.
At the Apollo/Saturn V center is the Moon Rock Cafe where lunch is available to purchase. If you take your own food, there is also a picnic area outside with a view over the lake of the launch pads, including the one where Apollo 11 launched to the moon in 1969.
We took the bus back to the Main Visitor Complex and made our way to the Space Shuttle Atlantis® exhibition. This began with an impressive show about space shuttles. At the end of the show the front opened and there was the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis! It was awesome to see an actual space shuttle in real life. The building also housed a variety of interactive exhibits and a childrens play area.
Downstairs was the Forever Remembered exhibition, a tribute to the men and women that lost their lives in the Columbia and Challenger disasters. This was an extremely moving exhibit that truly brought home the dangers of space travel and the risks astronauts take.
The last thing we did was the Shuttle Launch Experience® This was a fun simulator ride that showed what it was like to launch into space and allowed us to experience the feeling of sitting in a space shuttle as it launches.
We were at Kennedy Space Center until closing time and there were other exhibits we didn’t have time to explore such as the Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted show, the LEGO Build to Launch exhibition and 3D Space Films in IMAX® but that gives us something to look forward to for next time! I would also like to go back one day to take part in the astronaut training experience.
There are various restaurants and places to get food around the site as well as gift shops to pick up souvenirs. There are also photo opportunities with the option to purchase all photos taken during your visit.
Kennedy Space Center is located at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Taking an autistic child to Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center provides information for autistic guests on their website and has a downloadable social story available called “I am going to Kennedy Space Center” and a guide for autistic guests.
Launch days will be busier and louder.
Before entering the complex you can go to the Information center to obtain a Guest Accessibility Card (GAC). The card wont guarantee immediate or priority bus or attraction entrance but it will help you get assistance from staff should you need it.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex provides a limited number of noise reduction earmuffs to guests.
There is a Quiet Room located on the bottom floor of Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Disabled parking is available near to the entrance with a rest room at the car park.
At opening time, the queue to get in was minimal. There is a need to go through a bag check and a metal detector before proceeding to the ticket turnstyle.
Buildings are vast in size so never felt crowded when walking around the exhibits. Lights inside are kept low and sound is minimal.
Pre shows can get a little more crowded, especially the Apollo/Saturn V pre-show. It would be possible to miss this out by asking to walk round to the exit and entering the building where the Saturn V is displayed instead.
Shows and pre-shows are loud and some include sounds of launches and vibrations, if you wear ear defenders or headphones it would be worth having these with you in case or borrowing some from the center.
The whole site is pushchair and wheelchair friendly.
Chat with an astronaut is in a large room but is an intimate and quiet experience with very few people present though there is a need to share a table with other guests.
Coaches have seat belts and are air conditioned. There are TV’s playing the whole journey with sound coming through loud speakers. Queues for coaches were minimal.
We got to Space Port KSC at 9.25, which was a good plan as it opens at 9.30 so we were first in the queue with a 5 minute wait time. You need to wait about 5 mins before boarding in the boarding room. To ride you must wear a seat belt. The ride is loud, moves and there is wind blown at you which also flaps things into your legs. The music comes from the right, the speaking from the left so if you have APD I would sit towards the left to stand more chance of hearing the words spoken.
The Shuttle Launch Experience was the only thing we queued for a long time for. There is no way to avoid this queue, especially if there are school trips present. The shuttle experience is a ride which tips right back and shakes you a lot.
There are plenty of rest rooms available.
Sensory information is provided on signs outside ride attractions – look for the yellow triangles.
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