Kennedy Space Center tours?
March 1, 2013 5:35 AM   Subscribe

We're visiting Kennedy Space Center in March and have time for one (and only one) of the tours. Does anyone have any tips/suggestions? I'm leaning towards the VAB one but could be swayed.
posted by smackfu to Travel & Transportation around Florida (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been on all of the tours, and I like the Cape Canaveral Then & Now tour the best. You get to see a lot of neat NASA history as well as the current rocket launching program. If you've never been to KSC, they often recommend the VAB tour. Are you going with any children? Then I would definitely recommend VAB. It's less historical and more about what it's like to make a rocket/shuttle. I would pick either of those two.

The Control Center tour is cool if you're interested in that specifically, but it doesn't make any other stops. I haven't been on a Launch Pad tour in some years, but when I went it was mostly about the Shuttle Program which is now defunct. You do get to see one of the launch pads up close, though, but on the VAB tour they also make brief stops there for pictures. Maybe someone else can speak to whether they've updated it to talk about the current rocket launch program. I think the Launch Pad tour would also be fun for kids.

The best part of the tours is they are usually lead by retired NASA employees - people who really worked on some of the stuff they are showing you. It's super neat.
posted by bluefly at 6:35 AM on March 1, 2013

Response by poster: Should have mentioned, no kids. Just an adult space geek and his girlfriend.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 AM on March 1, 2013

Having just been to Kennedy and having just gone to several of these places, I think the VAB is a great choice if you're already leaning that way. I saw someone on twitter yesterday refer to it as a "nerd cathedral" and that really is pretty apt - it's enormous in a way that's difficult to get your head around unless you're standing inside it. When I was there, a mobile launch tower and both crawlers were being stored inside it -- these enormous machines, totally dwarfed by the building sheltering them. And I appreciated the chance to have a moment of mourning for the Columbia, the wreckage of which is stored there.

The VAB is also pretty close to the mobile launch platform they're refitting for the Space Launch System (originally built for the since-cancelled Constellation program) so you can see that, too, from decently close up.

Also, I'm super jealous you'll be able to see the Saturn V center - that's the one big thing I missed!


(On a brief side note: if you decide to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame down the road, definitely go see the "Science on a Sphere" show. It was surprisingly entertaining and informative, and very stylishly animated.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:40 AM on March 1, 2013

Go, see the VAB. The size is certainly immense in a way you can't fathom until you're *there*. And remember, that giant thing has to stand up to hurricanes.
posted by skittlekicks at 6:56 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

do both the bus tour AND the vab tour. if you can only do ONE, do the VAB tour because that is a temporary sort of thing which is scheduled to have a limited run. You get to walk up to a real shuttle, plus the building itself is pretty overwhelming inside. if you can take a real DSLR with a serious telephoto lense look for this awesome bit of awesome:

if you are standing with your back to the shuttle display, look right towards the far end of the building and about half way on the left side of the building at ground level is a huge mural with signatures by everyone from every shuttle mission.

In my job i get to be in there on occasion and it literally takes my breath away every time!
posted by chasles at 7:00 AM on March 1, 2013

Hmmm.....I don't think there's a shuttle (other than the wreckage of the Columbia) in the VAB anymore? I was at KSC last month, and the VAB was only storing the crawlers, a mobile launch platform, a mockup of the new Orion capsule and a ton of random office equipment. The Atlantis shuttle is in a new building in the main visitor complex, which is set to open in July. (I got to take a peek inside the new exhibit, but unfortunately Atlantis was still "shrink wrapped" in opaque plastic :/ )
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:06 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Saturn V Center and the Now and Then are my top picks after many, many, many, many visits. The VAB tour is great but not as entertaining IMO.
posted by picklesthezombie at 7:56 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went a few years ago and we did the Then and Now tour. I grew up in the sixties and to actually see and in a couple of instances walk around the sites I watched live on TV 40 years ago was awesome. We got to get out and explore a number of places which was great; walking around Pad 34-A was very moving. I think since many of the stops on that tour have been decommissioned we got a little more freedom to look around than some of the other tours, but have not been on any of the others to make a direct comparison. If you are more interested in the current state of the space program than reliving its early years that might not be the tour for you, but I really liked it. I would have been happy to go on any of them, though. It isn't entirely historical; the last part of the tour took us past a number of currently used launch pads as well as the VAB. We didn't get out but the bus driver/tour guide was very knowledgeable and told us alot.
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2013

Saturn V Center is the treat, the control room simulation is there I believe exiting to the prone rocket and assorted stunning artifacts. Prepare to be impressed.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:22 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've spent 30 years working there, just came home from the Launch Control Center a few minutes ago. I haven't actually been on any of the "official" tours, but here's my take:

The LCC: it's pretty cool if you feel like actually standing where history was made. You go to Firing Room 4 where the last several years of launches were controlled from. You see a bunch of consoles and big deal. You do get a chance to look out the windows at the pads, which is kinda cool. Also, in the lobby when you come into the building you'll see a plaque for every launch with two little tags beneath them, 1 for the launch date & 1 for the landing. Two of them only have 1 tag (Challenger & Columbia). I still stop & look at them from time to time. (if you go, look left when you get off the elevators into Firing Room 3. It's getting a new floor, then my team moves in)

The VAB: I have to agree that you should consider this. That is one big building. I still stop & look up every time I go in. I have no idea what the tourist experience is like, but it will only be open for a limited time until we start up operations again.

The pads: Again, no idea what the tourist experience is like. Seems to me it's a look at a lot of concrete & steel. Trust me, it was MUCH cooler when there was a vehicle there. Blow this off.

The Then & NowTour: If you are a major space geek, then you should consider this. I went on something similar when I started (1983...sheesh) and it was cool then.

Take the time to catch an Imax movie...the Hubble one is great and it really is very close to a launch experience...the rumble of the boosters/engines is like being there and can't be beat.
posted by jeporter99 at 11:36 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just went last week for the first time and took the VAB tour. It's not usually open to the public and it's pretty impressive.

There's no shuttle in the VAB at the moment, but there's an Orion mockup so they can practice on the cranes in there.

The VAB tour ends at the Saturn V building, which is AWESOME and not to be missed.

The space shuttle experience was kind of cheesy IMO.
posted by jennybento at 9:44 AM on March 4, 2013

Response by poster: Follow-up: We took the VAB tour in the end. It was good but not great. The VAB part is awesome, but it's really quick. Just a walk around a cordoned off area of the center bay and part of an empty high bay. It feels a bit like they wanted to do a two hour bus tour but they only have about 20 minutes of VAB to show, so they have to pad it with visits to the NASA causeway and the 39A/B camera position, which are both much worse places for taking pictures than when you are in the bus. It feels like they should combine this with the launch pad tour since you drive right by where the launch pad tour stops. But $$$. Speaking of which, the $50 + $25 + tax per person seemed pretty pricey to me for what you see.

But as mentioned in another comments, once they start doing operations in the VAB again, it will be closed since it's a hazardous materials area, so I'm glad we went in the end.
posted by smackfu at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2013

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