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Kennedy Space Center Launches Rare, Behind-the-Scenes ToursJuly 2, 2012 By: Adam Leposa
|Travelers can go inside the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time in more than 30 years. // All photos by Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex|
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Kennedy Space Center is launching tours to two rarely seen areas of the center: the Launch Control Center (LCC) and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), which has been off-limits to the public for more than 30 years. The Center is offering 10 percent commissionable lodging packages to go along with the tours for travel agents- we spoke with John Stine, director of sales and marketing, Kennedy Space Center, for the details.
“These are live, operating facilities that are currently going through a little bit of a lull as we gear up for the Space Launch System, and we’ll be testing that launch system in the next couple of years,” said Stine. “We don’t know how long we’ll have them for, at least through the end of the year and early next year, but we can be requested to vacate the area by NASA at any time.”
Until the launch of the SLS, Kennedy Space Center is still host to rocket launches throughout the year, including SpaceX’s recent successful private mission to the International Space Station.
The commissionable packages include admission, hotel lodging and one of the tours below. Agents can book by calling 888-590-4979 or at http://kennedyspacecenter.reservedirect.com/travel_agent.asp.
|Firing Room 4 controlled all Space Shuttle launches since 2006.|
New Tours and Attractions
The “KSC Up-Close: Launch Control Center (LCC) Tour” takes visitors inside Firing Room 4, the room from which all space shuttle launches since 2006 were controlled. Guests can see the main countdown clock, video monitors and “bubble room” through which the launch director and management team oversaw the launch.
“With so much on the line, the people who worked in this room were under tremendous pressure not only in daily operations but particularly as the countdown proceeded,” said Bob Sieck, former launch director, Kennedy Space Center, in a statement. “They had to handle the tension and their emotions as the tests became faster, the astronauts took their place in the shuttle and thousands of people and news media were gathered outside to watch the launch.”
The LCC tour is led by a trained space expert, and it also includes a drive-by of Launch Pad 39 and a visit to the Apollo / Saturn V Center.
Also led by a trained space expert, the “Kennedy Space Center Up-Close Tour” takes visitors up close to rocket and space shuttle launch pads and into the interior of the 525 foot tall VAB, where the Space Shuttle and Apollo rockets were assembled. The VAB is one of the largest buildings in the world. Guests will also get a chance to see the 6 million pound crawler-transporters, which moved the space shuttle from the VAB to its launch pad, before finishing up in the Apollo / Saturn V Center.
In July of next year, the Kennedy Space Center will also be unveiling a new attraction: the new home of Atlantis, the last Space Shuttle to be assembled in the VAB.
“[Atlantis] will be presented in a way that none of the other orbiters are going to be presented – as if it were orbiting the Earth,” said Stine.
The $100 million exhibition will allow guests to get up close with the Shuttle in a series of interactive exhibits that also tell the story of the 30 year Space Shuttle program.
In addition to the new and upcoming tours and attractions, the Kennedy Space Center also features the opportunity to view live space launches – agents can see the full schedule at the Center’s events calendar: http://kennedyspacecenter.com/events.aspx#2011/8/0/
Visitors can also see the Rocket Garden, which boasts seven rockets from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, as well as models of the Apollo 11 gantry arm and the Apollo capsule. The Astronaut Encounter program, held daily at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, is a half-hour question and answer session and picture-taking opportunity with an astronaut. Similarly, the Lunch With an Astronaut program allows visitors to dine with an astronaut and have their picture taken. In the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the world’s largest collection of astronaut memorabilia commemorates the heroes of the space program. The newest addition to this area, Science On a Sphere, features animated images of the atmosphere, oceans and planets of the solar system. Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted, combines live theater, interactive experiences and multimedia presentations to explore the future of space travel in a 10,000 square foot exhibit.
Farther afield, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, with 140,000 acres of estuaries, marshes and coastal dunes, holds more state and federally protected wildlife than any other national refuge, including manatees, alligators, bald eagles, ospreys, butterflies and sea turtles. Five hiking trails, ranging from one-quarter mile to five miles long, as well as a seven-mile driving tour, allow guests to experience the more than 500 species of the refuge.
|The "Lunch With an Astronaut" program brings the space program close to kids.|
Who to Sell To
Kennedy Space Center remains a strong draw for families, Stine notes.
“We do get a lot of people from the Boomer generations that grew up with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, but also later generations,” Stine said. “People with children, usually around the age of preteens to teens…We get a very unique mix of guests from all over the world, but we get a good number of people from throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Last year California was one of the best states as far as delivering people.”
Agents planning a trip to the Kennedy Space Center will need to secure a car for their clients. Driving directions from nearby Orlando and Miami can be found at http://kennedyspacecenter.com/driving-directions.aspx. Stine also notes that many visitors come from nearby Port Canaveral, either pre- or post-cruise or during a port stop.
Stine hinted that the company could be rolling out a third tour sometime soon – stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for further details.