Rating: * * * * *
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Short Take: The next best thing to becoming an astronaut
The bus tour of Kennedy Space Center, with the Apollo/Saturn V Center, is yet another “must-see” stop on the Central Florida tourist circuit. And no wonder. This tour takes you to the sites where the space shuttle is prepared and launched. It also gives you an opportunity to gape and gawk at an actual Saturn V rocket. It’s as close as you’ll come to being launched into space without joining the astronaut corps.
There are two stops on this tour — the LC-39 Observation Gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You will also get to drive by the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the space shuttle was mated with its immense fuel tanks prior to each launch.
The LC-39 Observation Gantry ("LC" stands for "launch complex") is a four-story tower that offers a bird's-eye view of launch pads 39A and B, from which all shuttle flights departed. You'll also get close to the VAB itself. One of the largest buildings in the world, its roof covers five acres. It encloses so much space that it has its own atmosphere and it has actually rained inside. It was here that the gigantic Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program were assembled. The shuttles seem tiny by comparison.
The undisputed highlight of this tour is a visit to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The building is massive—and it has to be to house a refurbished, 363-foot-tall Saturn V moon rocket, one of only three in existence. Before you get to see the star of this show, you enter the Firing Room where the actual mission control consoles used during the Apollo missions form a backdrop for a video and audio re-creation of the launch of Apollo VIII, the first manned lunar mission.
Then you step into the massive building that houses the Saturn V, suspended horizontally in one long open space. No description can prepare you for just how immense this thing actually is. The word "awesome" moves from hyperbole to understatement. Arrayed around, alongside, and under the rocket are interpretive displays filled with astounding facts about this magnificent achievement.
Before you leave, be sure to visit the Lunar Theater, where you will see a re-creation of the first landing on the moon and be reminded of just how touch-and-go this mission was up to the very last second. After the show, you step into the New Frontiers Gallery for a preview of space missions yet to come.
If you don't linger at the various stops, you can complete this tour in about two hours, but rushing through is a mistake. Take your time, invest three or four hours and enjoy yourself. There are places to eat at each stop and the Apollo/Saturn V Center even boasts the Moon Rock Cafe, the "only place on earth where you can dine next to a piece of the moon." Between stops a taped commentary plays on ceiling-mounted video monitors; it provides some interesting background information on the Center and its operations. This tour is an exciting experience for anyone. For Americans, it should be a source of deep patriotic pride.
Tip: Try for a seat on the right side of the bus as you shuttle from stop to stop.
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