The first time I visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida was back in 1987. Since then the world has changed a lot, at least when it comes to politics and technology. The cold war space race is a thing of the past, and you should think we have moved further out in space as well. But to many people’s frustration we are still stuck in low earth orbit.
Things are about to change though, NASA is busy building the new Orion spacecraft as well as a new launch system capable of reaching further. SpaceX is sending their Dragon to the ISS, with more private companies to follow. Robotic probes are investigating Mars and the outer planets and much more. Some private enterprises are even talking about mining asteroids and sending people on a 500+ day mission to Mars. It is indeed an exciting time ahead for space nerds.
In that respect a ticket to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex may not be the best investment in order to learn about the future of the space industry, as it’s main attractions is the Apollo and pre-Apollo hardware. But to learn about the future you must know the past.
I don’t remember many details from my visit in 1987, so I dug up some images from that time to see what had changed. Below I have listed a few.
First of all the huge Saturn V now have been moved inside the impressive Apollo/Saturn V center, opened in 1996. It’s old location was just south of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Other Apollo memoria in the center includes the Apollo 14 command module, an unused Apollo command/service module and an unused Lunar Module.
Another highlight of the recent visit was the Observation platform, from where the visitors can have an unobstructed view of most of the launch facilities. I don’t recall that as a part of the tour in 1987.
The Visitor Center Complex has of course been modernized since 1987, but the Rocket Garden looks much the same as it did back then. What has changed more is the way people dress…
The Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, was used to assemble launch vehicles from 1968-2011. The VAB is still the largest buildings in the world by volume. The VAB will in the future be used to prepare commercial launch vehicles and for NASA’s new Space Launch System.
The VAB doesn’t seem to have changed a lot, there used to be a different symbol though were the NASA logo is placed today.
Currently under construction at the Visitor Complex is the Space Shuttle Atlantis display, unfortunately I missed that as it opens later this year.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is of course not only a museum, but also features exhibits and displays, two IMAX theaters, bus tours of the spaceport, and the Shuttle Launch Experience, which simulates a ride into space with a space shuttle. The one day I had available was not nearly enough, as there was still things I didn’t have time to see or try out.