Orlando may be famous for its theme parks, but the Kennedy Space Centre is way more than just a park! This fully-operational US government site has been the launchpad for every US manned space flight since 1968, and is the base for NASA’s retiring space shuttles – Endeavor, Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis.
The sprawling complex of construction buildings, operation centres, launch sites and runways occupy Merritt Island, situated between Jacksonville and Miami on Florida’s coast. The site covers 219 square miles, and the Space Center employed 13,500 people in 2008.
Building the beast
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The giant Vehicle Assembly Building at the heart of the complex is now the fourth largest building in the world by volume. When it was built in 1965 it was the world’s largest!
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The intriguingly-named Rocket Garden displays of some of NASA’s most important launch vehicles and mock-ups of Gemini, Mercury and Apollo capsules. All the rockets are displayed upright except for the giant Saturn IB, used to launch the Apollo missions into orbit.
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Opened in 1991, the Space Mirror Memorial is a towering tribute to 24 individuals who have died in the US’s various space programs. The giant black granite mirror is engraved with their names, and spotlights illuminate the letters against the reflected sky.
Meet your heroes
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Visitors get to meet veteran astronauts in the Astronaut Encounter section of the Visitor Center. Although they won’t be dressed like the chap above, they’ll still pose for photographs and answer all your questions!
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A full-scale mock-up of a space shuttle gives visitors a feel for the size and power of these machines. These Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, with each 7,000 lb unit generating 1.8 mega newtons of thrust at lift-off.
Apollo/Saturn V Center
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A short bus-ride from the main centre, the Apollo/Saturn V Center features a restored Saturn V rocket and various other vehicles related to the Apollo space program. The compact Apollo 14 command module can be seen, which will make even your standard-class flights to Orlando seem like pure luxury! The center also features a lunar rover replica and two theatres which simulate parts of the Apollo program for visitors.
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Top image via The U.S. Army