Kennedy Space Center. Cape Canaveral. Places that absolutely captured my imagination throughout my childhood. Growing up in the 1960’s I was enthralled by the space program. I followed every news story of the Mercury program, the Gemini program, and the Apollo program. At the age of 15 I could tell you every detail of how the moon launch was going to unfold. Much later, when the Teacher-in-Space program was first announced I gave serious consideration to applying. I watched, live, in horror as the Challenger disaster occurred. I have truly been a space enthusiast from my earliest days. So, to find ourselves camping a mere 10 miles from the launch site, it was a no-brainer that we had to visit. Never mind the expense. I had to see it. It was almost like a Pilgrimage.
Our first indication that things were going to be a little more complicated than I had thought came when we found ourselves in a line of cars trying to get in to park, and the parking fee was going to be $10. This felt more like a trip to an amusement park than a serious museum visit. The next thing was a massive line to get in to purchase tickets.
I had found discount coupons, but even with that, our bill for the two of us was north of $94. We were now into this for over $100. Still, this was NASA. This was the space race. It had to be worth it. Right?
Included in our ticket price was a bus tour of the launch pads and a building dedicated to the moon landing. Awesome! Also included were two shows at the 3-D IMAX theater. Sounds good. But the ticket agent told us to arrive at the IMAX at least 15 minutes before the scheduled time of the shows we wanted because seating was limited and not guaranteed. Hmm.
After a brief tour through the “rocket garden” where we could see some actual 1960’s era rockets, we headed to the tour-bus-loading area. I was surprised to see the length of the lines! It took us well over a half hour to work our way through a line to get on a bus. The last time I remember waiting in a half-hour line was at an amusement park waiting for a roller-coaster ride. It seemed like the comparison to an amusement park was becoming a theme for the day. By the time we boarded the bus we had been at the Kennedy Space Center for over an hour, and we had only had a brief taste of anything approaching an educational experience (the walk through the rocket garden).
Fortunately the bus ride and the Saturn V building were very worthwhile. It was absolutely amazing to stand beneath a real Saturn V rocket and experience the sheer size and scale of it.
The rest of the day was back to disappointing. There were long lines to everything. There was a massive over-dependence on multimedia presentations, there was overbearing crowd-control, and generally an amusement park feel to everything we did. The opportunity to see firsthand the actual space shuttle Atlantis was the exception. That experience nearly took my breath away.
By the time we left, at 7:00PM, we had been there nearly 8 hours. Unlike most visits to museums, this experience had very little learning associated with it. It’s a shame, really, that NASA couldn’t have done a better job of this.