Space Shuttle Home Nears Completion In Florida

Space Shuttle Atlantis has a new home in Florida that is nearing completion. As the latest Space Coast attraction, the new $100-million home of the historic spacecraft will launch June 29 at Kennedy Space Center. Far more than a place to store the used orbiter, the new facility will offer visitors unprecedented access to what was once highly classified hardware, uniquely displayed.

This unique experience delivers extraordinary access to Space Shuttle Atlantis, positioned as if it were in space as only astronauts have seen it before. Suspended 30 feet above ground and rotated at slightly less than a 45-degree angle, Atlantis will have her payload bay doors open and robotic arm (Canadarm) extended. Visitors will be able to view the orbiter from below or via a raised surrounding platform.

With 33 missions in space to the credit of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the exterior has been left as-is for visitors to see the wear on its protective external tiles. Over 60 supporting and interactive exhibits plus high-tech simulators tell the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program and the amazing engineering that transformed the way humans explore space. Prominently featured is the shuttle program’s role in building the International Space Station as well as the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.While the newest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, Atlantis is just one feature to be enjoyed by visitors. The Shuttle Launch Experience simulates what it is like to blast off into space. The Rocket Garden features Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space, alongside Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Astronaut Training Experience brings visitors realistic astronaut training.

Other exhibits trace the history of America’s space program from its beginning and get into the future of space exploration. Far from a relic of another time and a different NASA focus, the Atlantis exhibit promises to complete an experience that fans of space travel may have only dreamed of until now.

Better yet, the Kennedy Space Center website has a rich array of interactive content including a “countdown until the next launch” timer and an Ask An Astronaut feature that invites visitors to pose questions to those who have actually been there and done that.

About the only part of the space shuttle program that visitors won’t see is an actual launch, but we have one of those for you here in this video:

[Image credit – Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex]

Space Travel Update: What NASA Is Up To These Days

With the Space Shuttle program coming to an end and commercial space flight organizations providing service to the International Space Station, one might wonder what the people at NASA are doing these days. While we’re not sure about other NASA facilities, Kennedy Space Center is keeping busy with a variety of activities.

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has been the launch site used for every NASA human space travel flight since 1968. KSC is also a major Florida tourist attraction hosting attractions that include the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated journey of launching into space and orbiting Earth, as well as the Astronaut Training Experience, Rocket Garden, two IMAX theaters, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and more. Now, KSC is adding yet another attraction, Angry Birds.

The new Angry Birds Space Encounter will be the first comprehensive, interactive Angry Birds attraction in the United States. Designed for people of all ages, the new attraction promises to “brings to life the space adventures of the Angry Birds as they follow their kidnapped eggs into an inter-galactic wormhole, come face to face with Space Pigs and gear up with heroic superpowers,” said KSC in a press release.Set to open at the KSC Visitor Complex on March 22, NASA has a serious reason behind the Angry Birds fun. Collaborating with Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment, the idea is to teach players about physics and space exploration, energizing young people regarding future careers in science and technology.

But it’s not all work on the Space Coast of Florida as we see in this video:

[Photo credit – NASA]

Space Center Adds Up-Close Tours

While Kennedy Space Center will not be launching space shuttles anymore, the 39-acre complex in Florida has not shut down for lack of anything to do. In addition to ongoing space programs, travelers visiting the Space Coast of Florida have some new options with up-close tours, some that were never before possible in the 50 year history of the facility.

“You’re going to be close to where history has been made and will be made in the future with new programs currently under development for space exploration,” Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the center’s Visitor Complex, said in a Los Angeles Times story.

Kennedy Space Center has added new access to previously restricted areas, including Launch Complex 39 where space shuttles and six Apollo missions took off. Called “KSC Up-Close” a choice of three walking, guided tours bring a deeper look at specific aspects of Kennedy Space Center.
In June, Gadling featured the Launch Control Center (LCC) tour that gets visitors inside Firing Room 4, one of the LCC’s four firing rooms and the one from which all 21 shuttle launches since 2006 were controlled.

Other tours offered include the Vehicle Assembly Building tour, where visitors are granted access to the secure area, and the Launch Pad tour that goes nearly a quarter-mile within the perimeter security fence of Launch Pad 39-A.

All guided tours are $25 per adult and $19 per child (ages 3-11) plus tax and can be reserved online. Reservations, while not required, are suggested as tours sell out every day.

Flickr photo by mehul.antani

10 Florida Attractions That Are Not Theme Parks

When planning a summer vacation, many travelers choose Florida attractions for some good family fun and look forward to the trip all year. Others, not interested in the theme park experience, are turning to ecotourism opportunities in Florida that provide vacation fun and have a more positive impact on the planet.

Ecotourism has travelers visiting fragile, pristine and protected areas of the planet as a low-impact alternative to mass tourism. Educating the traveler along the way, ecotourism commonly provides funds for ecological conservation that directly benefits local communities. In Florida, Cocoa Beach is a coastal city that has a wide variety of ecotourism opportunities about an hour from popular theme parks and attractions.

1. Canaveral National Seashore is a 24-mile beach with birding, fishing and wildlife run by the National Park Service.

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the John F. Kennedy Space Center, east of Titusville, Florida.

3. Cocoa Beach Wildside Tours is a Nature Tour Boat operating out of Cocoa Beach, Florida. They provide a close up experience with Manatees, Porpoises, Wild Birds and Alligators.

4. Blue Heron Adventures showcases the Indian River Lagoon and Bottlenose Dolphins, along with the opportunity to watch endangered Florida Manatees play.

5. Island Boat Lines offer daily eco-tours departing from various locations throughout the Space Coast. Optional cruises feature the Cocoa Beach Thousand Islands, Port Canaveral & THE LOCKS, Barge Canal and Historical Cocoa Village.

6. The Great Florida Birding Trail is a collection of sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent bird watching or bird education opportunities.

7. Brevard Zoo is the result of the popularity of on-site kayaking in Brevard Zoo’s 22-acre wetlands. The Brevard Zoo is also offering kayaking eco-tours of the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon.

8. Grasshopper Airboat Eco-Tours is located on the St. Johns River West of Cocoa. There, travelers can experience a unique and thrilling Florida airboat ride adventure.

9. Inlet Marina offers Pelican Island and Indian River Lagoon Tours in addition to canoe and kayak rentals.

10. Fun Day tours is an eco-tour operator providing over 20 new, and unique, half- and full-day, guided nature and wildlife adventures for preformed groups, plus a “VIP” privately guided group tour of Kennedy Space Center.

Florida is also home to the Everglades, a protected area in danger as we see in this video:

Flickr photo by Elido Turco – Gigi

The Final Shuttle Launch and the Future of the Space Coast

About 12 hours before STS-135 was set to blast off for low Earth orbit, my friend Rob and I were driving toward Titusville, Florida with a car full of camping supplies and our fingers crossed. The weather was foul, and the chances of a launch were just 30 percent. But we were in Central Florida to see a blast off, and so to the Space Coast we were headed.

Traveling the American Road – The Last Shuttle Launch: STS135

As we know now, the shuttle did take off as scheduled, making its final graceful, powerful arc into the low clouds, punching through the smallest break in the weather on the way to the International Space Station. It was an exciting, historic moment, made bittersweet by the mass layoffs that would follow the shuttle’s landing on July 21.

The economic impact of the program’s end on the Space Coast will extend beyond the pink slips delivered to now-unneeded engineers and shuttle support staff. As one construction worker I met explained, the estimated 1 million visitors that turned out for the final launch will likely never again come to his hometown. Rooms, restaurants and tours will go empty, leaving the tourism business reliant on seasonal fishing trips and historians of the space age who will trickle in, yes, but not in numbers like those seen this July.

Two days after the launch, I visited Kennedy Space Center, where pride in the 30-year history of the shuttle program is enormous–to the point that no one there seemed to have acknowledged its end. A sign reminded visitors that “NASA centers have embarked on a phased program of expanding and updating the space shuttle’s capabilities” and a short film suggested that “Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a shuttle on the way to the pad today.” While there was no shortage of visitors that day, I wondered how long the attraction of the place would last without a manned spaceflight program and how long the gift shop would continue selling out of STS-135 merchandise.

Driving away from the Space Coast, we stopped for a bite at Corky Bells, a seafood restaurant in Cocoa, Florida, very close to the Space Center. Near the register at the entryway was a doorknob from its original location, engulfed by a fire sparked by Hurricane Frances in 2004. The restaurant moved into its current building, reconnected with its regulars and kept serving heaping platters of fried crabs, clams, shrimp and fish. Lunch was excellent, but without launch-day crowds, will Corky’s weather the coast’s latest storm?