Last week I had the privilege of being a guest for the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL. The launch itself was magical, a once-in-a-lifetime event that certainly lived up to the hype of being way better in person than on TV. But I also took an extra day to explore the KSC grounds since I'd never visited before, and I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the offerings, both for children and adults alike.
As of this writing, there are only two planned shuttle missions to go before the entire space program ceases. Naturally, there is quite a bit of concern about lost jobs and a decline in tourism on the Space Coast following the STS-134 mission, which is currently slated to launch in November. But I'd argue that KSC can remain a tourist destination for some time, with or without shuttle launches, if NASA can step up its game and do a little more to draw people in. Aside from the main visitor center, which caters more to children, I was particularly impressed with the newer Saturn V Center, which houses not only an entire full-scale Saturn V rocket but a wonderful museum dedicated to the history and science behind the Apollo program. After this year it might be quite a while before we see piloted missions launching from the Cape again, so I'd suggest NASA would be wise to hurry up and build a similar annex dedicated to the shuttle program to help sustain tourism in the area.
In the meantime, I still think KSC is well worth a visit for anyone interested in space exploration. And of course, if you have the chance to attend one of the two remaining shuttle launches, by all means do it! Just know that there will be lines, and lots of them, if you happen to stop by around launch time. Anyway, here are some pics from my recent adventures on the Space Coast! ∞