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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the visitor center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It features exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, and a range of bus tours of the spaceport. Space Shuttle Atlantis is home to the real Atlantis orbiter and the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated ride into space. The visitor complex also has daily presentations from a veteran NASA astronaut. A bus tour, included with admission, encompasses the separate Apollo/Saturn V Center. There were 1.5 million visitors in 2009 and it had some 700 employees.[1]

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Centre Logo.jpg
Location Merritt Island, Florida
Coordinates 28°31′24″N 80°40′55″W / 28.5233°N 80.6819°W / 28.5233; -80.6819Coordinates: 28°31′24″N 80°40′55″W / 28.5233°N 80.6819°W / 28.5233; -80.6819
Theme NASA and space exploration
Owner NASA
Operated by Delaware North Companies
Opened August 1, 1967
Previous names Spaceport USA
Operating season open year-round
Visitors per annum 1.5 million



Gate to the KSC Visitor Complex in 2006; Explorer, a mock-up of the Space Shuttle, is in the background.

The complex had its beginning in the 1960s in a small trailer containing simple displays on card tables. By 1964, more than 250,000 self-guided car tours, permitted between 1 and 4 p.m. ET on Sundays at the urging of U.S. Rep. Olin Teague of Texas, were seen at KSC. In 1965, KSC Director Kurt H. Debus was authorized to spend $2 million on a full-scale visitors center. Spaceport USA, as it was soon titled, hosted 500,000 visitors in 1967, its first year, and one million by 1969. Even during the gap between the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, attendance remained at over one million guests and it ranked as the fifth most popular tourist attraction in Florida.[2]

When nearby Walt Disney World opened in 1971, visitors center attendance increased by 30 percent, but the public was often disappointed by the comparative lack of polish at KSC's tourist facilities. Existing displays were largely made up of trade show exhibits donated by NASA contractors. Later that year, a $2.3 million upgrade of the visitor complex was begun with added focus on the benefits of space exploration along with the existing focus on human space exploration.[2]

In 1995, Delaware North Companies was selected to operate the visitor center. Since then, the facility has been entirely self-supporting and receives no taxpayer or government funding.[3] NASA renewed the contract with Delaware North Companies through May 2020 with options to extend the contract through 2030.[4]


Entrance to Kennedy Space Center, JFK memorial & Atlantis in the background

Included in the base admission is tour-bus transportation to unobstructed views of both launch pads and the surrounding KSC property, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Previously, it used to include admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, 6 miles (9.7 km) to the west. That building is now closed and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame resides in a new exhibit at the visitor complex, Heroes & Legends.

The Apollo/Saturn V Center, located 6 miles (9.7 km) north, is a large museum built around its centerpiece exhibit, a restored Saturn V launch vehicle, and features other space related exhibits, including an Apollo capsule. Two theaters allow the visitor to relive parts of the Apollo program. One simulates the environment inside an Apollo firing room during an Apollo launch, and another simulates the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The tour formerly included the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) where modules for the International Space Station were tested.

Mercury Control consoles in the Debus Center, removed before the original building was demolished

The Visitor Complex includes two facilities run by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation. The most visible of these is the Space Mirror Memorial, also known as the Astronaut Memorial, a huge black granite mirror through-engraved with the names of all astronauts who died in the line of duty. Elsewhere on the Visitor Complex grounds is the foundation's Center for Space Education, which includes a resource center for teachers, among other facilities; and the Kurt Debus Conference Center.

Heroes & Legends, which replaced the previous Early Space Exploration, houses the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and several displays of artifacts, among them is the Gemini 9A spacecraft; as well as a recreation of the Mercury Control Center using consoles and furniture relocated from the original building at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. These were previously housed in the Mercury Mission Control facility, which was on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was demolished in May 2010 due to concerns about asbestos and the estimated $5-million cost to renovate the building after 40 years of exposure to salt air.[5]

The complex continues updating shows and attractions. The Shuttle Launch Experience, an attraction built around a motion control ride simulating a shuttle launch, opened in May 2007[6] and is hosted by then-astronaut, and previous NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden.

Atlantis display

Space Shuttle AtlantisEdit

Atlantis thrusters on display in 2016

In 2010, the center announced a $100 million plan to house a retired shuttle orbiter in a 10-story 64,000 square feet (5,900 m2) facility.[7] On April 12, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the launch of STS-1, NASA announced that Space Shuttle Atlantis would be provided to the visitors center for display after its last flight on STS-135 and subsequent decommissioning.[8] The exhibit officially opened on 29 June 2013.[9]

Shuttle Launch ExperienceEdit

The Shuttle Launch Experience,[10] designed by award-winning experience designer Bob Rogers (designer) and the design team BRC Imagination Arts, opened May 25, 2007. The attraction puts guests through a simulated shuttle launch. Delaware North Companies invested six years and $60 million into the attraction. Astronauts, NASA experts and attraction-industry leaders were consulted during development. The attraction is housed in a 44,000-square-foot (4,100 m2) building that holds four simulators, each accommodating 44 people.[11] Former shuttle commander and current NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden narrates the simulation and hosts the prerecorded pre-show.

U.S. Astronaut Hall of FameEdit

The United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, located 6 miles (9.7 km) west on Highway 405 from the main Visitor Complex on the mainland south of Titusville, Florida, is a part of the overall Visitor Complex. The Hall of Fame is a museum featuring the world's largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia. The Hall of Fame was previously owned and operated by the U.S. Space Camp Foundation, but was purchased at auction by Delaware North Park Services in September 2002[12] on behalf of NASA and the property was added to the KSC Visitor Complex. It re-opened December 14, 2002.[13] The Hall of Fame museum closed but the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame was moved to the Visitor Complex in the new attraction, Heroes & Legends.

Rocket GardenEdit

Rocket garden in 2004 (l-r): Juno I, Mercury-Redstone, Thor (top missing), Mercury-Atlas, Gemini-Titan II, with Saturn IB in background

The rocket garden between the building which houses the Visitor Complex entrance and the Debus centre is an outdoor display of historic rockets that put Americans and satellites in space. Visitors can walk up to and around the base of the rockets. The Mercury-Redstone,Mercury-Atlas, and Titan II rockets launched astronauts and the Juno I, Juno II, Thor-Delta, and Atlas-Agena rockets launched satellites from Cape Canaveral. These are mounted upright whereas the largest rocket, a Saturn IB, is mounted on its side. Saturn IB rockets launched Apollo Command/Service Modules into Earth orbit for Apollo, Skylab, and the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project.

The Juno I on display is painted with serial number "UE" like the one that launched the first US satellite, Explorer I. A Juno II launched the first American probe to escape Earth's gravity and fly past the Moon. Atlas-Agena rockets launched early probes to the Moon, Venus, and Mars, as well as the Agena target vehicles used in rendezvous and docking by Gemini spacecraft—a necessary technique for the following Apollo missions. The Thor-Delta was one of the most reliable and frequently-used launch vehicles. The Titan II on display is a refurbished Air Force ICBM with a replica Gemini spacecraft, painted to resemble the Gemini 3 booster. It was rescued from the Arizona Boneyard and erected in 2010 to replace a deteriorating mockup composed of two first stages which had been on display for more than 20 years.[14] The Saturn IB on display is SA-209 which was designated for a possible Skylab Rescue mission.

The garden also features mock-ups of capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs that visitors can get in, and the walkway and white room that Apollo astronauts used to access their capsules from the launch tower of LC-39A. Attached to the white room is a Command Module trainer.[15] A F-1 rocket engine that powered the first stage of the Saturn V is also on display. Free guided tours of the garden are available daily.[16][17]

Rocket Garden galleryEdit

Apollo/Saturn V CenterEdit

  Media related to Apollo/Saturn V Center at Wikimedia Commons

Saturn V on display
Rear view of Saturn V at the Apollo/Saturn V Center

The Apollo/Saturn V Center (28°36′20″N 80°40′11″W / 28.6055°N 80.6696°W / 28.6055; -80.6696 (Apollo/Saturn V Center)) is located north-northwest of Launch Complex 39 on the Kennedy Parkway N near the Shuttle Landing Facility and is only accessible to visitors by bus tours from the Visitors Complex. The center, which opened December 17, 1996,[18][19] was designed by Bob Rogers (designer) and the design team BRC Imagination Arts,[20] for NASA and Delaware North Companies.[21]

The building was built to house a restored Saturn V launch vehicle and features other exhibits related to the Apollo program. Until the structure was built, the Saturn V was displayed horizontally for many years outdoors just south of the Vehicle Assembly Building and tour buses brought visitors to it. The rocket's first stage is S-IC-T (a test stage) and the second (S-II) and third stages (S-IVB) are from SA-514, which would have been used for the canceled Apollo 19 mission.[citation needed] The interstages between the first and second stages and between the second and third stages are not present, but the Instrument Unit is on display (showing the internal equipment). The booster has been repainted to resemble Apollo 11's Saturn V. Its command module is the boilerplate BP-30.

Other large exhibits include the Apollo 14 command module, an unused Apollo command/service module (CSM-119) and an unused Lunar Module (LM-9). CSM-119 was designated for a possible Skylab rescue mission and as a backup for the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project. LM-9 was originally scheduled to be used on Apollo 15, but when missions after Apollo 17 were canceled, a later LM (LM-10) was used instead.

Also on display is a slice of Moon rock that visitors can touch. Other exhibits include a Lunar Module simulator, a replica of a lunar rover, a variety of space suits, a piece of Apollo 13's Lunar Module returned by the astronauts, a tool cart, the Modular Equipment Transporter, like the one used on the Moon by Apollo 14, a van used to carry astronauts to the launch pad, and a large cut-away scale model of the Saturn V. Two theaters allow visitors to relive parts of the Apollo program – one simulates the environment inside an Apollo-era firing room during the launch of Apollo 8 and the other simulates the Apollo 11 landing.

Apollo/Saturn V Center galleryEdit

Journey to Mars: Explorers WantedEdit

In 2010, the attraction, 'Exploration Space; Explorers Wanted,'[22] also designed by BRC Imagination Arts,[6] functioned as a part real-time mission briefing center, part immersive experience, and part futuristic recruitment center. It is now known as Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted with a focus on Mars exploration. The attraction, which employs large-scale video projections, dimensional exhibits and interactive experiences, is designed to immerse visitors into the adventure and unsolved challenges of future space exploration.

Space Mirror MemorialEdit

The Space Mirror Memorial, also known as the Astronaut Memorial, is maintained by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and is located behind the IMAX theater on the grounds of the main Visitor Complex. It honors NASA astronauts along with several military and civilian astronauts who have died in the line of duty.

Angry Birds Space Encounter (closed)Edit

Angry Birds Space Encounter opened at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 22, 2013. The attraction was based on Angry Birds and Angry Birds Space, which is a first in the U.S. The 4,485 square foot attraction included six interactive stations which encouraged young people to use math and science.[23] It was a temporary exhibit, and closed in early 2015.[24]

Robot Scouts (closed)Edit

In 1999, the attraction "Robot Scouts" opened as a walk-through exhibit highlighting NASA’s unmanned planetary robot probes.[25] The attraction, designed originally by award-winning experience designer Bob Rogers (designer) and the design team BRC Imagination Arts,[25] explores how robots help to pave the way for human spaceflight.[25] The attraction is now closed.

Special EventsEdit

The Visitors Complex also hosts special ticketed events run by Delaware North. Naturalization ceremonies have been conducted in the Rocket Garden, space shuttle launch viewing was offered from the Visitors Complex, Astronaut Hall of Fame and NASA Causeway directly downriver from launch pads. The Hall of Fame hosts a yearly induction ceremony.[26] The Astronaut Training Experience is also offered by Delaware North at the Astronaut Hall of Fame with several full-sized mock-ups of the space shuttle, Mission Control and training hardware.[27] The complex also runs week-long accredited day camps for children in grades 2–9.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stratford, Amanda (12 January 2010). "NASA's new image". Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 1A. 
  2. ^ a b Lipartito, Kenneth; Orville R Butler (2007). A History of the Kennedy Space Center. University of Florida Press. pp. 107–115, 179, 199. ISBN 978-0-8130-3069-2. 
  3. ^ "Press Kit". Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. 
  4. ^ "Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts Tapped for NASA Contract Renewa". Delaware North Press Releases. 12 February 2010. 
  5. ^ Mercury Control building
  6. ^ a b "Kennedy Space Center: Shuttle Launch Experience" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts. 
  7. ^ Dean, James. "New Master Plan for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex". Kennedy Space Center. 
  8. ^ "NYC, L.A., Kennedy Space Center, Smithsonian to get the 4 retired space shuttles". USA Today. April 12, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Atlantis showcase on track for June 29 opening day". Spaceflightnow. June 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "'Shuttle Experience' to launch tourists, new exhibits at Kennedy Space Center". 2005-07-07. Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  11. ^ "Shuttle Launch Experience". Delaware North Companies. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  12. ^ Corey Schubert (2002-08-07). "Space Camp Florida Faces Foreclosure, Low Attendance Partly to Blame". Florida Today. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 
  13. ^ "Astronaut Hall of Fame Reopens to Public Saturday, Dec. 14 As Newest Attraction at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex". Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. 2002-12-14. Retrieved 2007-05-27. 
  14. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. "Gemini-Titan Rocket Rises Again at Kennedy Space Center" (September 24, 2010) Retrieved September 25, 2010
  15. ^ Field guide to spacecraft, Apollo Trainer M3
  16. ^ "Rocket Garden". KSC Visitor Complex. NASA. 
  17. ^ "Overview". Kennedy Space Center Press Kit. 
  18. ^ "Saturn V Displayed At Kennedy Center", The New York Times, p. 3, February 2, 1997, retrieved November 17, 2009 
  19. ^ "Saturn V Center". Project Overview. BRC Imagination Arts. 
  20. ^ "Awards for Outstanding Achievement: Apollo/Saturn V Center, KSC, Florida.". Archived from the original on 2012-05-02. 
  21. ^ "Kennedy Space Center: Apollo/Saturn V Center" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts. 
  22. ^ "Kennedy Space Center: Exploration Space, Explorers Wanted" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts. 
  23. ^ "Angry Birds Invade NASA's Kennedy Space Center". 2005-07-07. Retrieved 2013-08-08. 
  24. ^ "Angry Birds at Kennedy Space Center Perfect Weekend Option". TheDailyCity. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  25. ^ a b c "Robot Scouts NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Visitor Complex" (PDF). BRC Imagination Arts. 
  26. ^ Berman, Dave (2 July 2010). "110 become Americans during ceremony at space cente". Florida Today. Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2010. 
  27. ^ Cousins, Jeffrey (June 24, 2010). "KSC Offers Chance To Be Astronaut For Day". WESH. 
  28. ^ "The Place for Space: Camp Kennedy Space Center". Press Release. Delaware North Companies. 

External linksEdit