Confession: I was less than enthusiastic about visiting the Kennedy Space Center. We visited Kennedy Space Center on a family vacation for my thirteenth birthday, and I thought it was incredibly boring. I just wanted to get back to Disney World. In general, if it has to do with space, including movies/books set in space, I'm yawning.
Dan really wanted to go to Kennedy Space Center and as everyone knows, marriage is about compromise. It's about compromise, and knowing what you'll get in return. One day at Kennedy Space Center and my favorite Orlando attraction, Gatorland, was in my cards!
We arrived very early, about an hour before they opened.
We got excited to see this...
Lunch with an Astronaut? Yes, please.
However, you need to book these special events in advance. In addition to the Lunch with an Astronaut, the space center offered several behind the scene tours, but most of them were already sold out. We managed to scoop up the last seats for the lunch with Sam Gemar. Booking in advance would have also saved us time waiting in line at the ticket kiosks.
We met our first astronaut as we were waiting for the turnstiles to open.
The Kennedy Space Center was decked out for the holidays and we found out that December 26th is one of their busiest days of the year. This isn't unbearably busy in the same way that the theme parks get busy around the holidays ( more on that in a future post), but it was crowded. Crowded enough to have to be thoughtful of our timing throughout the day, to make sure that we saw everything.
Here are some pictures that we took while waiting for the center to open.
Taking the suggestion of the employee that sold us our tickets, we headed straight for the space shuttle Atlantis exhibit.
The Atlantis presentation, with its dazzling movie and breathtaking reveal of the actual shuttle, completely reversed my thinking that this was going to be a dull day. If Atlantis doesn't make you excited to be at the Kennedy Space Center, hope is lost. I don't want to give the game away, but just know that the presentation is stunning. Atlantis does get busy fast; it was definitely a great recommendation to head here first.
Here we are with Atlantis, the real deal.
Besides Atlantis, which is enormous, the building holds tons of exhibits; such as a replica of the Hubble Telescope, information on how astronauts deal with every day living in space, and a section dedicated to those astronauts who have lost their lives during missions.
Also in the Atlantis building is a shuttle launch simulator ride. The warnings are intense, but this is nothing like EPCOT's Mission Space. You do have to store all of your belongings in a free locker, but really the intensity of the ride was low. I'm a chicken, trust me.
Here I am in the queue. The line was empty when we arrived, but super long as we were leaving. We felt good about arriving early and doing Atlantis first. I can't drill this into you enough: Atlantis = Do First. You could easily spend half the day in this building and there is so much more to see at the Kennedy Space Center.
After Atlantis, it was time for our Lunch with an Astronaut.
Our astronaut was Sam Gemar, who flew as a mission specialist on three shuttle missions logging more than 580 hours in space.
We were brought into a large conference center and seated at round table with six other people. I would estimate that the room held a couple hundred guests. Lunch was an all-you-can-eat buffet. A good range of food as you can tell from my plate; fish, chicken, and pizza!
And yes, of course that's a glass of Tang in the picture. They couldn't possibly leave out the Tang.
As soon as everyone had gone to the buffet, Mr. Gemar came in to speak. He startled me, sneaking up behind me and putting his hand on my back as I was taking a bite. It's not every day that you're surprised by an astronaut!
Mr. Gemar had fascinating stories, that he told with warmth and humor. I'm sure not every astronaut is great at public speaking, but Gemar nailed it. He was very good at not only balancing between explaining things in both technical and layman terms, but also speaking in a way that's engaging for both children and adults.
He spoke for about an hour, which included a Q&A session. After lunch, he did a meet and greet in the lobby.
Lunch with an Astronaut was my favorite part of the day. I thought it was very reasonably priced, at approximately thirty a person for adults. I'm not sure that it would be great for very young children ( although they are certainly welcome to attend), but if you have an older elementary aged kid, it would be ideal. Mr. Gemar was inspiring as he explained his career path and college studies that led him towards achieving his goals.