Kennedy Space Center is not only a launch site for space missions, but it's also a great interactive learning center for families.

The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, has been the launch site for all crewed U.S. space missions since 1962. It's still the busiest launch and landing facility in the country, as well as a government site where more than 10,000 men and women work to maintain the existing space program and push the boundaries of scientific knowledge in their quest for the stars.

In 1967, a small visitor's complex was built as a launch-viewing site for astronauts' families. Since then, visitors have been coming to central Florida to get a glimpse of the American space program. The center has been expanded into a full-fledged spacecraft museum that is fascinating and fun as well as educational.

At the Visitor's Complex, guests can talk to real astronauts and dine with them during Lunch with an Astronaut. Kids enjoy hearing tales of their experiences in space and asking the astronauts questions. Younger kids love climbing in the Play Dome's Space Shuttle/Space Station Gym.

In the Space Shuttle Plaza visitors will find a full-size replica of the space shuttle Explorer on display. In the Rocket Garden, a sculpture garden filled with ten-story-high rockets from all eras of space exploration, kids can climb into replicas of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules.

The Mad Mission to Mars 2025 exhibit transforms guests into astronauts by using 3-D computer animation, stunning special effects, and wacky characters. Visitors are then taken on an interactive imaginary tour of the universe. IMAX space films displayed on gigantic five-story screens feature dramatic footage shot by NASA astronauts during actual missions. These incredible movies will make you feel like you're floating right alongside them.

To get a look at the space program in action, take the bus tour through Kennedy Space Center. At the Observation Gantry stop, visitors get a great panoramic view of the two space shuttle launchpads and the entire complex, including the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (the largest building by volume in the world), where the shuttles are assembled and maintained before launch.

Just down the road at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, multimedia presentations, small-scale displays, and a huge 363-foot-long Saturn moon rocket that was never launched are part of an exhibit devoted to the Apollo lunar landing program. You can also view a piece of moon rock as well as a lunar rover trainer.

The final item on the tour is an impressive close-up look at the International Space Station. Here, visitors can observe the happenings of a real NASA laboratory where components of the International Space Station are assembled and prepared for orbit. The Habitation Module is designed to give visitors a sense of life in space. You will see a replica of the living and working area used by astronauts.

Six miles away, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame pays tribute to the country's space heroes and is filled with personal artifacts of the astronauts who first ventured into space. Visitors can experience a sample of the training that astronauts undergo, including a ride in a space flight simulator that turns you upside down and lets you experience zero gravity and g-forces firsthand. You can see what it feels like to squeeze into a replica Mercury space capsule, bungee-bounce to experience a stroll on the moon, or try on a pair of astronauts' gloves that are so big and bulky it's hard even to wiggle a finger.

Kennedy Space Center

Address: State Rd. 405, Kennedy Space Center, FL

Telephone: 321/449-4364

Hours of Operation: Daily, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $38; Children, $28

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Florida State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Florida, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.