Kennedy Space Center (Ultimate Visitor’s Guide for 2023)
👉 Jump to: Plan Your Visit | History | Things to Do | Dining | Rocket Launches | Tips | FAQs
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has been in operation since 1967. However, it wasn’t always as grand as it is now. Since 1995, Delaware North has been operating the Visitor Complex for NASA. In that time, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has grown into an out-of-this-world experience for guests.
Like most Floridians, I took a couple of field trips to the Kennedy Space Center when I was a kid, but I had not visited as an adult. I recently took my son to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for his first trip and I was blown away by all the fantastic exhibits and experiences.
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Plan Your Visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Sometimes you just want someone else to take care of the logistics for you. The easiest way to visit the Kennedy Space Center is to just pre-book one of these popular tours (they’ll pick you up & handle everything!)
How to Get to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is in Merritt Island, Florida. Most of the Kennedy Space Center and nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station are behind security gates. However, the Visitor Complex can be accessed on public roads.
Driving to Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is located at Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island, FL 32953.
From the North: Head down I-95 South to exit 215 onto Highway 50. Go east on Highway 50 for a short period before taking a right onto SR 405. Stay on SR 405 for approximately 10 miles until you see signs for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
From the East: From Orlando, you can take Highway 50 or SR 528 East. Take Highway 50 until just past I-95 and take a right on SR 405. Stay on SR 405 for approximately 10 miles until you see signs for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Take SR 528 until you reach SR 407. SR 407 ends when it reaches SR 405. Take a right onto SR 405 and stay on that road until you see signs for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
From the South: Take I-95 North to exit 212 for SR 407. Continue on SR 407 until it ends at SR 405. Take a right onto SR 405 and stay on that road until you see signs for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Closest Airports to Kennedy Space Center
If you are flying into Florida to visit Kennedy Space Center, the closest airport is the Melbourne Orlando International Airport (30 miles away). Most visitors to Central Florida fly into Orlando International Airport (38 miles away) or the Orlando Sanford International Airport (38 miles away).
If you are visiting Orlando, you can take a tour to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. There are several tour options available that include pick-up from area hotels and round-trip transportation between Orlando and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Leave the driving and planning to someone else, so you can sit back and enjoy your day trip from Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center Tickets
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers a variety of ticket packages to fit your needs. There are also add-ons that you can purchase to enhance your visit. Check the events calendar before your visit, because some experiences are only offered on certain days.
- One-day tickets start at $75 for adults and $65 for ages 3-11
- Two-day tickets start at $89 for adults and $79 for ages 3-11
- Chat with an Astronaut add-on costs $50 for adults (in addition to admission)
- KSC Explore Tour add-on costs $25 for adults (in addition to admission)
- Launch Director Tour of Space Shuttle Atlantis costs $75 (in addition to admission)
- Rocket launch experiences vary from $99-$250 per person
Parking at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has a large parking lot to accommodate visitors. The parking lot is located just outside the entrance gate to the visitor center. Just follow the signs on Space Commerce Way to get to the parking lot. Taxis and ride-share vehicles can access the parking area for pick up and drop off with proof of fare.
- Cars – $10
- Motorcycles – $5
- Oversized vehicles – $15
Where to Stay Near the Kennedy Space Center
Since the visitor center is located at Kennedy Space Center, a government property, there are no hotel options in the immediate area on Merritt Island. The closest town to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is Titusville. Many visitors choose to stay in Cocoa Beach or Orlando for their vacations.
Suggested Places to Stay in Titusville:
Suggested Places to Stay in Cocoa Beach:
Suggested Places to Stay in Orlando:
📚 Related Reading: If you are visiting Kennedy Space Center during your Orlando vacation, check out my recommendations on where to stay in Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center Official Guide
Kennedy Space Center Official Guide is a free app (available in the App Store and Google Play). There is free wi-fi available at the Visitor Complex, so visitors can access the app while exploring the complex.
The app includes maps of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You can also find other resources like exhibit information, dining locations, and more. There is even a favorites folder where you can plan your trip in advance.
History of The Kennedy Space Center and the Visitor Complex
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was first established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The creation of NASA was in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik, a satellite, into orbit the year prior. Sputnik spiked fear in the United States because the Soviet Union had more advanced technology during the Cold War.
In 1961, the Soviet Union took another step ahead in the space race when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in space. Less than a month after Gagarin’s trip, Alan Shepherd became the first American to fly into space (although his flight was not a complete orbit around the Earth).
On May 25, 1961, President John. F. Kennedy gave NASA the challenge of landing a man on the moon within the decade. Project Gemini spent the next few years running experiments necessary for future space flight. The Apollo Project took the first astronauts to the moon’s orbit in 1968. In 1969, Neil Armstong became the first human to step foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.
Since then, space agencies around the globe have sent rovers to Mars, built and maintained the International Space Station, and sent probes into deep space. The Apollo Program ended in 1972. NASA then developed the Space Shuttle, a reusable spacecraft. The first successful Space Shuttle launch was in 1981 and the program was retired in 2011.
Currently, NASA is working on the Artemis Project, intending to return to the lunar surface and eventually create a lunar space station.
NASA and the Kennedy Space Center
In 1961, NASA began purchasing land on Merritt Island near existing Cape Canaveral launch pads. The Launch Operations Center opened in 1962. President Lyndon Johnson renamed the center to John F. Kennedy Space Center in November 1963.
To support the Apollo and Gemini programs, NASA built the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Launch Complex 39. Multiple administrative and research buildings have been added over the years.
Since the late 1960s, Kennedy Space Center has been NASA’s main launch location for human spaceflight. With commercial companies entering the space industry, NASA leases out the launch pads and works closely with industry partners.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The public was interested in the Gemini and Apollo programs from the start. Starting in 1963, a drive-through tour of the now Cape Canaveral Space Force Station was offered on Sunday afternoons. In 1965, the tour expanded to include parts of the new Kennedy Space Center. [Source]
In 1966, a temporary visitor center opened in Titusville, just across the river from the Kennedy Space Center. There were a couple of small exhibits at the center. Visitors could also take a bus tour of Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.
The Visitor Information Center (VIC), which would later become the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, opened on August 1, 1967. Over 42 acres, it had exhibits from all the space programs at the time. As NASA got closer to landing a man on the moon, tourist interest in the Visitor Information Center exploded.
In 1995, a private concessioner took over operations at the Visitor Complex. Thanks to private funding and ticket sales, the company was able to grow and update the Visitor Complex to what it is today. In 1997, the Apollo/Saturn V Center became the first exhibit within restricted areas at the Kennedy Space Center.
Now, visitors can see high-quality, interactive exhibits that cover the history of space exploration and NASA. Every day, there is a chance to meet a veteran NASA astronaut. Visitors can marvel at Space Shuttle Atlantis, on display just feet away from them. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is now one of the top attractions in Florida.
Best Things to Do at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex groups the exhibits into Mission Zones based on the period and program. You can follow the history of space exploration chronologically or jump around to your favorites.
Heroes & Legends | Included with admission | 15-20 minutes
Even before you pass through the entrance gate, you’ll be able to see the awe-inspiring Rocket Garden. Guests can see rockets from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Many of the rockets are over 100 feet tall. Make sure you check out the last intact Saturn 1B. This rocket is laying on its side because it is 223 feet long!
Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour
Behind the Gates | Included with admission | 15 minutes
The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour is the transportation option to visit the Apollo/Saturn V Center (both included with Kennedy Space Center tickets). The bus tour also includes a ride past the Vehicle Assembly Building, where NASA puts together its largest rockets and prepares them for launch. Sometimes, you can catch a glimpse of the crawler used to transport rockets to the launch pad or a rocket positioned on a launch pad.
Apollo 8 and the Firing Room
Race to the Moon | Included with admission | 20 minutes
When you arrive at the Saturn V Center from the bus tour, you can immediately enter this two-part experience. In a standing theater, learn about the work that led up to the historical Apollo 8 mission. Then, enter into the Firing Room Theater to experience the countdown just like NASA employees in 1968.
Saturn V Rocket
Race to the Moon | Included with admission | 45-60 minutes
Saturn V rockets were used during the Apollo Program to launch astronauts into lunar orbit. This rocket is one of only three remaining today. The building was built around the massive Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown! Throughout the day, Kennedy Space Center employees lead 20-minute complimentary walking tours to go over all the parts of this massive piece of history.
Race to the Moon | Included with admission | 15 minutes
Moonscape features a replica of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong placing an American flag on the moon’s surface during the Apollo 11 mission. The spacecraft in Moonscape is Lunar Module 9, an authentic vessel that was intended for use during the Apollo Program. A nearby exhibit houses an authentic moon rock.
Space Shuttle Atlantis
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other | Included with admission | 45 minutes
Before you head in to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, enjoy two immersive presentations about the start of the Space Shuttle Program. Atlantis was the last shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center in 2011. Most people will never go to space, but Atlantis has been there 33 times.
Shuttle Launch Experience
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other | Included with admission | 30 minutes
After exploring the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, you’ll head to the Shuttle Launch Experience. NASA astronauts have said that the Shuttle Launch Experience is one of the most authentic attractions to replicate launching into outer space. Children must be 44” tall to participate in the Shuttle Launch Experience.
Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator
NASA Now & Next | Included with admission | 10 minutes
The Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator (MRVN) is a concept rover for future exploration on Mars. The goal is for astronauts to explore Mars in this vehicle and mobile laboratory. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex commissioned this vehicle, but the design has been approved by NASA.
NASA Now & Next | Included with admission | 30-60 minutes
When kids need a break from all the space travel, head over to Planet Play. This multi-story playground is made for ages 2-12. In addition to slides and climbing structures, interactive games are available throughout the playground. For parents, there is a small bar and coffee stand with seating available.
Astronaut Training Simulators
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other | Included with admission | 15-30 minutes
Inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, visitors of all ages can test their flight skills. Whether it is docking at the International Space Station or landing the shuttle back at Kennedy Space Center, there are several simulators to try out.
LEGO Build to Launch
NASA Now & Next | Included with admission | 20 minutes
To the left of the IMAX Theater, aspiring astronauts and rocket scientists can learn more about the education behind NASA employees. The exhibit shows kids how STEAM education can lead them on a path to the space program. For some quiet play time, kids can also use LEGOs to design their own rockets.
Astronaut Training Experience
Astronaut Training Experience | $175 per person | 5 hours
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and Lockheed Martin teamed up to create the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX). This experience allows participants to get hands-on and see what it would be like to live and work in outer space.
U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
Heroes & Legends | Included with admission | 10-30 minutes
Inside the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, visitors can learn about outstanding astronauts throughout the decades. A committee from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation chooses inductees for the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Chat With an Astronaut
Heroes & Legends | $50 adult, $35 child | 60 minutes
If you want to have a memorable astronaut encounter, attend the Chat With an Astronaut experience. In addition to the Q & A session, attendees enjoy a commemorative gift, a continental breakfast or afternoon snacks, and an alcoholic beverage (for adult tickets).
Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo
NASA Now & Next | Included with admission | 45 minutes
An astronaut may go on the greatest space adventure, but the team on the ground deserves fair recognition. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a 45-minute movie all about the people who helped achieve the impossible. During the Apollo Program, space travel was a new industry, so the team on the ground was an eclectic group of engineers, military personnel, and more.
Kennedy Space Center Explore Tour
Behind the Gates | $25 adult, $19 child | 2 hours
The Kennedy Space Center Explore Tour is a bus tour that includes more stops than the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour. On the KSC Explore bus tour, you will be able to get off the bus to take excellent photos of iconic locations, like Launch Complex 39 and the VAB.
Moon Tree Garden
Race to the Moon | Included with admission | 10-15 minutes
When you arrive at the Saturn V Center, head to the right side of the building. You’ll find the moon trees surrounding a statue of the first astronauts to stand on the lunar surface. The moon trees are all descendants of seeds that were brought to the moon during Apollo missions. Away from the attractions and interactive displays, this is a serene area to reflect on the history of space travel and those who made it possible.
Launch Director Tour of Space Shuttle Atlantis
Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other | $75 per person | 3 hours
This tour is led by Mike Leinbach, the last Launch Director of the Space Shuttle Program. In addition to an in-depth tour of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, participants also visit the Shuttle Launch Experience and Forever Remembered. This experience ends with a chance to ask Mr. Leinbach all your questions about space travel and the shuttle program. The Launch Director Tour is only offered on select dates, so advanced tickets are recommended.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Dining Options
At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you can dine at several locations. In addition to the main visitor complex, a restaurant is also located at the Saturn V Center. If you prefer, you are allowed to bring in outside food as long as there are no glass containers and food is stored in a soft-sided cooler.
- Orbit Cafe: This is the main dining location at the visitor complex. You can mobile order sandwiches, pizza, and more.
- Space Bowl Bistro: You can enjoy healthier meals here, including savory and acai bowls.
- Moon Rock Cafe: With indoor and outdoor seating, you can dine with a view of a Saturn V rocket or launch pads in the distance.
- IMAX Snax: This stand outside the theater can provide all your snacks for viewing one of the IMAX movies.
- Red Rock Grill: For a quick meal, you can order hot dogs and fries at this outdoor stand.
- Milky Way: Don’t forget about dessert! Enjoy ice cream and Space Dots at the Milky Way.
Rocket Launches at Kennedy Space Center
One of the coolest experiences (and a bucket list item) you can have in Florida is seeing a rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center. Rocket Launches can be seen from Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach, and nearby towns during clear weather, but nothing beats the atmosphere of watching a launch from the Kennedy Space Center or Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor complex does not always require special tickets on launch days. For example, SpaceX is frequently doing unmanned launches for its Starlink satellites, and these launches are not ticketed events. Manned SpaceX launches and NASA’s Artemis launches require Kennedy Space Center tickets.
Keep an eye on the special events area on the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website to see when tickets are on sale for upcoming launches. In general, launch viewing tickets and packages cost between $100 and $250.
For smaller launches, your admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is all you need. Sometimes, Kennedy Space Center will offer launch transportation tickets on top of regular admission. These tickets provide round-trip transfers to viewing locations at the LC-39 Observation Gantry or the Banana Creek Launch Viewing Area.
During crewed and milestone launches, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will sell rocket launch packages. These packages combine visitor complex admission, transportation to viewing locations, and commemorative items.
Tips for Visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Take a Tour From Orlando
Sometimes you just want someone else to take care of the logistics for you. The easiest way to visit the Kennedy Space Center is to just pre-book one of these popular tours (they’ll pick you up & handle everything!)
Why drive yourself when you can relax on round-trip transportation? By taking a Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex tour from Orlando, you can add this bucket list location to your already fun-filled vacation. The buses will pick up visitors from all the major attractions in Orlando.
Give Yourself Two Days
Just recently, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex started offering 2-day tickets. It only costs $15 to add a second day to your visit. When you give yourself an extra day to explore, you can spend as much time as you want to explore the exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Prioritize Age-Appropriate Exhibits for Kids
Parents know that museums are not always the most exciting places for children. Luckily, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has as many attractions for children as it does for adults. For example, adults can marvel at the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit for an hour while kids pretend to be astronauts in the Astronaut Training Simulators.
📚 Related Reading: Kennedy Space Center is just one of the best things to do in Orlando for kids.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the only place where you have the opportunity to meet an astronaut every single day of the year! Make sure you think of a great question to ask them. Additionally, the employees at the visitor complex are extremely helpful and happy to share their knowledge with visitors.
Check Out Nearby Attractions
There isn’t much to see on Merritt Island outside of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. However, you can find Cocoa Beach to the south and Daytona Beach to the north. There are plenty of sightseeing cruises along the Indian River and nearby St Johns River Basin. With Orlando less than an hour away, your family can check out the theme parks, Madame Tussauds Orlando, and explore all the best things to do in Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex FAQs
Can I rent a stroller or wheelchair at Kennedy Space Center?
At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guest services, you can get a daily rental of a mobility scooter for $30, a wheelchair for $10, a single stroller for $8, and a double stroller for $10.
Can I bring my dog to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex?
Only trained service dogs are allowed inside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. However, there is a free, indoor kennel for visitors to use. You are encouraged to provide your own toys, food, water, and bedding for your dog.
Is there a gift shop at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex?
There are three gift shops at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, including the “world’s largest space store”. You can find all the NASA and space memorabilia you could want.
How long does it take to walk through Kennedy Space Center?
It takes at least 6 hours to walk through the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Your actual time frame will depend on how long you spend exploring the displays and attractions.
Can you visit Kennedy Space Center for free?
Kennedy Space Center is a government facility that is not open to the public. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a self-funded facility that showcases authentic space equipment and educates visitors about the history (and future) of space travel. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex start at $65 for children and $75 for adults.
Is there a lot of walking at Kennedy Space Center?
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a large but manageable attraction to walk. There are several locations to sit, watch shows, or take a break. If you need a wheelchair or mobility scooter, they are available for rent from guest services.
Maybe you’ve dreamed of seeing the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit for years or you’re just looking for something to do near Cocoa Beach. Either way, a visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex should be at the top of the list for everyone.
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