Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the visitor center of the Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Kennedy Space Center, located directly east of Orlando on Cape Canaveral Florida. The visitor complex, which is a few miles south of the center, displays historic spacecraft and memorabilia. It receives over one million visitors each year. The complex includes two other sites: the Apollo/Saturn Center and the United States Astronauts Hall of Fame, both of which are not far from the visitor complex. Notable spacecraft on display at the Apollo/Saturn Center are the Saturn V Launch Vehicle and an Apollo Capsule. Other spacecraft on display at the complex are the Space Shuttle Atlantis, an Apollo Lunar Module and several rockets in the "Rocket Garden." Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Launch Experience, which allows visitors to simulate a launch, and the Astronaut Memorial, which commemorates those astronauts who have died in the line of duty.
Backstory and Context
Excitement began to build next door at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which had earned its own status as an official space center in 1962, and had been named for the late President John F. Kennedy shortly after his assassination in November 1963. In January 1965, after a year of successful drive-through tours at Cape Kennedy, tours expanded to include areas of Kennedy Space Center. On the first day, nearly 2,000 visitors came. Based on this success, the Spaceflight Committee authorized $1.2 million for the creation of a visitor center at Kennedy Space Center.
Several possible locations for the visitor center were discussed, including a 20-acre site south of Titusville. Ultimately, a site within Kennedy Space Center was chosen, not only because it provided virtually unlimited acreage for future expansion, but mainly because no matter what else visitors saw or did, they could say they had actually set foot on Kennedy Space Center.
Plans for the construction and content of the visitor center moved forward, and in the meantime, a temporary facility was established on Highway 1, two miles south of Titusville at the main entrance to the space center. It provided basic exhibits and restrooms and also served as a hub for public bus tours, which began on July 22, 1966.
Visitors could choose from two tours – a 1.5-hour tour of Kennedy Space Center or a 3-hour tour of Kennedy Space Center and Cape Kennedy Air Force Station. The new tours were offered seven days a week at regular intervals from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A small fee helped recover the cost of operating the 10 rented tour buses.
During the first week of operation, a reported 13,555 guests took the guided bus tour, with 75 percent of those guests opting for the 3-hour tour that provided a look at both KSC and the Cape. Within three months, nearly 100,000 visitors had taken the bus tour. Within one year, 475,000 guests toured KSC and the Cape, far exceeding NASA’s expectations
With help from the National Park Service, NASA created a plan to accommodate a projected 2.9 million visitors by 1967 and 3.2 million visitors by 1970. The proposal included a Visitor Information Center (VIC), as well as a guided bus tour of the center and its operations. A private concessioner was contracted to operate these programs
In April 2012, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex celebrated a remarkable milestone when it was entrusted with the care of the authentic space shuttle Atlantis, one of only three remaining space-flown orbiters in the world. In June 2013, the Visitor Complex unveiled the Space Shuttle AtlantisSM attraction containing four cinematic productions and more than 60 interactive experiences that invite guests to “be the astronaut” and to celebrate the people, passion and patriotism behind the shuttle program. Earlier in the same year, the Visitor Complex opened a dramatic new entry, featuring a grand plaza and fountain; ticket booths and self-service kiosks; Will Call, guest services and information booths; the Voyagers retail shop; the Rocket Garden Cafe; and a new walkway that helps lead guests on a more deliberate path through the park.