Kennedy Space Center, FL

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Behind-the-Scenes Tours

At the visitor center (it's the building with a full-size Shuttle mockup parked out front), sign up for three guided bus tours into several restricted areas. Plan on a full day to see all the exhibits.

International Space Center,
copyright Kennedy Space Center.

1. Kennedy Space Center Tour. Pressed for time? This is the tour to take. The kids will learn about today's space program and hear what the future holds. Highlights include a stop at an outdoor platform offering great views of Launch Pads 39A & B, about a mile away, where the four shuttles are launched; with luck, one may be sitting out there getting ready to take off.

Another high note is the Apollo/Saturn V Center, home of the massive 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket. You'll also visit the Firing Room, a theater where mission control consoles used during the Apollo program set the stage for a video and audio re-creation of the Apollo VIII launch.

Final stop: the International Space Station Center. Preview this ambitious, 16-nation effort to establish a permanent human presence in space. Orbital assembly of the space station started in 1998. A total of 44 U.S. and Russian launches will be needed to complete the facility in 2006. From an observation window, view the "clean room," where components of the station are examined and tested, and enter a full-scale mockup of the Habitation Module. Plan on two to four hours here.

2. NASA Up Close. How has the government been spending your tax dollars? Find out on this new 90-minute tour. It's a peek into the current manned space program -- from launch preparation, to lift-off, to the return of the mission -- and includes a stop at the Shuttle launch pad observation site.

You'll also see the Vehicle Assembly Building, the second largest in the world and so huge, clouds and rain have been known to form inside. This is where the Shuttle is prepped before heading to the launch pads.

Then it's on to the NASA Press Site Launch Countdown Clock (that big digital clock counting down the seconds to launch), and the Shuttle Landing Facility, the longest and widest landing strip in the world.

3. Cape Canaveral: Then & Now. Although not as high-tech as the other two tours, baby boomers may enjoy this three-hour excursion the most. You'll gain entry to the center's restricted southeast area, scene of many unmanned and early manned space shots. Highlights include visits to Mercury and Gemini launch pads, control rooms, and training facilities. You'll also tour Complex 17, an active launch site where unmanned Delta rockets are launched, and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, built in 1868.

Continued on page 4:  New and Noteworthy


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