Gateway to the Stars

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‘Gateway’ is a visual experience

with stunning outer space images

that create  the sensation of what it is

like to move out into the solar system. 

You are essentially a space tourist

going to your gate, but rather  than

at an airport to board a jet, you are

at a space port preparing to launch.

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by Gary Mooney

 

     “THERE IS A LOT going on at the Kennedy Space Center,” raves Rebecca Shireman, the Public Relations & Communications Manager for the Space Center Visitor Complex. “Our biggest news is the Grand Opening of the new ‘Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex’ that we are opening this spring, with a tentative date of early May. ‘Gateway’ is an exciting adventure that focuses on current and future NASA space missions. In addition to ‘Gateway,’ the 

Space Center is relaunching several popular programs we suspended for a while due to COVID-19 precautions, but can now happily reintroduce.”

     Rebecca explains that “‘Gateway’ is a visual experience with stunning outer space images that create the sensation of what it is like to move out into the solar system, so it is not only fun and educational but wildly entertaining, as entertainment is a big component to learning these days. We offer four different space destinations and you select the one that most appeals to you. In this sense, you are essentially a space tourist going to your gate, but rather than at an airport to board a jet, you are at a space port preparing to launch. This may seem like science fiction, but it is not really that far away from becoming science fact!”

     The 50,000-square-foot multi-level complex features an array of NASA and commercial artifacts, spacecrafts and equipment in innovative displays, with a 4D motion theater and unique launch viewing area. Spaceport Kennedy Space Center serves as the embarkation point for the airport of the future. Once guests enter this concourse, the sights and sounds of the galactic spaceport surround them, including launches and landings seen through the windows. Promotional videos help you select your destination choice—Uncharted Worlds, Daring Explorations, Cosmic Worlds, or the Red Planet—so you can visit a different one on later visits. You then board your spaceship that is actually the two-story 4D flying theater.

     When entering Gateway’s first floor, a futuristic design sets the stage, including space artifacts and full-scale replicas suspended from the ceiling for a 360-degree experience. These include a space-flown Orion Crew Vehicle from an EPT-1 mission and a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from two separate SpaceX flights, along with replicas of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Crew Vehicle, Sierra Space’s Dream Cruiser and ULA Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

     Gateway’s second level features a 30-foot floor-to-ceiling Robotic Trail Blazers Wall where guests learn about roughly 40 space satellites and probes through touchscreen interactive displays, as well as a holographic imagery presentation on the recently-launched James Webb Space Telescope. Even Gateway’s roof is a space adventure, as guests can access it during launches, along with using powerful telescopes to view celestial events.

     Rebecca explains that “the ‘Gateway’ story “originates from former and current astronauts, NASA, and our various space partners to accurately tell the space program story through today as well as where we will be in the future in a unique way. We designed ‘Gateway’ so it is not static but will evolve and grow as the space program and its components move into the future, so that is really exciting!”

Space Center Relaunches Programs   

     As with every aspect of society, Covid-19 did and still does affect the Kennedy Space Center. “We had to completely close for a brief time,” recalls Rebecca. “Though we reopened, we have safety measures in place to protect our employees and guests. The Space Center enhanced cleaning protocols, has hand sanitizers everywhere, and reduced the capacity of some indoor programs. If you are vaccinated, we no longer require you to wear a facemask, but we still recommend that unvaccinated visitors do, so everyone is safe and comfortable.

     The Space Center recently reintroduced ‘Chat With An Astronaut’; “a program we devised from visitor feedback,” relates Rebecca. “You meet a real-live astronaut in a small group with light refreshments, where you directly ask questions about things like living and working in outer space and learn first-hand stories about their career and inspirations. Guests call this amazing and especially inspirational for young children, because as the astronaut mesmerizes them, you often see the light bulb go on when they realize that, ‘Hey, I can one day do this too!’ We hope this inspires younger generations to join the space program as astronauts, engineers, scientists and flight directors, as we need all those occupations to make it to Mars, to turn dreams into reality. There is an additional charge for ‘Chat With An Astronaut’, but people say this once-in-a-lifetime experience is well worth it.”

     If you cannot do ‘Chat With An Astronaut’, Rebecca assures that there are other opportunities to interact with one under the general Kennedy Space Center admission. “Astronauts generally take part in programs throughout the day; for example, you can often find one signing complimentary autographs in the gift shop, because we realize what a highlight this is for everyone. Another is the recently relaunched ‘Astronaut Encounter,’ where an astronaut speaks to guests in a free presentation. This does not have the intimate feel of ‘Chat With An Astronaut’ but is just as inspirational and educational.”

     Rebecca highlights other relaunched or new Kennedy Space Center attractions and events: “We now have a Delta II rocket in the ‘Rocket Garden,’ along with one of the last three Saturn V rockets that at 360 feet remains the largest ever launched into space, so that is cool and terrific. The ‘Rocket Garden’ is a comprehensive collection of space-flown vehicles that always excites visitors. Another terrific addition is ‘Planet Play’ for kids 2 to 12 with a fantastic futuristic design. It interactively instructs kids about the planets, with a coffee and wine bar for parents while the children play.”

A Life-Changing Moment

     While the Kennedy Space Center offers many fun and educational attractions, at its heart it is all about launching assorted vehicles into outer space. “The Space Center has a hectic launch schedule for the balance of 2022,” Rebecca adds, “with as many as 50 total launches scheduled for this year. If you prefer being almost a part of the show, there is nothing like personally witnessing a launch, as it is equal parts exhilarating and mesmerizing.” The Space Center provides several options, including Rocket Launch Viewing at the Visitor Complex, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and new Gateway roof area.

     “These are wonderful places to experience a launch,” enthuses Rebecca, “because you not only see it but several are close enough to hear it and feel the rumble! The Kennedy Space Center offers launch packages that include commemorative memorabilia if there is a crew aboard, as well as food and beverages, live space expert commentary, and a jumbotron screen feed. Not only are these the closest possible places to view a launch, but they have ‘creature comforts’ like restrooms, air conditioning, concessions, souvenirs and transportation. Once you see a launch up-close, it is a life-changing moment!”

     For Rebecca, the best part of the Kennedy Space Center is “seeing the space shuttle Atlantis. I grew up in Titusville watching shuttle launches so those personal childhood memories still bring tears to my eyes. My dad worked for the space program so he brought me to ‘Take Your Daughter to Work’ Days and I could not imagine anything better! Others have memories just as special, like where they were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, so when they see the Saturn V rocket, they cry as well. One common thread I hear from many visitors is the space program united our entire nation and even many parts of the world behind a common goal, and they miss that feeling of unity in today’s often fractured society. Hopefully, the Kennedy Space Center can reignite that spirit of cooperation for a better future and, maybe, to one day set foot on Mars. That will do it!”  

That Spirit of Cooperation

     For those yet to see the Kennedy Space Center or have not in years, Rebecca encourages you to visit soon. “We have so many cool attractions you can literally reach out and touch, rather than artifacts behind a glass wall. I am often amazed and saddened by people who live in Florida for 20 years or more and have yet to experience us. Even if it has only been five years since your last trip, it will stun you how different the Kennedy Space Center is today.” She suggests, “Spend the entire day with us, as there is so much to do. The Space Center offers something for the entire family, and keeps alive your spirit of exploration!” •

     Kennedy Space Center is located on State Route 405 in Kennedy Space Center, FL. The Space Center is open 365-days-a-year. For information, call 855-433-4210 or visit KennedySpaceCenter.com.  

 

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May/June 2022