We booked a trip to Kennedy Space Center today with Gray Line, which looked like the best choice for people staying at Disneyworld who don’t (or in our case, can’t) drive. By and large it worked out pretty well – we got picked up directly from our hotel.
Unfortunately, our coach driver provided wholly unwelcome running commentary about the history of Disneyworld, nearby shopping centres, Florida, Orlando, etc. I get that some people appreciate this, but there’s no way to turn it off and it’s pretty loud. To cap it all off, the driver got a speeding ticket on the highway so we had to stop for 15 minutes.
Kennedy Space Center is an odd mishmash of historical artefacts from the early days of rocketry plus a heavy dose of NASA and corporate propaganda. Now, I’m a big fan of space exploration but I couldn’t really figure out whether they were more about education or entertainment. None of this detracted from their collection of truly sensational rockets and artefacts though.
You can see some decent rockets and Space Shuttles at other museums, but KSC has one thing that they can’t match: an actual working launch complex. Included in entry are frequent bus tours of the launchpads, Vehicle Assembly Building, crawlers, and if you’re lucky, some alligators and falcon nests.
Our driver’s very good commentary was accompanied by NASA videos that tried to convince us that their new Space Launch System rocket will be the bee’s knees rather than a billion-dollar-per-launch white elephant that can’t compete against SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy & BFR combo. But the driver was enthusiastic about the recent successful launch of the Falcon Heavy from a launchpad we drove around, so it’s all good.
The Apollo/Saturn V was incredible, and probably the second best reason for coming to KSC. You just can’t see an actual Saturn V rocket – still the most powerful – anywhere else in the world, and they did an OK job at providing context. You can also see various Apollo modules and a lunar lander, not to mention ‘treasures’ including space suits, boots, etc.
Any of these would be jewel in the crown of any museum, science or not:
The Space Shuttle Atlantis building, back at the main visitor centre, forces everyone to stand up through a 12-15 minute long movie. In fact, so does the Apollo/Saturn V building. I understand that some people may appreciate getting historical context of what they’re about to see and I get that it may aid with controlling visitor numbers inside the building, but it was incredibly grating. Yes, they’re slickly produced – one can see that KSC feels pressured to amp up the entertainment value – but they make popular science documentaries look like postgrad university lectures when it comes to educational content. Ultimately, I don’t mind these movies as long as I’m not forced to watch them; and if I am forced, I wouldn’t mind being able to sit down.
OK, so there is a very nice reveal at the end of the Space Shuttle video, which transitions into showing you the real Space Shuttle, suspended from the ceiling. I’ve seen a couple of other Shuttles elsewhere, but they were always shown in a more conventional horizontal fashion, making it difficult to see all the sides. This was a great way of presenting the unique qualities of the Shuttle (even if it was a terrible spaceship, compromised by USAF requirements).
The Shuttle Launch isn’t worth it, especially since you have to sit through another 15-20 minutes of videos. KSC: don’t try to compete with Disney, it’s pointless.
There’s a Journey to Mars exhibition, which felt light on facts and artefacts, but I appreciated these lifesize models of the Mars rovers.
The Rocket Garden is a photographer’s dream, although don’t expect to read any more than 50 words about each rocket. I don’t know why KSC (and Epcot, for that matter) are so scared of putting extra words on info panels. You can have big words and small words!
The Heroes and Legends gallery was a corporate-sponsored information-free dystopia that idolises astronauts. No thank you.
KSC are very fond of using transparent panels and LCD screens in front of objects. The tech is very neat and in some cases it works quite well, but too often they used it to completely obscure object cases, only revealing them for (say) 30 seconds out of every two minutes. What the fuck? If I wanted to watch a video, I’d use my phone; by all means, use super-neat transparent LCD screens to have text float over objects, I think that’s awesome. But don’t hide them completely.
Bonus: The My Disney Experience app works better than I expected, overall. Its constant network calls, combined with heavy data traffic in the park, is a real battery-slayer, and the app tends to log me out every few hours (maybe due to the shaky network) but it has been a genuine time-saver..