Whether or not you're a space buff, you'll appreciate the sheer grandeur of the facilities and technological achievements displayed at NASA's primary space launch facility. Astronauts departed Earth from here in 1969 en route to the most famous "small step" in history -- the first moon walk -- and space shuttles recently lifted off from here on missions to the International Space Station. Today, military and commercial rockets regularly launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Because all roads other than State Road 405 and State Road 3 are closed to the public in the Space Center, you must begin your visit at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. A bit like an amusement theme park, this privately operated complex continuously receives renovations, so check beforehand to see if tours and exhibits have changed since we wrote this. Call ahead to see what's happening the day you intend to be here and arrive early. You'll need at least 2 hours to see the Space Center's highlights on the bus tour, up to 5 hours if you linger at stops along the way, and a full day to see and do everything. Buy a copy of the Official Tour Book, and you can take it home as a colorful souvenir (though the bus tours are narrated and the exhibits have good descriptions).
The Visitor Complex has real NASA rockets and the actual Mercury Mission Control Room from the 1960s. Exhibits portray space exploration in its early days and where it's going in the new millennium. There are hands-on activities for kids, a daily "encounter" with a real astronaut, dining venues, and a shop selling space memorabilia. IMAX movies shown on five-and-a-half-story-high screens are both informative and entertaining.
While you could spend an entire day at the Visitor Complex, you must take a KSC Tour to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Kennedy Space Center. Buses depart every 15 minutes or so, and you can reboard as you wish. They stop at the LC-39 Observation Gantry, with a dramatic 360-degree view over launchpads where shuttles once blasted off into space, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center, a tribute to the Apollo moon program, which includes artifacts, shows, photos, interactive exhibits, and the 363-foot-tall Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever launched by the United States.