Payload Blog

A History Buff's Guide to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Between the Commercial Crew Program, the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and NASA's commercial partner, the future of space exploration is gearing up now at Kennedy Space Center. You can hear all about what is happening next when visiting Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, but history also comes to life through incredible, rare and authentic space artifacts throughout our attractions. If you are a self-proclaimed history buff and want to know where to go to see the most jaw-dropping pieces of history, look no further. Here is your guide to exploring, all included with daily admission:

space shuttle at Kennedy Space Center

Walk Among Giants

Starting right at the top, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has a large collection of authentic, space-flown or space-ready vehicles. Perhaps the most obvious is the orbiter Atlantis, the crown jewel of Space Shuttle Atlantis(R), and the Saturn V rocket which extends the length of the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Both impressive machines can be seen from nearly a 360-degree view and are incredible representations of the eras of space exploration in which they operated. Atlantis is still covered in her markings from her last return home, and the sheer size of the Saturn V rocket gives you a feel for the power behind our journey to the Moon.

Kennedy Space Center's Rocket Garden

Additionally, one of the most consistent visuals throughout the history of the visitor complex is the Rocket Garden. With authentic rockets largely from the 1950s – 1960s, you can easily compare the vehicles that began America's place in space. Walk among these giants to explore the dawn of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs.

Welcome, Delta II! Did you know the visitor complex recently added a new rocket to the garden? United Launch Alliance's Delta II rocket joined these historic vehicles in 2021.

United Launch Alliance's Delta II rocket

Not All Treasure is Gold

Perhaps one of the lesser-known exhibits is among the most historic: the Treasures Gallery found at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. This collection of Apollo-era artifacts ranges from the real Apollo 14 capsule to an Apollo Command Module TV camera to lunar samples... and numerous artifacts in between. Perhaps the most visually striking display is the evolution of space suits leading up to the era of the moonwalk. Getting up close to these suits gives you a real perspective of what the astronaut's dexterity was like, and how the technology changed over the years—ending here with Alan Shepard's real spacesuit from Apollo 14. You also won't miss the Apollo 14 spacecraft, named Kittyhawk. This exact Apollo capsule transported aforementioned Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell to and from lunar orbit in 1971.

Look across the water for launch pads. While out at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, remember to walk outside and view the launch pads across the Banana River. These still-active launch pads are historic, with a combined pedigree of sending milestone launches into orbit and beyond since the dawn of America's space program.

Astronaut Artifacts

See astronaut artifacts at Kennedy Space Center

Throughout the visitor complex, you will see numerous personal items belonging to astronauts. Flight jackets, notebooks, hobby mementos, photographs, artwork and more have been provided by either the astronauts or their families to display so our guests can learn about our who our heroes were on and off duty. Explore dozens of these items in Heroes & Legends, as each are attributed to a characteristic that defines a hero. Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and presented by Boeing(R) also utilizes oral history to tell the story of the foundations of our space program. Hear first-hand accounts straight from the source: the astronauts and crew that were a part of these milestone moments. Simply use the touchscreens to learn more.

While in Heroes & Legends, don't miss the original hand-painted NASA emblem (or "meatball") from the Mercury era, seen across from the historic launch consoles.

hand-painted NASA emblem from the Mercury era

If you have made a trip to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex recently and have a passion for history, what are some of your favorite artifacts seen here?

If it has been a while since your last visit, plan your trip today! At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, NASA's past, present and future comes to life.