Space travel may seem fairly commonplace today, but imagine what it was like to be the very first American to sit atop a rocket filled with explosive fuel – praying that everything worked according to plan and that you returned safely to Earth. Even for an experienced test pilot, the notion was humbling, if not downright frightening.
On the KSC Up-Close Cape Canaveral: Then & Now Tour, you’ll not only visit the historic places where America’s space program was born, you’ll relive the emotions surrounding a series of daring space exploration programs – Mercury, Gemini and Apollo – that would go on to redefine a nation.
The past meets the present as you enter Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where many industrial buildings look much the same as they did in the 1950s and 60s, the heyday of America’s “Space Race” with the Soviet Union. You’ll drive past historic Hangar S, where Mercury capsules were tested and prepared for flight, and where the original Mercury 7 astronauts – Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Slayton, Schirra and Shepard – trained, slept and donned space suits for their flights. The site was made even more famous by a visit from the young President John F. Kennedy, who honored astronaut John Glenn in a ceremony here, following Glenn’s three-orbit Mercury flight, Friendship 7.
Your first stop is Launch Complex 26 – the launch site of Explorer 1, the first American satellite to orbit the Earth – as well as the Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Here, a museum docent will give you a brief history of this storied site, which was first used as a missile testing range long before America dreamt of sending a man to the moon. Browse a wealth of artifacts, including an authentic German V-2 rocket engine, as well as models and displays recounting America’s first missiles, satellites and launch vehicles. Be sure to get a close-up look at the scorch marks on the authentic Gemini 2 capsule displayed here – it was the only capsule ever to be refurbished and flown a second time.
Inside the Launch Complex 26 blockhouse and Firing Room B, you’ll see the authentic consoles – primitive compared to today’s standards – used to launch America’s first Redstone rockets. You might even sit at the very desk of the launch director. Explore numerous displays of space memorabilia, including a wall dedicated to the iconic space-themed TV show, “I Dream of Jeannie,” which aired 1965 to 1970. A special exhibit even pays tribute to America’s very first space explorers – “monkeynauts and astrochimps” including Ham, Able, Gordo, and many others.
Next, you’re off to Launch Complex 5/6, the very site where Alan Shepard made history as the first American to launch into space on May 5, 1961. A plaque outside the blockhouse shows a photo of the tenacious astronaut seconds before the hatch was closed. Inside the blockhouse, you’ll see the very same consoles used that day to control and track America’s first crewed launch. You can even push the button on the firing console that was once used to start the rocket’s ignition sequence. In fact, everything is just as it was that historic day more than 50 years ago, save for the protective Plexiglas covering.
Audio from one of the blockhouse’s many technicians recreates for you that emotion-filled day, as engineers and technicians painstakingly checked and rechecked systems for hours, leaving an increasingly impatient Shepard sitting atop the rocket with a full bladder, prompting him to say those famous words, “Let’s light this candle!” Through the 45-layer, 4-inch-thick, green-tinted blockhouse window, you’ll enjoy the very same view the launch director and technicians once had – a Mercury Redstone rocket standing proudly in the distance, waiting for liftoff.
Your tour continues throughout Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where your expert guide will point out various landmarks, including the original testing site for highly explosive Minuteman 1, 2 and 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles – its domed bunker of a firing room safely equipped with a periscope instead of windows. You’ll also see the test site for the Navajo cruise missiles, rumored to be called “Never Go” missiles for their lack of reliability. It’s a somber moment, however, when your guide points out a barely noticeable domed bunker a short distance from the road. Here, the remains of Space Shuttle Challenger, which broke apart 73 seconds into flight STS-51-L, were laid to rest.
A highlight of the day is a stop at the picturesque Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, only accessible to the public on the KSC Up-Close Cape Canaveral: Then & Now tour. First constructed in 1848, it was later dismantled prior to the Civil War and rebuilt in 1868 at almost three times its original height. Erosion and storm damage caused the lighthouse to be relocated in 1894 to its present location, one mile inland.
Next door at Hangar C, you can spot the second floor office of Wernher Von Braun, the chief architect behind the Explorer 1 satellite, the Saturn 1B and the Saturn V moon rocket.
Your tour through the Cape takes you on the same roads once traveled – and reportedly raced – by Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts in their signature Corvettes. Along the way, you’ll have another opportunity to take photos at the Mercury 7 memorial, located at the entrance to Launch Complex 14, where Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra and Cooper each launched in 1962 and 1963. A time capsule buried here by the astronauts will be opened again in the year 2464, 500 years after the time capsule was buried, following the conclusion of the Mercury program.
The final stop on your up-close experience is Launch Complex 34, the oceanside site at which three astronauts – Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee – lost their lives in a capsule fire during a test for Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967. You’ll walk the same path to the launch pad once traveled by those heroes, perhaps pausing for a moment to take in the enormity of what happened here. The Apollo 1 tragedy prompted a 20-month delay in the space program as NASA engineers painstakingly redesigned the crew capsule to ensure that a disaster such as this would never happen again.
During your tour, you’ll also pass through Kennedy Space Center’s industrial area, where you’ll see Kennedy Space Center Headquarters, the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building, the former Space Station Processing Center, and many other areas critical to NASA’s current operations. As you cross the NASA Causeway spanning the Banana River, your tour guide will point out some of the launch pads currently used by NASA, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and the U.S. military to launch rockets carrying satellites as well as cargo for the International Space Station into space. Not far to the south, you’ll be able to spot Port Canaveral, one of the East Coast’s busiest cruise ship ports.
Your tour concludes at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you’ll see the culmination of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs come to life in the form of the breathtaking Saturn V moon rocket, one of only three remaining in the world. Two incredible presentations take you back in time to witness the launch of Apollo 8 – the second crewed launch following the tragic loss of the Apollo 1 astronauts – and the historic events of July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon.
Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to relive the birth of America’s space program and visit the sites once frequented by this country’s greatest explorers.
This historical adventure is unmatched. Buy tickets now.
Tour Length: 3 – 3.5 hours
KSC Up-Close Cap Canaveral: Then & Now Tour
- Adults: $25 per person, plus tax, in addition to admission
- Children (age 3 – 11): $19 person, plus tax, in addition to admission
Call 866.737.5235 for reservations or more information. Available 9 am - 6 pm, Eastern Standard Time
Please arrive at the designated boarding area at least 15 minutes before departure time. A U.S. government-issued Driver’s License or U.S. State ID card is required for guests age 18 and over. International adult and child guests must present a valid passport to participate.
• The KSC Up-Close Cape Canaveral: Then and Now Tour is an additional fee to daily admission. Adults: $25 per person, plus tax, in addition to admission. Children (age 3 – 11): $19 person, plus tax, in addition to admission.
• When choosing a KSC Up-Close tour, there is no need to take the KSC Bus Tour included with daily admission.
• Tours sell out daily. Advanced reservations are strongly suggested. Reserve online or call 866.737.5235. (9 am – 6 pm).
• If purchasing more than one guided tour or purchasing a tour and Lunch With An Astronaut, we strongly suggest upgrading to a multiday ticket or annual pass. Due to time constraints, multiple tours cannot be taken in the same day.
• Tour times do not include time spent at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Returning to the Visitor Complex from the Apollo/Saturn V Center takes approximately 20 minutes.
Kennedy Space Center is a working launch facility. As a result, all tours and times are subject to change without notice