Space Race Celebrates Golden Anniversary

Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress and challenged the nation to go to the Moon before the end of the decade. The history of the American space program can be seen in the country’s space centers.

Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress and challenged the nation to go to the Moon before the end of the decade. Immediately space-fever took hold in America as men, women and children of all ages began to imagine the unimaginable – space travel.

Today, although space exploration has become part of everyday life, space-fever is still contagious. If you don’t believe it, just visit one of America’s space centers and you’ll find the excitement of past accomplishments and future missions.

Your first stop should be Huntsville, Alabama’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

This is where America’s space program was born — where rockets were developed that put the first U.S. satellite into orbit and sent men to the moon; where the power for today’s space shuttle was developed; where the modules for the International Space Station were designed and built; and where the next generation of spacecraft are currently being designed.

This also is the world’s largest space attraction featuring dozens of interactive exhibits surrounding Apollo, Mercury and Space Shuttle spacecraft.

Guests can experience three times the force of gravity in the G-Force Accelerator, maneuver through space aboard Mission to Mars or take in a movie in the Spacedome Omnimax theater. 

A highlight is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Lined with exhibitions along each wall, the centerpiece, suspended 10 feet above the floor, is a national historic treasure, the mighty Saturn V, restored to its Apollo era readiness.

Huntsville also is home to Space Camp, Aviation Challenge and X-Camp.

Our next stop is the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Atlantic shore. This is launch headquarters, and to understand NASA history, you have to see the areas where space history is made from towering launch pads to huge rockets and Florida’s coastal wildlife.

The Kennedy Space Center Tour takes guests to the 60-foot-tall Launch Complex (LC) 39 Observation Gantry. Guests are provided with a 360-degree view of the two Shuttle Launch Pads. This panoramic view also includes the Launch Control Center, the crawlerway where shuttles travels to get to the launch pad and the massive Vehicle Assembly Building.

This tour also includes the Apollo/Saturn V Center. In a spacious facility featuring a real Saturn V rocket, the Apollo program returns to life. The Apollo/Saturn V Center is a tribute to the Apollo astronauts and the machines that got them to the moon and brought them home safely.

Other tours include Discover Kennedy Space Center: Today & Tomorrow where guests have more photographic access; and Cape Canaveral: Then & Now which spans the time between the launch of the first satellite and today’s rocket program.

As in Huntsville, there are several interactive attractions at the center’s Plaza.

Now travel from Florida to Texas.

There’s a definite feeling of theme park at Space Center Houston. Youngsters shriek with happiness as they see all the rockets, astronaut suits and adventures that await them. The culmination of 50 years of space travel history surrounds guests as they wander from exhibits to attractions.

This is the official visitors’ center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Permanent exhibits include Blast-Off, a multi-media sensory experience where visitors encounter high-definition audio/video extravaganza simulating a space shuttle blast off.

Living in Space is a hands-on exhibit where guests can test their skills at landing the shuttle or retrieving a satellite through interactive computer simulators. A Mission Briefing Officer receives help from an audience participant in a live presentation showing how astronauts handle daily activities like showering, sleeping and preparing meals in space.

The Astronaut Gallery is another permanent exhibit featuring spacesuits dating back to the first American trip to space and a wall that contains portraits and crew photos of every U.S. astronaut who has flown in space.

But a trip to Space Center Houston wouldn’t be complete without the NASA Tram Tour. With this behind-the-scenes journey through NASA’s Johnson Space Center, you may visit the historic “Houston we have a problem” Mission Control Center, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility or the current Mission Control Center. You may even get to see astronauts training for upcoming missions.

Back at the space center let the kids clamor on the four story Martian Matrix play area complete with slides, swings and foam balls.

Kids Space Place is another area designed for the younger set. Interactive stations and themed areas give children a chance to explore and investigate the different aspects of space exploration. Stations include jumping on the Moon, manning the space shuttle, building a rocket and flying in space.

Whether you visit for an afternoon or a few days, you will find for plenty of sites for the scientist in you or maybe the little kid who dreamed of space.

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About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at

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