NASA turns 60 this year and in celebration – we have found the best NASA space tours all over the United States.
Kennedy Space Centre – Orlando Florida
The Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral Florida prepares space shuttles for each mission. It co-ordinates the countdown and manages the space shuttle launch and post landing operations. If you time it well – you can actually get to see a rocket launch.
The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor complex offers the closest public viewing of launches from the Kennedy Space Centre. Check the website for the next launch date. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most Australians – even if you have to get up early – it’s worth it. Dozens of uncrewed spacecraft launch at regular intervals throughout the year. The next crewed launch is in June 2019 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the Crew Dragon Spaxe X spacecraft.
Inside, the hands-on museum is divided into Mission Zones where attractions and tours are grouped by chronological era. Heroes and Legends celebrates the pioneers of NASA’s early space programs and includes the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.
The best part of this space centre is the rockets. It has loads of them. We highly recommend a tour of the Rocket Garden. Here you can see rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and learn how technology taught humans to defy gravity. Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other is the permanent home of the space shuttle Atlantis. Try the Shuttle Launch Experience to see what it feels like to pilot a rocket into space.
In Mission Control you can discover the heart of the Apollo Space Program who helped put a man on the moon. Families can access historic launch sites and working spaceflight facilities in Behind the Gates. Race to the Moon covers the space race between the USA and the USSA.
Veteran astronauts are on hand every day to meet with families. Book into an astronaut encounter and you can ask them as many questions as you want. Plus you can have your photo taken shaking hands with them and get their autograph. The astronauts share this job – to find out who you can meet – click here.
The Kenedy Space Centre opens 9am to 6pm every day of the year. The centre has an app so you can plan your visit before you go. Make sure you check out the gift shop – the kids will love the original NASA merchandise. If you are planning to go in 2018 and you have a child in Year 5 – you can get free admission.
Price: $47 per child (3-11) Adults $57 (12+)
Where: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, SR 405
NASA Space Centre Houston
The Johnson Space Centre in Houston directs the Space Station program – “Houston we have a problem”. This is Mission Control and the primary centre for spacecraft design, development and crew training.
You will want to plan your visit the Space Centre Houston on a Friday or Saturday – that’s when you can have lunch with an astronaut. Every guest will receive a personalist photo of the astronaut for that day. The question and answer session goes for one hour and admission to the Space Centre is included in the price. Check out the roster of astronauts here.
The newest exhibit here is Mission Mars. If you have ever wondered what it takes to travel to Mars and how man could survive there – you will want to check this out. You can touch a real piece of Mars rock and see a collection of three other rare Mars meteorites. You can test different materials to see which ones protect astronauts from cosmic radiation. In the interactive exhibits families can experience a Martian sunset, climb into a full sized Orion capsule and feel the texture of the rock cliffs on Mars.
NASA Space Centre Houston opens everyday. Hours are seasonal – so check the website. The centre can also be closed “due to unforeseen circumstances”
The Starship gallery is home to the majority of Space Centre Houston’s artefacts. Here you can walk inside a Skylab Trainer module – where astronauts first trained for life in space. You can touch moon rocks and check out the Gemini V, Faith 7 and Apollo 17 spacecraft.
Head to Independence Plaza to see the shuttle carrier NASA 905. You will need about an hour and a half to explore inside this one exhibit alone. The Astronaut gallery holds the most comprehensive collection of astronaut apparel and space suits in the USA.
The NASA Tram Tour takes families behind the scenes at the NASA Johnson Space Centre. Here you can tour Rocket Park where you will see the Saturn V rocket (the most powerful rocket ever built).
We highly recommend checking out the Space Explorer Camps for kids. The camps allow kids to discover robotics, conduct experiments and explore engineering. You can book into one-day camps, three-day camps or whole holiday camps. Imagine coming back to school to say you spent your vacation care at NASA. Book these camps in as soon as you plan your trip. They do sell out fast.
Price: Adults (12+) $29.95, Children (4-11) $24.95. Including lunch with an astronaut $69.95 (adults) $35.95 (kids)
Where: Houston Texas
US Space and Rocket Centre Huntsville, Alabama
This is the home of the Marshall Space Flight Centre which controls the science experiments and NASA’s payload operations. Exhibits include the world’s only full-scale Space Transportation System display (space shuttle) including an external tank. You can also see a set of twin solid rocket boosters and discover how NASA developed the Orbiter, Pathfinder and Landmark Saturn V moon rockets.
Tours of the Marshall Space Flight Centre run daily. The tour includes the payload operations and integration centre which co-ordinates all the scientific experiments on the International Space Station.
In ISS: Science on Orbit families can discover how scientists on earth manage the complex experiments that astronauts conduct on the International Space Station. Head to Rocket Park and you can see 27 rockets and missiles on display.
The USSRC is also home to the Space Camp and Aviation Challenge Camp and Robotics Camp programs for students ages 7-18. In the Rocket Explorer Experience day camp kids can take part in interactive lab activities, learn rocket science by building and launching rockets and experiment with International Space Station science projects. They can also discover robotics, fly and F18 cockpit simulator or train for water-survival scenarios.
Younger kids (aged 6-9) can meet a scientist on the second Saturday of every month and listen to them talk about solar energy, geology, space and chemistry.
Price: Adults (13+) $25 Children 5-12 $17.
Where: One Tranquility Base Huntsville Alabama
The Great Lakes Science Centre Ohio
Great Lakes Science Center is home to the NASA Glenn Visitor Center. The museum has three galleries: Living in Space, Explore Gallery and Discover Gallery.
In Living in Space, families will discover what and how astronauts eat, and how NASA is preparing for longer missions to Mars. You can take a photo of your family in a space suite and explore the giant Mars Airbag landing system. In the Explore Gallery you can discover the past, present and future of space exploration. Look inside the 1973 Skylab Apollo Comand module and see artifacts from John Glenn’s 1962 Friendship 7 mission. Head on over to the Discover Gallery to find out who science and engineering principles make space exploration possible. Here you can enter a replica test chamber, and experiment and test a pressurised bottle rocket.
This centre also has holiday workshops and events for kids. If you plan on going check the Great Lakes Science Centre website to see what is on.
Price: $16.95 Adults Youth (2-12) $13.95
Where: 601 Erieside Avenue Cleveland Ohio
Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Pasadena California
If you’re heading to Los Angeles or Disneyland in Anaheim – you may want to add this onto your list. The Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena offers free tours for families on advance reservation. By advance – we mean MONTHS in advance. So book this in when you are planning your trip.
JPL carries out robotic space and earth science missions and manages NASA’s Deep Space network – the system of antennas set up to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft.
All tours include a multimedia presentation called “Journey to the Planets and Beyond”. This gives you an overview of the labs activities and achievements.
You can also visit the von Karman Visitor Center, the Space Flight Operations Facility, Earth Science Center and the Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
Where: Oak Drive Pasendena
Virginia Air And Space Centre – Hampton Virginia (Langley)
This is the birthplace of America’s Space Centre and the official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center.
The interactive aviation exhibits in this centre space 100 yeas of flight and include more than 30 historic aircraft. Guests can pilot a space shuttle, program Mars Rovers for a mission, become and air traffic controller, fly and aeroplane and climb on board a World War II bomber. This centre is also home to the Apollo 12 Command Module – the one that went to the moon. It has a Mars Meteorite, a moon rock brought back by the Apolo 17 mission and a real Lunar Excursion Model simulator used to train the first astronauts on the moon.
Make sure you spend the $4 to ride the MAXFlight. This simulator allows riders to control, roll, loop spin and spiral a rocket.
Every Saturday the Virginia Air and Space Centre has STEM workshops where kids can investigate robotics, physics and chemistry.
Price: Adults (19-64) $19.50, Kids (13-18) $16
Where: 600 Settlers Landing Hampton Virginia
USA too far? Check out Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
You don’t have to go all the way to the USA to do a NASA tour. This Tuesday our very own space centre in Tidbinbilla, near Canberra, will be the first people to communicate with the newly landed Mars Rover. That’s assuming the rover lands safely on the red planet.
Families can learn about Australia’s role in space and check out the largest antenna complex in the southern hemisphere. Kids can see a piece of the moon that is more than 3.8 billion years old and discover what astronauts eat when they are in space.
Price: free entry
Where: 421 Discovery Drive Tidbinbilla