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Most kids act like space cadets at some point, but some have caught the space craze. After all, kids love sto­ries about space. Over the last few months, my boys have eager­ly watched cov­er­age of rock­et launch­es and space­ship tests. For kids, astro­nauts head­ing to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion on the Fal­con 9 rock­et is the coolest thing to see. With the addi­tion of NASA’s Artemis moon pro­gram plus future mis­sions to Mars, now is a great time to be a space fan. 

For fam­i­lies like mine, with space-lov­ing kids, there are space attrac­tions across the U.S. to give you hands-on, behind-the-scenes looks at NASA head­quar­ters, space shut­tles, rock­et launch­es, and more. If you’re look­ing for where to take kids who love space or want to plan the per­fect vaca­tion for space lovers, keep read­ing for our guide to these essen­tial space places to visit. 

 

 

 

Many space muse­ums have “rock­et gar­dens,” where rock­ets are dis­played out­side for vis­i­tors to enjoy. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

 

The U.S. Space and Rock­et Cen­ter in Huntsville, Alaba­ma, is the home of the leg­endary Space Camp. But that’s not all that you’ll find. A stun­ning out­door dis­play of rock­ets, a recre­ation of the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, and a full-size Sat­urn V rock­et are high­lights of this des­ti­na­tion. The U.S. Space and Rock­et Cen­ter is friend­ly for both lit­tle kids and teens; there are cen­trifuge and moon shot rides for the dar­ing, and the younger crowd can play at the on-site play­ground. The climb­ing wall is a big hit with my pre­teen boys. In fact, this is their favorite space cen­ter in the entire U.S. If you have extra time, sched­ule a Shut­tle Expe­ri­ence. Got a whole week­end free? Sign up for Fam­i­ly Astro­naut Train­ing

 

Don’t Miss: For an extra $20 per per­son, take a bus tour of the Mar­shall Space Flight Cen­ter to see propul­sion lab­o­ra­to­ries, rock­et test stands, and the sci­ence com­mand cen­ter for the Inter­na­tion­al Space Station. 

Cost: $25 for adults, $17 for ages 5–12, chil­dren 4 and under are free. Admis­sion is free with ASTC mem­ber­ship.

Where to Stay: The U.S. Space and Rock­et Cen­ter offers an onsite RV park. The Huntsville Mar­riott also is on the grounds of the Space Cen­ter, while the Hilton Gar­den Inn and Drury Inn are less than a mile away. For a unique expe­ri­ence, stay in a 1930s cab­in at Monte Sano State Park.

 

 

You can read reviews of local hotels on Tri­pAd­vi­sor!

Get­ting There: The Huntsville Inter­na­tion­al Air­port is served by Unit­ed Air­lines, Amer­i­can Air­lines, and Delta, but there are no non-stop flights from L.A. Huntsville is two-hour dri­ve from Nashville, Ten­nessee, and an hour-and-a-half dri­ve from Birm­ing­ham, Alabama. 

 

 

The U.S. Space & Rock­et Cen­ter in Huntsville, Alaba­ma, offers a behind-the-scenes bus tour that shows the inner work­ings of the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. Pho­to by Paul Nichol­son.

 

Space Center Houston

 

The past meets the future at Space Cen­ter Hous­ton, where you can tour the Apol­lo-era Mis­sion Con­trol Cen­ter and see a Fal­con 9 rock­et like what was used for this year’s Crew Drag­on launch­es. The cen­ter also is the home of the world’s largest col­lec­tion of moon rocks, housed in a giant vault. Admis­sion to Space Cen­ter Hous­ton includes free tours of John­son Space Cen­ter, where you can see an astro­naut train­ing facil­i­ty and observe the mod­ern Mis­sion Con­trol in action. Aspir­ing rock­et engi­neers will love tour­ing the repli­ca space shut­tle Inde­pen­dence mount­ed on a car­ri­er air­craft — my old­est son says this was his favorite part of our vis­it. The upper floor of Space Cen­ter Hous­ton fea­tures Kids’ Space Place, with sim­u­la­tors, games, and a giant slide. 

Don’t Miss: Every Fri­day and Sat­ur­day, an astro­naut vis­its Space Cen­ter Hous­ton to share mem­o­ries of their mis­sions with guests. For an extra fee, you can join the astro­naut for lunch and a Q&A session. 

Cost: $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for ages 4 ‑11, chil­dren 3 and under are free. If you are vis­it­ing sev­er­al attrac­tions in Hous­ton, con­sid­er the Hous­ton City­Pass.

Where to Stay: The Hilton Hous­ton, Court­yard by Mar­riott, Home­wood Suites, and La Quin­ta are some of the clos­est hotels to Space Cen­ter Hous­ton. For a beach view, head 30 min­utes south­east to a vaca­tion rental in Galveston. 

Get­ting There: Hous­ton Hob­by is the clos­est air­port to Space Cen­ter Hous­ton and is served by Amer­i­can Air­lines, Delta, South­west, and Alle­giant. George Bush Inter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port also is in Hous­ton, but I don’t rec­om­mend it due to its dis­tance from the Space Center. 

 

Check Out: 7 Essen­tial Stops on a Texas Road Trip

 

 

Take the tram tour at Space Cen­ter Hous­ton to see the vehi­cle mock­up facil­i­ty, where the space­craft of the future are test­ed and designed. Warn­ing: vis­it­ing may result in card­board space­craft being built in your house. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.

 

 

Don’t Miss! A Local’s Guide to Kid-Friend­ly Nashville

 

 

Kennedy Space Center

 

If you’re won­der­ing where to watch a rock­et launch, Kennedy Space Cen­ter is your best bet. When you vis­it, take a whole day to explore all the exhibits, includ­ing Space Shut­tle Atlantis, the U.S. Astro­naut Hall of Fame, mod­els of future space­craft, and touch­ing memo­ri­als to Chal­lenger and Apol­lo 1. Thrill seek­ers will want to try the Shut­tle Launch Expe­ri­ence, while would-be pilots will love the astro­naut train­ing sim­u­la­tors. The Kennedy Space Cen­ter bus tour is free with admis­sion and will take you past his­toric sites such as the vehi­cle assem­bly build­ing and launch­pad 39B. The bus tour also takes vis­i­tors to the Apollo/Saturn V Cen­ter where you can see the launch count­down clock, touch a moon rock, and expe­ri­ence an immer­sive recre­ation of a Sat­urn V rock­et launch with sound and vibra­tion effects (bonus: watch for alli­ga­tors in the near­by water). In 2021, Kennedy Space Cen­ter will open Plan­et Play, an indoor play­ground for kids ages 2–12.

 

Don’t Miss:  A rock­et launch is the must-see expe­ri­ence at Kennedy Space Cen­ter. View­ing the launch from the Main Vis­i­tor Cen­ter is includ­ed with admis­sion and allows guests to view the rock­et after it ris­es above the tree­line. For an extra $20 per per­son, you can take a bus to the grand­stands at the Apollo/Saturn V Cen­ter to view the rock­et as it launch­es from the launch­pad.  Be pre­pared for a long wait in the case of a weath­er delay. 

Cost: $57 for ages 12 and up, $47 for ages 3–11, chil­dren 3 and under are free

Where to Stay: Sev­er­al hotels are with­in just a few miles of Kennedy Space Cen­ter, includ­ing Hyatt Place Titusville, Best West­ern Space Shut­tle Inn, and Hamp­ton Inn Titusville. Near­by Cocoa Beach offers con­do rentals such as Canaver­al Tow­ers. Walt Dis­ney World and Uni­ver­sal Orlan­do are about an hour from Kennedy Space Center. 

Get­ting There: The best air­port when trav­el­ing to Kennedy Space Cen­ter is Orlan­do Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, which is served by sev­er­al air­lines includ­ing Amer­i­can, Delta, South­west, Jet Blue, and Unit­ed. Gray Line Tours and Flori­da Dol­phin Tours offer bus ser­vice to Kennedy Space Cen­ter from Orlan­do and Kissim­mee hotels. 

 

 Pro-Tip: If see­ing a rock­et launch is your pri­or­i­ty, keep a flex­i­ble sched­ule. Launch­es that are scrubbed (can­celed) often are resched­uled just days later. 
 

 

 

The dis­play of Space Shut­tle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Cen­ter is breath­tak­ing, at least for space-crazy fam­i­lies like mine. Pho­to by Paul Nichol­son.

 

 

 

 

Where Can You See More?

 

It’s hard to beat the space cen­ters, with their col­lec­tion of NASA mem­o­ra­bil­ia and tours fea­tur­ing retired astro­nauts and rock­et engi­neers. How­ev­er, there are sci­ence and space muse­ums all across the coun­try. Add these stops to your itin­er­ary when you’re in the area: 

 

The Space Shuttle Tour

 

You’ll see one shut­tle at Kennedy Space Cen­ter. If you want to see the oth­ers, head to the Smith­so­ni­an’s Udvar-Hazy Cen­ter near Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and the Cal­i­for­nia Sci­ence Cen­ter in L.A. Each shut­tle is dis­played in a dif­fer­ent posi­tion: Endeav­or is dis­played in launch posi­tion, Atlantis is shown in flight, and Dis­cov­ery is land­ing. Vis­it the U.S.S. Intre­pid in New York City to see the Enter­prise, the orig­i­nal test ver­sion of the shuttle. 

 

The Air & Space Museum in D.C

 

The Smith­son­ian Air & Space Muse­um’s col­lec­tion includes the Apol­lo 11 cap­sule, space­suits worn by John Glenn and Yuri Gagarin, and top-secret satellites.

 

The Cosmosphere in Kansas

 

The Cos­mos­phere is home to Mer­cury and Gem­i­ni space­craft, Ger­man V‑1 and V‑2 rock­ets, and a Sovi­et Vos­tok cap­sule. The muse­um also fea­tures Dr. God­dard­’s Lab, an inter­ac­tive show about the his­to­ry of rock­et science. 

 

The Museum of Flight in Seattle

 

The Muse­um of Flight has a Soyuz cap­sule that took astro­nauts to the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion and a USSR-man­u­fac­tured repli­ca of Sput­nik 1. The muse­um also fea­tures the NASA full fuse­lage train­er, a space shut­tle mock­up pre­vi­ous­ly used for astro­naut training. 

 

Whether we’re watch­ing a launch, tour­ing a rock­et gar­den, or peek­ing behind the scenes, our fam­i­ly comes home from our favorite space muse­ums feel­ing inspired, hope­ful, and full of dreams (and astro­naut ice cream). If you’re ready for an adven­ture that is fun, edu­ca­tion­al, and out of this world, start plan­ning your trip to the near­est space cen­ter — and beyond. 

 

 

Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery is dis­played at the Smith­so­ni­an’s Udvar-Hazy Cen­ter in Vir­ginia. Thanks to small crowds and extra-friend­ly staff, this stop is one of the best ways to see a shut­tle up close. (While you’re there, take the ele­va­tor to the top floor for a view of planes land­ing — a favorite for kids.) Pho­to by Paul Nichol­son.

 

 

Please note: some attrac­tions and tours are unavail­able due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

 

 

Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. When not trav­el­ing with fam­i­ly, she enjoys cozy days at home read­ing, gar­den­ing, mak­ing music, and wran­gling two awe­some kids. Christy writes at Any-Worth.com about trav­el and sus­tain­able living. 

 

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