If all goes well and the weather cooperates, the folks at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will be back in the Space Shuttle business this summer. In fact, the Space Shuttle Discovery has completed an extended crawl to the oceanfront launch pad 39B, which is one huge leap toward a safe return to flight.
Discovery’s arrival at the pad is the culmination of more than two years of modifications and safety upgrades to the Space Shuttle’s orbiter and external tank. The Shuttle’s next move is the most important: a safe liftoff that is targeted for later in the summer.
Combine the excitement of a Shuttle launch with the other diverse opportunities that are available around Florida’s Space Coast, and the next couple of months should be ideal for a family vacation to the area. This 72-mile stretch of Atlantic shoreline is comprised primarily of area cities Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, and Palm Bay. It is located 35 miles east of the Orlando attractions, and offers much more than just space travel relics. Spoonbills In A LineOne will find protected wildlife refuges and sea bird sanctuaries that meander along nine distinct coastal settings from secluded, sea-oat scattered strands to sun-splashed sandy playgrounds. Many special events and festivals are held in the area each year, and three historic clusters provide a quaint atmosphere from antique boutiques and old-time theaters to vintage air shows and exciting surfing competitions. The Space Coast has 310 species of birds, great golfing venues, both fresh and saltwater fishing, and thrilling airboat rides along the scenic St. Johns River.
The Rocket GardenNevertheless, one of the most interesting areas along the Space Coast is the 140,000-acre megaplex of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (321-449-4318) that features actual launch pads, space shuttles, galactic spin-offs, and a rocket garden boasting an out-of-this-world collection of aerospace originals. Nearby excitements include the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which showcases America’s first galactic explorers, the B.C.C. Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Planetary, acknowledged as the Best in the World, the U.S. Space Walk of Fame, and Camp KSC, a week long program at Kennedy Space Center designed to immerse youth in motion-based simulators, space mission training, interactive learning, space science, and interaction with Astronauts.
Surrounding the Kennedy Space Center is the 220-square-mile Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to more federally endangered species than any other refuge in the United States. Among these are the Western Indian manatee, Southern bald eagle, and the Atlantic loggerhead turtle. Archie Carr National Park, the largest sea turtle nesting area in America, and Turkey Creek Sanctuary, one of Florida’s Audubon Parks, are also fascinating natural attractions.
For those who find shopping an interest, Main Street Titusville, picturesque Cocoa Village, and downtown Melbourne offer historic settings. Cultural arts and activities include everything from art galleries and science museums to musical entertainment centers and a wildly entertaining zoo.
A Nearby Cypress SwampOne of the best-kept secrets on the Space Coast is Stick Marsh, which boasts the best bass fishing in Florida. More than 30 marinas, three fishing piers, and numerous charter boats and fish camps provide fresh and saltwater excursions. In fact, nearby Mosquito Lagoon has been labeled “The Redfish Capital of the World”, and Capt. Troy Perez (321-631-4841) is the best guide in the area. The Indian River, Banana River, and Mosquito Lagoon are the only places on the Eastern Atlantic where redfish spawn in a very shallow area not connected directly to the ocean and without tidal flow.
The Space Coast serves up some of the finest seafood and dining delicacies in Florida throughout more than 1,400 ready-to-eat raw bars, eclectic eateries, and gourmet bistros. Along with the traditional super-fresh favorites of lobster, scallops, crawfish, shrimp, fish and crab, specialties including octopus, fried frog legs, alligator, shark, and Rock Shrimp, which is the speciality of the world famous Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant (321-268-5000). Many of these dishes are served with selections of steaming hot corn-on-the-cob, cole slaw, and corn-bread hush puppies.
Surprisingly, Space Coast accommodations provide priceless beach vacations with great family value, and one of the best is the Best Western Space Shuttle Inn (321-269-9100). Whether posh or practical, however, more than 9,500 East Coast rooms are dotted throughout the area from popular hotels and spacious condominiums to beachside cottages and five-bedroom bungalows. For a down-to-earth visit, more than 2,800 campground and RV sites provide seaside solitude with incredible savings.
The Space Coast area provides access by air through Orlando International Airport and the Melbourne International Airport, serviced by Delta Airlines and Com Air. Ground travel is easy along primary feeders: Interstate 95, the Bee Line Expressway and Highway A1A.
Additional visitor information is available by contacting Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism at 800-93-OCEAN or visit: (http://www.space-coast.com/) .