Originally called the Launch Operation Center, the site was renamed to honor the former U.S. President in 1963. The Kennedy Space Center is under the jurisdiction of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). The center has been the main base of operations for NASA since 1968. It is where manned space flights launch from, including the former Apollo and retired Space Shuttle program.

Still a working NASA base, areas of the Kennedy Center are accessible to the public. There are tours and opportunities to learn about the history and scientific achievements that have expanded humanity out towards the stars.

01Where Is The Space Center?

NASA florida

Kennedy Space Center is in Florida between Jacksonville and Miami. The site is on Merrit Island and covers 219 square miles. Merrit Island is a restricted area to ensure the safety of the center. Because of this, the island has become an important wildlife sanctuary. As less than 10 percent of Merrit Island is occupied by NASA, the remaining area is now home to various animal species including the endangered Florida Panther and iconic bald eagle.

As the center is just an hour drive away from the major tourist hub of Orlando, the Space Center has become part of the itinerary for thousands of visitors every year.

02History Of Kennedy Space Center

space missions Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Since John F. Kennedy's speech in 1961 promising a manned mission to the moon, NASA has continually expanded the center site. Numerous missions have launched from this Florida base, including the Saturn, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle program and others. It has also been the main location for designing and making modules for the International Space Station.

03The Apollo Program

Apollo Kennedy Space Center SunChan / Getty Images

The program ran from 1961 to 1972 and included the mission that landed humans on the moon for the first time. Tragically the Apollo program began with the disastrous Apollo 1 fire in which all crew members lost their lives. NASA improved the systems which failed in the first mission. Only a short time later, on July 16th, 1969 Apollo 11 successfully landed on the moon with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. After their successful return to Earth with the third astronaut Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 module was stored at the Space Center before moving to its final home in Washington DC.

04Skylab At Kennedy Center

skylap Kennedy Space Center Ablestock.com / Getty Images

Skylab was an orbiting space lab, and the only space station to be exclusively run by NASA. The lab was operational from 1973 until 1979. Skylab was used as a stop off point for Apollo missions continuing to the moon. The station was also a successful test for whether NASA could plan, design and build a functional base in orbit.

Unfortunately, Skylab was damaged on its initial launch from earth. Although the base was repaired, it fell into a lower orbit than expected because of the early problems caused by damage. On July 11th, 1979, the Skylab began it's re-entry to earth's atmosphere. NASA at Kennedy Space Center adjusted Skylab to avoid populated areas, and it disintegrated over the Indian Ocean and Australia.

05The Space Shuttle Program

space shuttle Kennedy Space Center 3DSculptor / Getty Images

During the planning of the space shuttle program, NASA considered moving the main base of operations away from the Kennedy Space Center. Although the site has lots of advantages, mainly that there are already specialized facilities on site, there are disadvantages too. The weather in Florida can be stormy, and the sea air contains salt which corrodes metal. After discussion, NASA decided to stay at Kennedy Space Center.

The Space Shuttle program ran from 1972 until 2011. NASA made huge advances in their technology, and the Space Shuttle was partially reusable which saved money. Its main missions involved delivering sections of the International Space Station which were being constructed. However, two catastrophic failures of the Challenger and Columbia highlighted the dangers of manned space travel.

06Today's Work At Kennedy Space Center

working at Kennedy Space Center Bill Ingalls/NASA / Getty Images

Several current programs are working at the Kennedy Space Center. Although all the groups have their own targets, NASA scientists work together to achieve shared goals. These are some of the programs working today at the center:

  • Developing the next rockets to carry humans into space, called the Space Launch System.
  • Testing unmanned space vehicles called Orions which are intended to help us explore other planets.
  • Delivering payloads and helping to manage the International Space Station.

07Visiting The Space Center

space center Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Most of the Kennedy Space Center is a working NASA base. That means that a lot of the facilities are intended for the equipment, as well as the scientists and astronauts who work there. Visitors who go to the center need to remember that there are only specific areas they are free to roam in. However, there is a special tour bus which takes people to see areas that are usually off-limits.

08What Is There To Do

visiting Kennedy Space Center Win McNamee / Getty Images

Kennedy Space Center is a popular destination for tourists visiting Florida. It would be an ideal destination for anyone interested in space, science, technology, and American history. At the center, tourists can experience what it would be like to train as an astronaut. There are exhibits including retired Space Shuttles and opportunities to talk to NASA scientists.

As with any large tourist destination, there are still plenty of facilities made sepecially for guests. These include toilets, dining areas, snack booths, and shops.

09Learning At Kennedy Space Center

florida Space Center Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Kennedy Space Center has developed many learning opportunities for interested members of the public. Aimed at STEM-focused areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, teachers and students can learn about space travel from experts. NASA is keen to excite the next generation about the possibilities of space travel. For this reason, the Kennedy Space Center is now investing a lot of resources into the visitor complex for education.

10The Future Of The Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center NASA / Getty Images

Once, NASA was the leading organization that designed and operated missions into space. Now there are privately funded competitors including Elon Musk's SpaceX program which also launches from the Kennedy Space Center.

The next main target for exploration is sending humans to Mars. Unlike private companies, NASA is publically funded by taxpayers. How much of a role NASA will play in the future of the Kennedy Space Center depends on their success against their competitors.