Travels with a Wheelchair – Kennedy Space Centre, Florida

Travelling around America is usually good from an accessibility perspective due to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and this is true of the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral Florida.

The centre itself is really only accessible by car as it’s located in the middle of nowhere.  On arrival at the parking booth ($10 per day) we asked if we could park in the disabled bay as we had our UK Blue Badge (a disabled permit, for those of you not in the UK!).  The person in the booth was helpful and directed us to the disabled parking area and we displayed the badge on the dash as we would normally do.  The disabled parking is easy, the spaces are positively enormous and it’s fairly close to the entry.

When you buy the tickets at the booth if you’re taking one of the bus tours, make sure they book you in as a wheelchair user as spaces are limited on each tour.

The Rocket Garden

Around the main KSC site, it’s surprisingly compact and all pretty much built on flat, level access that is easy to navigate.  The main exception to this is the “Heroes and Legends” exhibition which was up a steep circular ramp right by the entrance.  Electric scooters can manage this no problem but I had to push Mr Wheel Chic Home up the ramp as it was long and steep.  Inside this exhibit you get a lift to the lower floor and exit at ground level.

The entrances to the IMAX, the exhibitions, shops and the Rocket Garden are all flat and easy to get around.  The Memorial Garden is up a long slope and manual chair users might need a shove up there and a hand down as Mr WCH was picking up some speed going back down!

The rockets are full size.  Massive! I’m sitting on the floor to take this one!

The superb Atlantis exhibition is brand new and fully accessible although again, the slopes up and down once you’re inside were pretty steep, long and on shiny floor.  Mr WCH burned his hands on the wheel rims trying to slow down and I made a fool of myself running full pelt after him to grab the chair from behind!  (Think of Phoebe running in “Friends” and you get the picture!)

The Atlantis Shuttle, the last one to fly

The Atlantis Exhibit is beautifully thought out and the movie before seeing the shuttle itself is pretty emotional and Mr WCH had man-tears in his eyes as the screen went up to reveal the ship itself.  I looked around and saw a few men sniffing back the tears.

A real life jet pack … 

Inside the Atlantis exhibit there was an exhilarating Space Shuttle take-off simulator ride that was accessible if you’re able to transfer from the chair to a seat that was fairly low down.  The staff look after the chair and were very helpful.  If you’re not able to to transfer you can watch from the viewing area but you would miss the movement aspect of the ride and I’m not sure what the purpose would be otherwise!  I don’t know how they did it but the ride was really good and you did feel the G-force pushing you back into your seats.

On the ground floor there are simulator games where you can fly and land the Atlantis (or crash it, as I did!)  half of these are accessible to those in a wheelchair, but scooters might struggle to get close enough.

The scissor lift into the Bus 

The bus tours are fully accessible, with scissor lifts into the coaches.  The staff are helpful but it’s a long process, one of the tours we took had two wheelchairs on it and then you struggle to find somewhere to sit close to the wheelchair.  I managed to ask someone to move so I could sit close to Mr WCH otherwise I’d have been rows away from him.

Fully buckled up…

There are many points along the bus routes where you can get off for a quick photo but they don’t let the chairs off as it’s a slow process, so a few times I jumped off and took the photos as he stayed on the bus.

The tours are excellent, informative and the tour guides are very knowledgeable, particularly on the tour around the Air Force Base where you see the real history and pride surrounding the Space Race.

You learn not only about NASA history but about future plans such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private ventures.  If you’re lucky and you plan it well enough there might be a launch!

This was a quick stop that had a lot of steps so chairs not allowed off here.  In the background, launchpad 39B

At the longer stops, such as at the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Air Force Base, the memorial at the Apollo 1 launch pad, the chairs can get off.

The Vehicle Assembly Building where they make the rockets.  This picture doesn’t do it justice. The flag alone is 22 stories high and the stripes are eight feet wide!

Some of the areas are not particularly well kept (some of the Air Force Base and the Apollo 1 launch pad for example) and the floor can be uneven, so in one case I had to review the route with the driver and assure him we would be ok before he would let Mr WCH off the bus.   It took a little while to convince the driver to let him off but we managed!

The launchpad complete with actual rocket and replica command pod where Alan Shepard became first American in Space. Floor not well maintained and tricky in spots for a wheelchair

I understand health and safety but there was no way Mr WCH was going to sit on the bus for the main part of the tour on the Air Force Base and to see the launch pad where Alan Shepard left to become the first American in space.

Top technology.  You have more power in whatever you’re reading this post on – than in this entire room and the surrounding three rooms….

It’s also unreasonable to pay that much to be left stuck on the bus in 32c temperatures – so we made sure he got off to see the historical tour main attraction – the launch pads and the museum.

The bunker where the Mercury and Gemini missions were set off.  The floor is rutted and wonky but with help it’s totally doable.

The tours were well organised and finished up at the Saturn V Apollo Centre where Mr WCH met his childhood dream – seeing an actual Rocket that took the men to the moon.  (made for a future launch that never happened as the programme was cancelled).

The Saturn V

There are space suits, moon rock, a moon buggy, artwork and fascinating exhibits to amuse yourself for an hour or two.  You also get to see the actual Mission Control for the Apollo Missions.  I defy you to watch one of the videos you get shown without saying ‘Houston, we have a problem’!

“Houston, we have a problem…”

It’s simply mind blowing, the size of it, and knowing there’s more power in my iPhone than in all the computers that sent the men up to the moon just makes it more amazing that any of it was successful.  It’s a phenomenal achievement and the exhibits are all well thought out and fully accessible.

The length of the SaturnV

A couple of minor quibbles.  There were NO water fountains anywhere, not even by the toilets, so you’re forced to buy water, unless you carry a few of your own bottles.  Also the food was overpriced and poor quality, so I’d definitely recommend you carry a lunch if you have dietary requirements.

A grown man and his childhood dream…

If you’re into Space Geekery as Mr Wheel Chic Home is – this is the place to visit.  I’m not as much as enthusiast as him but I thought it was all well constructed, interesting, emotional and you can’t help but go away impressed.

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