Shuttle ride entry gallery.

Fly To Space, Come Back Alive

In July 1955, Disneyland unveiled "Rocket to the Moon," a ride that tried to make people believe that they were really flying in outer space. You walked toward a fake rocket ship, watched a pre-ride video in a briefing room, sat in seats that jiggled, and saw a view of Earth from space on a big screen in the floor.

Artist concept for shuttle ride.

On May 25, 2007, NASA unveiled a ride that does pretty much the same thing.

"The Shuttle Launch Experience" is the latest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The quality of the special effects has gone up since Rocket to the Moon, as has their price. The Launch Experience reportedly cost NASA $60 million, which is roughly what it once cost them to shoot a monkey into space for real.

(NASA is quick to point out that the Launch Experience was funded by admission and concession profits from the Visitor Complex, not by your tax dollars.)

The Launch Experience may be the closest that any of us non-billionaires ever come to a trip into the cosmos. NASA insists that it is a "simulation," not a "ride," although only in the sense that there are no aliens or flimsy sci-fi narratives to complicate the voyage. The effects are classic motion-master techno-bling: a pod that tilts, seats that jiggle, chest-thumping subsonic audio, and wrap-around video that convinces you that you're somewhere other than where you really are. The ride ends with simulated weightlessness, the silence of space, and a view of Earth on a big screen in the floor.

The Launch Experience was three years in development, so its designers were probably crestfallen when the Bush administration announced that the Space Shuttle would be mothballed in 2010. That gives NASA only three years to make back its money. We wish them well, of course, and hope that the four 44-person pods of the Launch Experience will be packed until then. But has anyone noticed that the most marketable aspect of the Space Shuttle is that a ride in it is scary?


Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Hwy 405, Titusville, FL
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. I-95 exits 215 or 212. Take Hwys 50 or 407 east to Hwy 405. Take 405 east and follow the signs for Kennedy Space Center. The Visitor Complex will be several miles in, on the right.
Daily 9 am - 6 pm. (Call to verify)
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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