Florida’s Space Coast is a choice destination for both travellers and space enthusiasts. Along the eastern shoreline of the Sunshine State, this region boasts pristine, sweeping beaches, vibrant communities, and a wide array of attractions - including the iconic Kennedy Space Station.

I can’t say I’m a ‘space nerd’, intergalactic travel etc is, of course, interesting but it never was more fascinating to me than, say, the average person. Never in a million years would I have bet on being moved to tears when faced with the Space Shuttle Atlantis or hearing of the bravery of those who ventured in to the unknown. I had clearly underestimated the power of the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Now, rocket launches aren’t an everyday occurrence at Cape Canaveral and only a few launch dates are actually on the calendar – and even those are subject to change due to the intricacies of blasting tons of tech into space. So you might imagine how very delighted we were when we arrived at our lovely Hilton Cocoa Beach Hotel, and were told that there would be a SpaceX rocket launch the following day – yes, the exact day we had our tickets for!

We arrived at the centre, bright and early the next morning. As we entered, we were faced by the towering Rocket Garden, showcasing historic launch vehicles from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo eras. The sense of awe and wonder deepened as we explored the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, where the orbiter is displayed in all its glory. It was fascinating learning how high-tech and low-tech was combined on this incredible shuttle that completed 33 manned missions. One example being – the covers which are essentially blankets that were stitched by the ‘Sew Sisters’ on their Singer machines!

The day flew by in a whirlwind of wonder and soon we were seated only a few miles away from SpaceX’s launch pad, waiting for sunset. As the countdown reached its final moments, a palpable sense of excitement filled the air. Lift-off! We marvelled at the sheer power and grace of the rocket as it soared into the boundless sky. I can’t recall any other time when I had felt so moved by the vision of what man can achieve.

But this awe-inspiring experience had more to give. The Kennedy Space Center is renowned for its commitment to reusability and, as the rocket returned to Earth, guided by the principles of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the crowd erupted in applause. The dual display of launch and landing was a vivid show of humanity’s triumphs in space exploration, creating a memory that will forever be etched in my mind.

We were rather quiet on the way back to Cocoa Beach, assimilating all we had experienced; a day like no other. Rocket launch or not, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center should be experienced by everyone. It is so much more than you would expect.

In fact, Florida’s Space Coast is more than I expected. It is not only the place for space. Cocoa Beach, for one, is known for its sandy shores and surf-worthy waves. The vibe is cool and relaxed, somehow intermingled with the passion and excitement that everyone related to NASA seems to be walking around with. There is a sense of very proud-of-place locals who are thrilled to have you there, happy to share their knowledge.

The region is home to over 250 square miles of wildlife refuges. These protected areas provide sanctuary to countless species, including endangered sea turtles, manatees, and diverse bird populations. One of the most popular wildlife refuges in the area is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, making it one of the most biodiverse areas in the US. Take a guided tour or explore on your own to experience the beauty of these unique ecosystems.

We chose the 1000 islands: In Search of Wildlife pontoon boat tour with Cocoa Beach Dolphin Tours. It was a good choice – searching was hardly necessary! We saw too many bird species to list. At one point, a single tree with what must have been close to 20 pelicans precariously perched on its thin branches. Dolphins came swimming alongside our boat, and fish seemed to fly from the waters around us. This was all the while learning about local history from our passionate guide; a morning well spent.

I, for one, am hooked. I’m already planning my return for August 2024, to hopefully coinciding with NASA’s SpaceX Crew-9 launch.

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