Since the dawn of America’s space program, to the present-day renaissance of both public and private space exploration, today’s modern Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has a long and storied history of innovation, advanced-technology and humanity’s passion to travel beyond our own planet. An iconic destination where visitors can get up close and personal to historical displays and exhibitions, it is also a working spaceport that allows guests to go beyond the gates to restricted NASA areas, where they can discover the rich history and awe-inspiring future of space travel.
Surrounded by some of the world’s finest beaches and resort destinations, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is just 45 minutes from Orlando. It claims the elite distinction of being one of the few places on earth where the public can view a live rocket-launch. The 70-acre visitor center complex draws guests from around the globe with inspired, educational and fun activities and attractions created to exhilarate visitors of every age. From decades-old artifacts and memorabilia to modern-day rocket technology, the complex offers visitors an immersive experience that traverses through decades of scientific discovery.
Where is the bus tour?
Ranked as one of the most popular attractions, one of the most frequently asked questions at the visitor complex is, “Where is the bus tour?” Included with general admission, the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes visitors behind NASA’s gates to mission-critical areas where they can see the colossal scope and scale of iconic facilities like Launch Complex 39 the site of launch pads 39A and 39B — where all astronauts that traveled to the Moon began their mission, the Vehicle Assembly Building and the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, as well as vast expanses of Florida wildlife preserve.
“We at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex have the honor of sharing the NASA story with our guests,” Kenna Pell, assistant public relations manager at the visitor complex, said. “The Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour takes our visitors through the working spaceflight facility where they can see the very same launch pad that all the Apollo astronauts lifted off from towards the Moon, the 525-foot-high Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the Saturn V rockets and space shuttles were stacked in preparation for launch and one of the crawler-transporters used to move Saturn V Moon rockets and space shuttles to the launch pad.”
Two additional Special Interest Bus Tours are also available, including the KSC Explore Tour that offers an insider’s view of the U.S. Space Program, from the launch sites of today at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the KSC Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour — a narrated, in-depth journey which guides visitors through the Cape’s 50-year history of space exploration.
Bus tours run continuously throughout the day and operations are efficiently monitored and managed from the on-site tour operations center. The center is command central for a team of dedicated staff who work to keep operations running smoothly. Moving and monitoring the fleet of more than 40 vehicles, the ops team is focused on managing on-time performance, coordinating bus schedules, responding to breakdowns and more. During regular service hours team members monitor activities with the help of modern technology such as GPS tracking, which assists in scheduling routine maintenance and monitoring equipment and driver behavior.
Delivering the ride of a lifetime
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex continues to invest in new and upgraded fleet equipment. While reliability, efficiency and safe fleet operation is essential, leveraging smarter, newer technologies is also a major priority, according to Therrin Protze, chief operating officer at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
“The Bus Tour is designed to take our visitors on the ride of a lifetime, where we create a mobile experience that’s closely choreographed to what they are viewing through the window,” he said. “This is truly a visual experience, and maximizing views and vantage points, along with providing pristine sound and video quality are essential elements to delivering an unforgettable encounter.”
Last year, ABC Companies, the exclusive distributor for Van Hool motorcoaches in North America, worked with Protze to create customized coach specifications for seven brand new Van Hool CX45 premium passenger motorcoaches and one special-order Van Hool VIP CX45 coach.
Delivered in time for the busy 2018 holiday season, seven of the new models are currently being used in service, and feature seating for up to 56 passengers and are equipped with many highline touring coach features. Rear-facing tour-guide seating, REI Elite audio/video system, and contoured parcel racks with integrated oversized 23-inch monitors (110 percent larger than standard monitors), were specified to accommodate an enhanced passenger experience. Large windows offer unobstructed views, and spacious seating with headrests help riders relax in comfort and get completely immersed in the Bus Tour experience. Other passenger features include 110V outlets and USB charging ports, a curved-stair entrance for easier boarding, and installed Braun wheelchair lifts to accommodate ADA riders.
As part of the product specification process, the ABC team solicited driver input to better understand driver preferences, according to Protze.
“ABC and Van Hool are proud to collaborate with Therrin and his team to configure a product that matches their vision of providing a guest experience that is recognized as one of the most the unique in the world,” Roman Cornell, president and chief commercial officer at ABC Companies, said. “We look forward to supporting their operational objectives in the future.”
In addition to the many interior cabin upgrades, ABC designed, produced and installed dynamic new exterior coach graphics which integrate a modern, fresh look to highlight the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex brand. The new graphics feature original artwork designed to enhance the image and visibility of the fleet.
“The Van Hool CX45 passenger amenities including the state-of-the-art A/V system is second to none,” Protze said. “We’ve recently debuted a brand-new video hosted by Emmy-nominated TV host and science communicator, Emily Calandrelli, ‘The Space Gal.’ The CX45’s high-quality A/V system presents a stunning visual experience that precisely replicates the sights and sounds of a live launch and more for guests.”
The new, 30-minute video is comprised of 13 episodes of guest education and entertainment to enhance the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, transporting visitors both literally and virtually as they follow Emily’s behind-the-gates video tour featuring exclusive interviews with NASA experts and access to working spaceflight facilities that are off-limits to the general public.
A special Van Hool CX45 VIP-coach is on order for delivery this summer, Protze said. It will be custom configured and modified with bespoke finishes and features like custom built-ins, flat screen TVs, onboard Wi-Fi and more.
Self-contained service and maintenance center
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex fleet is maintained and serviced at the property’s 20,000 square foot maintenance facility. Preventive maintenance and minor repairs are performed from two service bays, and coaches are cleaned and prepared for guests daily utilizing on-site wash bays. Vehicle refueling is also available on-property via on-site diesel tanks. For more extensive repair work, ABC Parts and Service, at the nearby Winter Garden, Florida, location provides heavy-duty repairs and service, utilizing its extensive parts inventory as required. The new Van Hool CX45 coaches are covered under ABC’s comprehensive warranty program, which provides Van Hool technical assistance, Van Hool service bulletin updates, a streamlined claims process and technician training for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex mechanics, who participate in scheduled sessions throughout the year.
An unlimited future of possibilities
Like the future of American space exploration, the possibilities are limitless for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex says Protze. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic mission to the Moon, as well as the return of human spaceflight on the Space Coast, and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is expecting record visitation numbers. In anticipation of the increased interest in space, and to ensure the highest levels of service and amenities for guests, the visitor complex has a universe of brand-new exhibits, enhancements, additions and improvements for visitors in 2019.
In envisioning the fleet of the future, Protze is committed to an all-electric operation within the next few years. While he believes that the clean-diesel vehicles in current use provide a quiet, comfortable ride for visitors, he affirms that electric bus technology is a logical next-step for one of the most technologically-advanced tourism venues in the world. He anticipates seeing what the industry brings to market, including the Van Hool CX45E, all-electric bus.
“We’re fortunate to be living at a time when amazing advances and discoveries in science and space exploration are happening almost daily,” he said. “While we strive to inspire, educate and illuminate visitors from around the globe each day, it is our distinct honor to preserve our nation’s history and heritage for generations to come.”
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is operated for NASA by Delaware North and is entirely visitor-funded. Follow Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.