It’s no longer enough just to explore what’s here on earth. What’s next for us all could be what’s beyond the stars: space tourism. While we may not be ready to board shuttles for far-off planets, fans of the cosmos can learn about space flight and admire the stars at many locations throughout the region.
Nicknamed the Rocket City, Huntsville is home to the US Space and Rocket Center. The team here worked with scientists from around the globe, including Wernher Von Braun, to launch the Saturn rockets and later space shuttles.
Visitors can tour both the main facility and US passport holders can also go on bus tours to Redstone Arsenal, headquarters to the Army Material Command and home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
The center also hosts Space Camp, an interactive experience for aspiring astronauts, and a German beer garden that honors the German scientists that moved to Huntsville. Rocket City Brewing crafts space-themed craft beer in neighboring Madison.
Book your US Space and Rocket Center Admission in advance, which includes interactive exhibits, simulators, and films in the IMAX Theater.
Located on the Columbus Riverwalk, the Coca Cola Space Science Center is a favorite of school groups and families. The interactive science museum features flight simulators, moon rocks, and pieces from real space shuttles.
Run by Columbus State University, the center boasts the largest collection of NASA space shuttle artifacts in the state. The Space Shuttle Odyssey replicates what it’s like at the International Space Station. There are daily children’s events, planetarium shows, and The Challenger Learning Center.
The International Dark Sky Association designated a number of sites around the United States and the world for its pure stargazing, away from the light pollution of major cities.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, including Stephen C. Foster State Park, near Valdosta, is one of the few located outside of the Southwest. It includes 80 acres in the largest blackwater swamp in North America. Here visitors can get up close with wildlife by kayaking, hiking, and camping.
Space Coast, Florida
Named for its location near the Kennedy Space Center, the area not far from Orlando was the main operation for space shuttle missions until 2011. Despite the end of the program, the museum has incredible exhibits on the history of space flight including flight suits, the spacecraft themselves like Atlantis, and simulators.
There are also still rocket launches regularly. Lunch with an Astronaut is one of the most incredible programs, allowing visitors to learn from someone who has actually been to space. The KSC bus tour visits the Astronaut’s Hall of Fame and the vehicle assembly building. Nearby Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is also a dark sky park.
Book your Kennedy Space Center: Admission Skip the Ticket Line in advance to experience the interactive exhibits and IMAX theater.
You might not think about the Florida Everglades as a place connected to space tourism, but there’s also a dark sky park at Big Cypress National Preserve. Located in the western portion of the massive national park, the park includes over 700,000 acres.
It’s not only the best place in South Florida for stargazing but also a place where you might spot protected species like the Florida panther or the Florida black bear. Big Cypress is easily accessible from Miami via Alligator Alley or from Fort Myers to the north.
Book a private tour of Everglades Sightseeing at Big Cypress National Preserve to see the landscapes in daylight hours.
Hampton has a rich history of flight, thanks in part to nearby Langley Air Force Base. In fact, it was here that the women featured in the film Hidden Figures worked.
The Virginia Air and Space Center covers their important contributions to the Space Race along with other exhibits and artifacts from history. They have an IMAX theater and weekly STEM events. Nearby Wallops Island Flight Facility near Chincoteague remains a NASA launch site and has its own visitors center.
Washington DC is home to some of America’s most incredible museums, including the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian affiliate covers all things flight, whether it’s the original plane flown by the Wright Brothers, pictured above, modules from Apollo 11, the Spirit of St. Louis and commercial airplanes used today.
It also has a sister campus, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. It holds over 250 artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71, a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery.
Book your spot on The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum Guided Tour that covers the history of flight through modern day space exploration.
Looking for even more space-related attractions worldwide? Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism includes places to see auroras and eclipses, dark sky parks, stargazing hotspots, and locations related to space tourism.