How cool is it to travel AND learn about history in the same trip? With interest in the space program on the rise due to the upcoming release of the new movie Hidden Figures, NASA Centers around the country are great destinations to include in your travels. We can touch history and see firsthand the passion for space exploration.

NASA Langley is where the true-life story of Hidden Figures is set.

NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia is the backdrop for the book and movie, Hidden Figures.
Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts, Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

My Prelaunch Story

 As far back as I can remember, I have had a fascination with all things space. I’m from Hampton, Virginia, and I lived in close proximity to Langley Research Center and its visitors center. Like many children, I took field trips there during my elementary years. It is a great way to stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity.

So imagine my excitement for the release of the movie Hidden Figures. This amazing movie tells one of the untold stories of the NASA space program. Based on the book of the same name by Margot Shetterly, Hidden Figures is the fascinating story of three brilliant African American women, human “computers” of the space program. They were instrumental in getting John Glenn into orbit around the earth and changing the course of the Space Race. These women broke both gender and race boundaries at a pivotal time in the world, and their story has inspired many.

NASA Langley Research Center

NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia is the backdrop for this monumental moment in the history of space exploration and travel. The Virginia Air & Space Center is NASA Langley’s official visitors’ center. It is a great place to touch history, literally and physically.

The Virginia Air and Space Center is chock full of NASA and space exploration history.

A replica of the Gemini test capsule (delivered to the Virginia Air and Space Center), was designed and used by all of the Gemini astronauts for training in water emergencies.
Photo credit: NASA

Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts shares some of her reflections from her visit to the Virginia Air & Space Center – what she saw and learned: “Five minutes was the length of the first Mercury flight, and 36 hours the longest. Visualize your family members inside the actual vehicle. Apollo 12 landed on the moon, Gemini held two astronauts (twins, right?), the Saturn V is longer than a football field—-all these names and numbers make more sense after walking around them.”

NASA is a wonder-filled place to learn about the history of space exploration!

NASA is a wonder-filled place to learn about the history of space exploration!
Photo credits: Christine Tibbetts, Cultural Heritage TravelingMom (top), Tami MIttan, Outdoorsy TravelingMom (bottom)

John F. Kennedy Space Center

If you are taking a trip to Florida (especially in Orlando), it is easy to rent a car and ride out to KSC. My husband and I did just that, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The ride out to the Kennedy Space Center was a relaxing one. When we arrived, I got to indulge my love of space and history to my heart’s content.

Outdoorsy Traveling Mom Tami Mittan, shares this about her visit with her family:

“We visited Kennedy Space Center, with my kids aged 5 & 11. Having visited as a child myself in the 80’s, this turned out to be so much more than I expected. It was fantastic, and is definitely a full day experience!! Why’d we go: Thought it would be educational and an important thing for our kids to see. Favorite thing we saw: Space Shuttle Atlantis. Why? The kids absolutely loved it. They’ve really built up the user experience there, with a perfect mix of interactive play, awe inspiring history, talks from actual former astronauts about their experiences, and even slides and climbing exhibits for the kids.”

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is one of the artifacts of the space program you can find at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is housed at the Kennedy Space Center.
Photo credit: Tami Mittan, Outdoorsy TravelingMom

In addition, Travel Hack TravelingMom Dia Adams shares a very special and hands-on way for children to enjoy KSC. The Rocket Garden is an innovative way for the tactile space kid to experience some of the relics of the space program!

Johnson Space Center

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is named for the former President of the United States, and is located in Houston, Texas. This is where astronauts from the US and around the world train for the job. It is affectionately known as “Mission Control.”

Traveling Dad Josh Rodriguez took his family to the JSC  over the summer. “We visited Johnson Space center and my kids loved being able to walk around inside a real spaceship.”

On a visit to Johnson Space Center in Houston, you can view a shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of a NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.

A shuttle replica Independence is mounted on top of a NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.
Photo credit: Josh Rodriguez, TravelingDad

Optimism TravelingMom Catherine Bennett Kopf shares her experience at JSC with her family:

“Our family went to Houston to see the NY Jets play the Texans. We drove out and took the tram tour at the (Johnson) Space Center. We’re a family of science/math nerds so it was very exciting to see the historical remnants of our space program and new technology. The latest rovers are gold-plated with spider-like arms that look like something out of Transformers.”

A visit to NASA Johnson Space Center yields a peek at both past and current space technology.

A visit to JSC yields a peek at both past and current space technology.
Photo credit: Catherine Bennett Kopf, Optimism TravelingMom

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

And of course, the Air & Space Museum in DC is the repository for much of the history of space travel. There is so much to see and participate in. From exhibits to the IMAX theater to interactive displays, we enjoyed our fill of learning about humans and space travel. In fact, when my teenage daughter and I visited recently, we almost became part of a tour about Star Trek that was just starting!

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum showcases history of the NASA space program, real and fictional.

I experienced all things space, real and fiction, at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum!
Photo credit: Denedriane Dean/Serendipity TravelingMom

The NASA space centers and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums are valuable places where we can touch base with history. They give us a chance to have tactile experiences with space program relics. In addition, we can see what we are looking to do in the near future, like traveling to Mars. A visit to one of these can enhance any vacation and make it even more memorable!