Go on a mission to Mars at Kennedy Space Center

Go on a mission to Mars at Kennedy Space Center

Susan Barnes

As I slipped on the virtual headset and held the paddles in my hands, thumbs on the buttons on top and pointer fingers on the triggers underneath, I was ready. My space-enthusiast nephew’s voice came over the headset from his station at Mission Control and we confirmed we could hear each other. This was it – we were ready to go on a mission to Mars at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral

ATX at Kennedy Space Center
The entrance into the new Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) from inside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

As he talked me through the tasks and suggested the best ways to complete them, I tapped and squeezed the paddles to teleport my way across the Red Planet; insert cartridges into a black box; and pick up and load a stack of boxes into the Mars Rover. All virtually, of course.

My nephew virtually walks on Mars at ATX.

This is but one of a handful of hands-on activities that use immersive simulation technology and are found at Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) and Mars Base 1 attractions at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Mars Rover Concept Vehicle.

In addition to the virtual Walk-on-Mars experience, ATX’s training areas put groups through their paces as they replicate future astronaut training through the Land-and-Drive-on-Mars full-motion simulator, Launch Mission and Spacewalk Training, using zero-gravity chairs in a microgravity simulator. Just outside the ATX facility is the Mars Rover Concept Vehicle; when it’s not out on the road as a traveling exhibit, that is. The Rover’s massive size is impressive, especially when you get to the Walk-on-Mars experience and stand next to its on-planet version.

Robots programmed in Mars Base 1 remove debris from solar panels

Aside from ATX, Mars Base 1 is a chance to not only virtually travel to Mars, but to live and work on the Red Planet for an entire day and work through real-life challenges. For example, rookie astronauts use technology to design and test programs for robots, and assist scientists working on NASA’s Food Production in the Mars Botany Lab.

Travel to Mars (virtually) at Kennedy Space Center

Astronauts-to-be and those simply interested in taking an up-close look at Mars can spend a full day – and even multiple days – immersed in all things Mars. The full ATX experience runs for five hours at a cost of $175. 

Though it’s currently closed due to COVID-19, Mars Base 1 is a full-day, five- to seven-hour program at a cost of $150; shorter Mars Base 1 experiences are available, too. Keep an eye on the KSC website and its social media platforms in regards to when it will reopen.

Reservations are suggested for ATX and Mars Base 1; day-of booking may be possible, based upon availability.

How about you? Are you ready to go to Mars?

Stay up to date on changing travel conditions; please check with local and statewide authorities for the latest guidelines.

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