NASA is offering visitors rare access to several key areas of Kennedy Space Center during its 50th anniversary year to enhance a popular destination that already features an array of authentic attractions showcasing the space program and opportunities for up-close viewing of ongoing rocket launches. A special Kennedy Space Center Up-Close Tour has been extended through the end of 2012 to provide visitors a look inside the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where the Apollo rockets and space shuttles were assembled. One of the largest buildings in the world, the VAB had been off limits to visitors for more than 30 years until the tour was added in November. The space agency is also working with Delaware North Companies, which operates Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on final details of new tours featuring operational areas that visitors have also rarely had the opportunity to see. Announcements regarding the new tours are expected in the coming weeks. Ongoing Rocket Launches The visitor complex remains one of the best vantage points to see rocket launches taking place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. More than 10 launches have been scheduled for 2012 to carry NASA science missions and government satellites, as well as to test commercial space programs. An Atlas V rocket carrying a satellite was launched May 4, and next is a demonstration launch of a Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX, the first mission by a commercial company to travel to and dock with the International Space Station. “There’s an opportunity to see fascinating aspects of the space program that few people have seen, and a chance your visit can coincide with a rocket launch,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “We want people to know that a visit to Kennedy Space Center remains a visit to an operating facility where a lot of exciting things are happening. It’s a world-class destination that offers a truly authentic and memorable visitor experience, and this year is an ideal time for Florida residents and vacationers to visit,” Moore said. 50th Anniversary of Kennedy Space Center The 50th anniversary year features several events, including a celebration July 1 to mark the anniversary of the space center being officially acknowledged as an operating spaceflight center under the name Launch Operations Center. It was later changed to John F. Kennedy Space Center in honor of the president and his vision of Americans landing on the moon. In celebration of the 50th anniversary, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering guests two special offers that can save up to 30 percent on admission, food and merchandise, as well as secure access to view rocket launches. Details of Kennedy Space Center’s 50th Gold Admission Package and a $50 Annual Pass are available at http://kennedyspacecenter.com/annual-pass-offer.aspx. New Home for Space Shuttle Atlantis Events are also planned to mark milestones in the creation of the future home of the space shuttle Atlantis, expected to open in July 2013. Ground was broken in January on the exhibit, and this fall Atlantis will “roll over” from its processing facility inside the Kennedy Space Center to the visitor complex for permanent display. The 65,000-square-foot Atlantis exhibit will provide guests a unique vantage point to view Atlantis up close, while telling the story of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program through a number of hands-on, interactive and immersive mediums. Humankind’s Greatest Adventure From the earliest days of America’s storied space program, Kennedy Space Center has captured the world’s attention and fed its imagination as the epicenter of mankind’s greatest adventure. Nestled on a placid barrier island on Florida’s “Space Coast,” the endlessly bustling Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex features attractions and interactive programs unfolding year-round, making it a must-see for every Florida visitor. Kennedy Space Center’s remarkable collection of rockets, launch pads, NASA aerospace technology components and launch viewing opportunities offer an authenticity and behind-the-scenes access unlike any other Central Florida destination. The visitor complex offers visitors numerous activities and interactive programs, including meeting real astronauts, that will leave them with a new-found understanding of the U.S. space program. Highlights are provided below: KSC Tours: Short of becoming an astronaut, there’s no better way to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Kennedy Space Center than on a NASA Tour. The Kennedy Space Center Up-Close Tour is led by a trained space expert, giving visitors an insider’s view of the space program from launch preparation to liftoff. The tour includes up-close views of rocket and space shuttle launch pads, the interior of the VAB, and the 6 million-pound crawler-transporters, which moved the space shuttle from the VAB to its launch pad. For the first time since 1978, guests have the chance to tour inside the VAB to see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis. The opportunity to visit the VAB is offered for a limited time, to a limited number of guests. The tour culminates at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Price is $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11 plus tax, in addition to admission. Cape Canaveral: Then & Now Guided Tour is a narrated, in-depth journey guiding visitors through the Cape’s 50-year history of space exploration. Highlights include Launch Complex 5/6, site of the first two Mercury launches and the birthplace of NASA’s manned space program; the Air Force Space and Missile Museum; the Mercury Memorial; and Launch Complex 19, site of 10 manned missions in two years. The tour stops at Launch Complex 34, site of the 1967 Apollo 1 tragedy in which astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee perished in a fire during a launch test. The tour culminates at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Photo ID is required for guests age 18 and older. International guests must present a valid passport to participate. Photography and video are limited to designated tour stops. Price is $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11 plus tax, in addition to admission. Included with admission is the regular bus tour, which explores the history of the Apollo moon and space shuttle programs. It includes panoramic views of launch pads and stops at the LC-39 Observation Gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Apollo/Saturn V Center A fully restored, massive Saturn V moon rocket serves as the centerpiece of the Apollo/Saturn V Center. In addition to viewing all 363 feet of the most powerful rocket ever built, visitors can relive the historic launch of Apollo 8 in the Firing Room Theater and catch the harrowing final moments before man landed on the moon in the Lunar Theater. Visitors can experience the Apollo/Saturn V Center along with the LC-39 Observation Gantry on Kennedy Space Center tours.