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Take your own giant leap

I eschewed the 3D-360 flight simulator, not really wanting to spin upside down _ or at least not wanting to feel the effects on my viscera of spinning upside down. But I did try walking on the moon, or at least the closest thing to it.

Wrapped in a harness, I bounded about the faux moon surface like a pregnant llama. Or as Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad once said, "You know what it feels like? Did you ever see those pictures of giraffes running in slow motion?"

My family and I were at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, just across the Indian River from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Once run by a private foundation, as of December 2002 the Hall of Fame has been owned and operated by Delaware North Parks Services of Spaceport Inc., the same enterprise that operates the visitor complex.

The hall houses the world's largest collection of astronaut memorabilia, and one can pore over the original Mercury Sigma 7 capsule, the Apollo 14 command module, and biographies and personal items of the 51 inducted astronauts. But most visitors spend much of their time in the extensive gallery known as the Simulator Station.

My daughter Ally, 9, also tried the moon walk simulator. "It was hard to jump high," she said. "It looks easy when the astronauts jump on the moon." She also had trouble trying to land the space shuttle in a virtual reality control booth _ we all did _ but is ready to sign up for the all-star team for virtual reality Gravity-Ball, a game that is like basketball in space.

Like me, Ally also avoided the 3D-360 flight simulator but had the guts to feel the bumping and banking in the Mission to Mars simulator. Her report: "It was cool, but I had to close my eyes because you start to feel woozy, rocking back and forth and up and back."

You can also stuff yourself into a Mercury capsule (which one astronaut compared to soaring through space while squeezed inside a bathtub), take a few computer quizzes and have your picture taken dressed in astronauts' work clothes. Then, in the Hall of Fame gallery you can read about each inductee's accomplishments.

It is fortunate that this repository of astronaut artifacts still exists. The hall, once run by the U.S. Space Camp Foundation, was millions of dollars in debt and faced bankruptcy in September 2002. There was talk of auctioning off the memorabilia, considered priceless by industry experts. A last-minute deal to purchase the Hall of Fame was signed by Delaware North Park Services later that month on behalf of NASA.

The Hall of Fame experience complements the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. If the visitor complex is the space movement's museum without walls, the Astronaut Hall of Fame is its playground.

If you go

Admission to the Astronaut Hall of Fame is included in the Maximum Access Admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Admission to the Hall of Fame only: $16 adults, $12 ages 3-11.

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