For science minded kids and adults, a chance to visit a real NASA facility can be out of this world. The Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor’s Center is located in Greenbelt, MD just minutes from the Capitol Beltway. This small facility has many hands on science experiences and a great gift shop for taking home souvenirs.
Open every day except for Mondays, the Goddard Visitor’s Center admission and parking are both free. The exhibits here are colorful and interesting to the eye, but kids who can read (or have parents willing to read to them) will get the most out of a visit here. That said, my 6 and 5 year olds with limited reading abilities had a great time.
Kids can sit in a replica of a Gemini command module, get their picture taken in an astronaut cut out and play with many computers offering games, images and information in areas of Earth Systems Science, Climate Change, and Planetary Science.
The center is divided into several sections describing some of NASA’s work and programs. Visitors can learn about the Hubble Telescope, weather satellites and various planets. Aside from the experiences mentioned above the plasma globe and moon rock were of particular interest to my kids. Separate from the other exhibits is the Science on a Sphere theater, where short 5 to 15 minute shows are projected onto a large sphere in the center of the room. These movies play throughout the day during regular visiting hours.
Outside of the Visitor’s Center you can extend your trip by walking through the Rocket Garden. Here, several replicas of NASA rockets and an Apollo capsule are scattered throughout the grassy grounds. There are signs clearly posted for no climbing on these space crafts but kids can enjoy looking at them and taking some photos. Drink vending machines are located between the main building and the gift shop and there are many picnic tables scattered throughout the Rocket Garden to enjoy lunch on site. Pack a lunch if you want to take advantage of this, there are no food sales at the Visitor’s Center.
A visit to this NASA facility on an ordinary day is a great learning experience for kids and parents alike. For something extra special try scheduling your visit on the first or third Sundays of the month. On the first Sunday of the month from 1 to 2pm there is a public model rocket launch. This means you can build a model rocket and bring it to launch on their equipment or simply come to watch others launch their creations. On the third Sunday of the month (from September through May), Goddard hosts the Sunday Experiment.
This program is geared towards families with elementary aged children and includes hands on experiments, Q&As with NASA scientists and engineers, and giveaways. Hours for this event are 1 to 3pm. NASA also hosts a spring science festival each year in May which brings together many science activities, shows, experiments and even moon bounces to their grounds for a day of family friendly exploration.
Blast out of your ordinary routine and head over to the Goddard Space Flight Center for an educational and entertaining afternoon of family fun.
- The Visitor Center is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 3pm and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm (September through June). In July in August, it is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm. Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday.
- Restrooms with changing tables are available onsite. Building is stroller accessible, though a double stroller would be tough to maneuver around the tight spaces.
Photo by Kim Engstrom.