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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex gives kids a new area to explore with Planet Play

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 1/5/2021 Patrick Connolly, Orlando Sentinel
a person on stage with stage lights and an audience: Eli Willis, 4, of Titusville, checks out the new offerings of Planet Play at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Eli Willis, 4, of Titusville, checks out the new offerings of Planet Play at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

Young astronauts and aspiring space explorers now have a new forum to discover planets and delve into galaxies at Planet Play, the latest addition to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Immersion and interactivity are key for the new play area, which is geared toward visitors ages 2-12.

“It’s at least 70 percent physical here ... You can climb, you can use digital interactivity, you can draw and do all sorts of things on your own while learning about the solar system,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Parents can challenge their children to come home with one new fact.”

Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, is a new interactive children's area on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, is a new interactive children's area on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

Planet Play has three levels, all connected by ladders, climbing nets and kid-sized staircases which weave together our solar system’s planetary bodies including Pluto, Mercury and Mars. Hands-on activities allow young visitors to help a spaceship take flight, craft digital racing rovers, connect constellations or slide down two different slides.

Young visitors explore Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Young visitors explore Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

While kids are the focus of Planet Play, one area is geared toward parents with a coffee, beer and wine bar set in a comfortable lounge with interactive tables.

The new area is taking over a space that previously housed one of two IMAX theaters at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. After Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at the center, it drew attention away from the theaters and resulted in one being sufficient for visiting audiences, Protze said.

Mercury, Pluto and Mars are among planets represented \rat Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Mercury, Pluto and Mars are among planets represented \rat Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

During its first days of opening, enthusiastic learners were busy taking in the new offerings.

a man sitting on a stage in front of a laptop: Tampa residents Kalea Kazbour, 5, and her mom, Lisa Kazbour, work on coloring in satellites at Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Tampa residents Kalea Kazbour, 5, and her mom, Lisa Kazbour, work on coloring in satellites at Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Tampa resident Brianna Jones, 11. “I’d probably like to go to the International Space Station or go to Mars.”

Her brother, Ares, 8, also has dreams of going to the International Space Station and was excited about Planet Play.

“I really like that you can go through the planets and be inside of them while climbing,” he said.

Kalea Kazbour, 5, a young space enthusiast from Tampa, was captivated while coloring in her own satellite before watching it come to life on a digital display. She dreams of going to Mars and has a room at home themed with astronauts, stars and nebulas.

Satellites are part of a game at Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Satellites are part of a game at Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

“We read astronomy books before bed. Bedtime stories about galaxies, that’s her jam,” said her mother, Lisa Kazbour.

When asked about the new playful offerings during her first visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Kalea gave a positive review.

“I’m super duper excited,” she said.

Ultimately, the goal of this new experience is to allow the next generation of potential space travelers to have fun while also learning more about what’s beyond our home planet.

“By the time we get to Mars, the children that are playing in here will be our future astronauts,” Protze said. “We’re hoping we can inspire them to explore and learn about planets.”

If you go: Planet Play is open during operating hours, currently 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Space Commerce Way in Merritt Island. Facial coverings are required for visitors ages 2 and older. Single-day admission tickets are $57 per adult and $47 per child ages 3-11. For more information, visit kennedyspacecenter.com.

Find me on Twitter @PConnPie, Instagram @PConnPie or send me an email: pconnolly@orlandosentinel.com.

a group of purple flowers: Eli Willis, 4, of Titusville, slides down a slide with projected asteroids in Planet Play at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Eli Willis, 4, of Titusville, slides down a slide with projected asteroids in Planet Play at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. The sun is represented in Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. © Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS The sun is represented in Planet Play, part of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
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