Take a Space-Themed Vacation Here on Earth

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Plan Your Space-Themed Getaway

A rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, carrying a communications satellite, over the Indian River Lagoon from Rockledge, Florida
Chris Kridler / Getty Images

Looking for someplace out of this world to visit on vacation? The U.S. is filled with great places to go, from NASA Visitor Centers to planetarium facilities, science centers, and observatories. 

For example, there's a place in Los Angeles where you can touch a 150-foot-long wall covered with an image of millions of galaxies. Across the country, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, take a tour of U.S. Space Program history.

Up the East Coast, in New York City, take in a wonderful planetarium show and see a great solar system model. Out West, you can visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History, and just a day's drive away, you can see where Percival Lowell's fascination with the planet Mars led to the construction of an observatory where a young man from Kansas discovered the dwarf planet Pluto.

Here's a sneak peek at five very cool celestial places to visit. 

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Head to Florida for a Space Fix

Entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center.
Dennis K. Johnson / Getty Images

Space enthusiasts flock to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, east of Orlando, Florida, billed as the greatest space adventure on Earth -- offering tours of the Kennedy Space Center launch pads, the control center, IMAX® movies, children's activities, and much more. A special favorite is the Rocket Garden, featuring rockets that boosted many of the U.S. space missions to orbit and beyond.

The Astronaut Memorial Garden and Memorial Wall is a contemplative spot to remember those who lost their lives in the conquest of space.

You can meet astronauts, eat space food, watch movies about past missions, and if you're lucky, get to watch a new launch (depending on the space program's schedule). Those who have been here say it's easily a full-day visit, so bring the sunscreen and the credit card for admission, and for souvenirs and goodies!  

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Astronomy in the Big Apple

Rose Center and Hayden Planetarium
Bob Krist / Getty Images

Find yourself in New York City for a visit? Take some time to go to the American Museum of Natural History's (AMNH) and its associated Rose Center for Earth and Space, located at 79th and Central Park West in Manhattan. You can make it part of a full-day visit to the museum with its many famous wildlife, cultural, and geological exhibits. Or, you can simply take in the Rose Center, which looks like a giant glass box with a giant globe enclosed.

It contains space and astronomy exhibits, a model solar system, and the beautiful Hayden Planetarium. The Rose Center also has the fascinating Willamette meteorite, a 32,000-pound (15,000 kg) space rock that fell to Earth some 13,000 years ago. 

The museum offers a popular Earth and Space Tour, which lets you explore everything from the scales of the universe to Moon rocks. AMNH has a free app available through the iTunes store to help guide you through its many fascinating exhibits. 

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Where Space History Began

Rocket Outside the New Mexico Museum of Space History
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Nobody would expect such a cool space museum out in the desert near White Sands, New Mexico, but in fact, there is one! Alamogordo was a beehive of space travel activity in the early days of the U.S. space program. The New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo commemorates the area's space history with special collections, the International Space Hall of Fame,  The New Horizons Domed Theater, and a space science research unit.

Admission costs are available on the website, and the museum offers discounts for senior citizens and youngsters under the age 12.

Also plan to visit White Sands National Monument, near one of the largest and busiest flight-test areas in the country. It was on the White Sands Missile Range that the space shuttle Columbia orbiter landed in 1982 when its regular landing areas were closed by bad weather.

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A Grand View of the Heavens from Mars Hill

Lowell Observatory
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

If you're passing through Arizona on your vacation, check out Lowell Observatory, perched on Mars Hill overlooking Flagstaff. This is the home of the Discovery Channel Telescope and the venerable Clark Telescope, where a young Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. This observatory was built in the late 1800s by Massachusetts astronomy enthusiast Percival Lowell to help him study Mars (and Martians).

Visitors to Lowell Observatory can see the dome, visit his mausoleum, take tours, and participate in astronomy camps. The observatory is at 7,200 feet altitude, so bring sunscreen, drink lots of water, and take frequent rest stops. It's a great day trip before or after visiting the nearby Grand Canyon. 

Also check out Meteor Crater in nearby Winslow, Arizona, where a 160-foot-wide chunk of space rock slammed to the ground some 50,000 years ago. There's a visitor center that's well worth the time to visit. 

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Turning Visitors Into Observers

Higher ground
Andrew Kennelly / Getty Images

Perched high in the Hollywood Hills overlooking downtown Los Angeles, the venerable Griffith Observatory has shown the universe to millions of visitors since it was built in 1935. For fans of Art Deco, Griffith is a fine example of this architectural style. However, it's what's inside of the building that really gives you a celestial thrill.

The observatory is chock full of fascinating exhibits that give fascinating peeks at the universe.

It also houses the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, which presents fascinating shows about astronomy. Astronomy lectures and a film about the observatory are presented in the  Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater. 

Admission to the Observatory is always free, but there is a charge for the planetarium show. Check out the Griffith website and learn more about this Hollywood-fabulous place! 

At night you can peek through the observatory's telescope at solar system objects or other celestial objects. Not far away is the famous Hollywood sign and a view of downtown L.A. that seems to go on forever!