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Road trip attraction: Improvements to Kennedy Space Center

While we’re waiting for the Kennedy Space Center to complete the exhibit for space shuttle Atlantis, the center opened the first phase of a 10-year upgrade to the Visitor Complex on Thursday. The first piece is a $16 million entry plaza, which includes a retail shop, restaurant, ticket stations and other services. The grand entry plaza also has a 75-foot-long fountain, pictured above, that pays homage to the dreams of President John F. Kennedy and can put on light-and-water shows for guests in the evening.

Next up is the $100 million, 90,000-square-foot celebration of the space shuttle program, featuring Atlantis, scheduled to open in July.

Meantime, Delaware North, the concessionaire that operates the Visitor Complex, announced that it has extended three behind-the-scenes tours of areas that were closed to the public while the shuttle program was active. How long the tours will go on depends on whether NASA or commercial operators need to use any Kennedy Space Center facilities. Tours of the Launch Control Center and Launch pad have been extended at least through March 31, and tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which used to house the shuttles, have been extended through 2013. Price: $25 adults, $19 children, on top of admission. Information here.

Photo credit: Kennedy Space Center