Thursday, September 9, 2010
Where the Future Began
The Mercury 8 capsule being processed at Hangar S in September 1962. Below is a photo of Hangar S today.
Once upon a time, the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex offered two tours. One was the Red Tour, which took visitors to see the space center itself where Shuttle operations are conducted. The other was the Blue Tour, which was of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Both tours are still available today, but at a cost. It's $41 for admission that includes a shorter version of the Red Tour, but if you want to go see CCAFS you need to pay an additional $21 for what's called Cape Canaveral: Then and Now.
In this economy, and especially for those of us who are unemployed, $62 per person is a steep price to step back into the primordial days of the American human spaceflight program.
The U.S. Air Force Space & Missile Foundation offers a free monthly tour of CCAFS that expands on the old Blue Tour. It's on the second Wednesday of every month, departing from their new Space & Missile History Center just outside the south gate on Highway 401, AKA Samuel C. Phillips Parkway. The tour is arranged by the 45th Space Wing; to make reservations, call (321) 494-5945.
My wife Carol and I took the tour on September 8. We had a couple hiccups — the reservation list wasn't passed along to the tour guides, and the bus didn't show up at 8:45 AM as scheduled — but that allowed plenty of time for the twenty tourists to see the new History Center.
We saw more on this tour than we'd ever seen on the Blue Tour.
The only stop missing on the tour was the historic Mission Control Center used during the Mercury flights. The building was demolished in May 2010 after years of deterioration. The MCC was a stop on the old Blue Tour. Visitors were taken inside the building and allowed to see Mercury Control as it appeared in the early 1960s. Mercury Control was saved and moved over to the KSCVC where it's now on display.
The Mercury Mission Control Center in October 1962. It was recently demolished as the building was declared unsafe.
MCC's demise is history nudging you to take this tour sooner than later. Many of the historic facilities are deteriorating. Why? Because there's no money. CCAFS is a working military base. Money is scarce in the federal budget for historical preservation, which is why the Foundation exists.
In addition to the History Center, the Foundation also operates a Space & Missile Museum on base at Launch Complex 26. This was the launch site for the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1, on January 31, 1958.
LC-26 is the first stop on the tour, where a docent walks you through the facility. It also has a modest gift shop, as does the History Center outside the CCAFS gate near where you boarded the bus.
We were also allowed to go inside the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, which was a first for us. The old Blue Tour only drove past it.
Below are photos shot by Carol on the tour. They tell the story better than just words.
The launch control center inside the Complex 26 blockhouse. The console at the right has the toggle used to "light the candle" on Explorer 1.
A docent discusses the working of a V-2 engine. (Hint — the engine is upside-down.) Originally designed for the Nazi military machine, many V-2s were brought to the United States after the war and some were launched from Cape Canaveral.
A mockup of Alan Shepard's Redstone rocket on the site of its launch from Complex 5-6. Note the rails which were used to roll back the gantry from the rocket.
A titanium memorial to the Mercury 7 astronauts outside Complex 14, where John Glenn's Atlas rocket launched him into orbit. Note the seal near the base; a time capsule was placed with Mercury memorabilia that's not to be opened until 2464.
The launch platform is all that remains of Complex 34, where the three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a fire on January 27, 1967. The tour bus drove past the platform, a privilege not available on the old Blue Tour.
The tour stops at the historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.
A look down the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse.
Hangar S as it appears today. In the early 1960s, it was used to process Mercury spacecraft. Today it's used for Shuttle cargo processing.